FRANKFORT, Ky./MICHIGAN (WTVQ/CNN) – Having been the target of threats and potential violence, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was highly critical of domestic terror groups in the wake of charges against six militia members accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“These groups are not freedom fighters, they are terrorists,” Beshear said in opening his daily briefing Thursday. “We as a state, as a nation, in one voice must denounce them.
“Domestic terrorism is about violence…No one should be pandering to them…wrong is wrong…I will not be intimidated, I will not back down from doing hat is right…our job is to do the right thing, to send the right message,” Beshear said emphatically.
Later, he continued on the issue when asked by reporters, noting except for one arrest related to a man making grenades in his home weeks ago, state investigators have not found similar threats in Kentucky against him.
“I am not going to let people bully me. If I don’t stand up to them, they will bully others,” he added, saying lots of people are “warriors on the keyboard” making threats on social media.
Asked about post-pandemic restrictions on crowds or weapons in the Capitol, Beshear said “we haven’t looked at that yet.”
To address the “keyboard warriors,” he stressed, “We have not looked at anything.”
He also, on several occasions, praised Kentucky State Police troopers who protect him and his family and the Capitol.
When asked about increased protections now, he said h doesn’t see a need for any.
Meanwhile, six men were charged Thursday in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to a federal criminal complaint.
The alleged plot included plans to overthrow several state governments that the suspects “believe are violating the US Constitution,” including the government of Michigan and Whitmer, according to the complaint.
The arrests are likely to draw additional attention to the political tensions roiling the nation in the closing weeks of the 2020 election season
, and underline warnings from law enforcement officials, members of Congress and groups that track extremism about the increasing threat of militia and far-right groups. Whitmer at times has been the focus of extreme vitriol from far-right groups over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The six individuals charged in the Western District of Michigan with conspiracy to kidnap are Michigan residents Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, and Delaware resident Barry Croft.
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard. But I’ll be honest, I never could’ve imagined anything like this,” Whitmer said in televised remarks Thursday afternoon. “I want to start by saying thank you to our law enforcement. Thank you to the fearless FBI agents. And thank you to the brave Michigan state troopers who participated in this operation.”
Whitmer specifically blamed President Donald Trump
, who has repeatedly declined to condemn far-right groups.
“Just last week, the President of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups
like these two Michigan militia groups,” she said. “‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them. ‘Stand back and stand by.’ Hate groups heard the President’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”
Court documents say the FBI planted a confidential informant to travel to Dublin, Ohio, on June 6 for a meeting with Croft, Fox and about 13 others.
“They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions … Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” according to the complaint.
At one point during the meeting, the group discussed increasing their members and Fox reached out to a “Michigan base militia group,” according to the complaint.
By June 14, a second confidential informant confirmed that Fox was introduced to the leader of the militia group and they met in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The informant audio recorded conversations with Fox in which he allegedly said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including Whitmer, according to the criminal complaint.
While the Capitol has a formal office for the governor, Whitmer works out of an office across the street.
Fox explained they would try the governor of Michigan for “treason” and he said they would execute the plan before the November 2020 elections, according to the criminal complaint.
On June 20, Fox, Garbin and others met at Fox’s business in Grand Rapids where attendees met in the basement accessed by a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor, according to the criminal complaint. Attendees turned over their cell phones, which were brought upstairs to “prevent any monitoring.”
“The attendees discussed plans for assaulting the Michigan State Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders, and using ‘Molotov cocktails’ to destroy police vehicles. The attendees also discussed plans for an additional meeting during the first weekend of July when they also would conduct firearms and tactical training,” according to the criminal complaint.
The conspirators conducted surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home on two occasions in late August and September, the complaint said. Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the vacation home area, according to the FBI.
The group successfully detonated an improvised explosive device wrapped in shrapnel to “test its anti-personnel effectiveness” and inspected the underside of a nearby highway bridge as a potential place to rig an explosive charge, the document says.
Earlier this month, Fox confirmed to others in the group that he purchased a taser, which he had previously discussed doing so for use in the kidnapping plot, the court document says.
The FBI said Fox, Garbin, Harris and Franks planned to meet on October 7 to pay for explosives and swap tactical gear.
The criminal complaint details how the suspects used Facebook, including a private Facebook group, to discuss the alleged plot. The company said Thursday it is cooperating with the FBI.
“We proactively reached out and cooperated with the FBI early in this ongoing investigation,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN.
The spokesperson added, “We remove content, disable accounts and immediately report to law enforcement when there is a credible threat of imminent harm to people or public safety.”
The five defendants who are Michigan residents made court appearances on Thursday afternoon and requested court-appointed attorneys. Bond hearings are scheduled for Tuesday.
The whereabouts of Croft, the Delaware resident, are unclear.
Whitmer has been the target of multiple death threats in light of her coronavirus response efforts and decision to issue stay-at-home orders. In April, protesters and militia gathered at the state capitol
for a rally, gridlocking the streets to call for Whitmer to lift her stay-at-home order.
At one point in the spring, armed protesters entered the state capitol
, where it is legal to openly carry firearms, and demanded an end to Michigan’s state of emergency.
State Republican leaders on Thursday swiftly condemned the plot.
“A threat against our governor is a threat against us all,” Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said in a statement.
And Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox noted, “We live in a nation where we settle our political disagreements at the ballot box, not through violence, and any attempt to do otherwise is an attack on our Constitution, our values, and our American way of life.”
But Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller lambasted Whitmer for calling out the President.
“We’re all united standing against anyone who would conspire to cause such hatred and violence. And there is no place for that in American society in any way, shape, or form,” he said on Fox News. “But why Gov. Whitmer would go and start attacking President Trump, this is just — people can see right through it. They can see that Gov. Whitmer is a complete phony and it is just disgusting that she would take a moment of unity to attack the President.”