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Witness: Whitmer’s kidnapping would be the “ignition” of the civil war

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Michigan governor kidnapping plot (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A man who pleaded guilty in a plot to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. Gretchen Whitmer said his kidnapping could have been the “ignition” of a US civil war involving anti-government groups, possibly before the 2020 election.

Ty Garbin outlined a plan to trap the Democratic governor during his testimony Wednesday against four former allies who are charged with conspiracy. He told the jury that they wanted to strike before the election to prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.

“We wanted to cause as much disruption as possible to prevent Joe Biden from walking into the office. It didn’t have to be this way,” Garbin said of a pre-election blitz. “It was just preferred.”

The group was arrested in October 2020, a stunning arrest near the end of a national campaign that has polarized the country. Investigators said the men were extremists trying to raise $4,000 for an explosive to blow up a bridge in northern Michigan during the hijacking.

They were angry about COVID-19 restrictions across the Whitmer state and generally disgusted with politicians, according to trial testimony.

Garbin said a kidnapping would “ignite” a civil war “and hopefully other states or other groups would do the same.”

The trial linked, at times indirectly, the kidnapping plot to a number of events, most notably right-wing protests at the Michigan Capitol and elsewhere in response to pandemic orders. Challenges to the results of the 2020 presidential election followed, culminating in riots at the US Capitol on January 6.

Garbin explained Whitmer’s plan to jurors, taking them through days of training, secret messages and an overnight drive home for the weekend. He talked about how he built a “shot house” out of wood, canvas and scrap materials so the men could practice an eventual assault.

The goal was to “kidnap the governor,” Garbin said.

“There was no doubt in your mind that everyone knew?” Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler asked.

“Without a doubt,” Garbin said.

The jury had already heard from FBI agents and an informant who secretly recorded hours of incriminating and profanity-laced conversations. But Garbin’s testimony was shocking because it came from someone who pleaded guilty and said he was willing to participate in the plot to kidnap Whitmer.

Another man who has pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, will also testify against Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Defense attorneys say the men were seized by the government. Garbin, however, told the jury that he had never heard anyone talk about being influenced by informants.

He said he invited the group to his estate in Luther, Michigan, to train for a violent assault on Whitmer’s second home. He put together a crude structure so the men could practice getting in and out of tight spaces.

“It was kind of parked,” Garbin said of the design. “Each house had a front door. Every house had a living room.”

In September 2020, Garbin, Fox, Croft, and others traveled to Elk Rapids for nightly surveillance of the Whitmer property. Garbin said his job was to find it and shine a light for others at a boat launch.

He said his final task would be to “carry out the actual kidnapping.”

Garbin said that Fox and Croft were the leaders of the cabal. Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, wondered how Garbin could be inspired by a guy who lived in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner shop, with the living space divided by hanging blankets.

Garbin acknowledged that he had called Fox “Captain Autism” and that his shooting skills were “not top-notch.”

The aircraft mechanic began cooperating with prosecutors shortly after the group was arrested. Garbin was rewarded with a relatively light prison sentence of six years, a term that could be reduced after trial.

Whitmer rarely speaks publicly about the case, though she did refer to “surprises” during her tenure that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she ran for re-election on March 17.

He has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said that Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial

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White reports from Detroit.


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