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Mich. governor kidnap plot: How the FBI spent months tracking down the case

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Mich. governor kidnap plot: It came down to social media, paid informants and undercover agents who embedded themselves in the groups and secretly recorded what they saw and heard

Mich. governor kidnap plot: How the FBI spent months tracking down the case
Mich. governor kidnap plot: How the FBI track down the case

October 09, 2020 – CREDIT: Tresa Baldas – Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — They planned and schemed the Mich. governor kidnap plot for months — 13 domestic terrorists hell-bent on terrorizing politicians and police, authorities said.

Mich. governor kidnap plot was among their missions. Their plan was to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home, blow up a bridge, storm the state Capitol and target police, court records show.

But the Mich. governor kidnap plot was foiled as the FBI was on their track, with the help of social media, paid informants and undercover agents who embedded themselves in the groups and secretly recorded what they saw and heard.

On Thursday, seven members of the so-called Wolverine Watchmen militia group were charged in state court with threat of terrorism for allegedly planning and training for an attack on the Capitol and to kidnap Whitmer. Six others were charged in U.S. District Court with federal conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

They were all part of the same plot, though their conduct was different.

All are behind bars.

According to state and federal court records, the FBI, police and prosecutors, here is how the federal government thwarted a sensational effort to kidnap Whitmer and landed 13 men in jail on terrorism and kidnapping charges.

DISCOVERED ON SOCIAL MEDIA

It was early 2020 when the civil war plot landed on the FBI’s radar.

The FBI became aware through social media that a group of individuals were discussing violent overthrows of the government and law enforcement.

One of the groups was a little-known militia called Wolverine Watchmen – a Michigan-based militia that had been recruiting members on Facebook since November. The goal was to bring as many people together as possible to prepare for the so-called “boogaloo” — a violent uprising against the government or impending politically-motivated civil war.

Their primary targets were those whom they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.

And they were careful not to get caught.

Once recruited, members communicated through a secret, encrypted messaging platform. They held meetings and training exercises in a remote area at 8008 Dunn Road in Munith.

Together, the militiamen planned the Mich. governor kidnap plot: to storm the Capitol of Michigan, kidnap politicians, including Whitmer, before the Nov. 4 election.

The ringleader was Adam Fox of Grand Rapids, who led the trainings and the meetings.

Adam Fox, arraigned in federal court in Kent County, Michigan, faces charges related to what the FBI says that the Mich. governor kidnap plot was pre-planned.

There was talk of bombs, and guns and even a killing.

But none of it came to pass as the FBI lay in waiting.

With the help of social media, a Wolverine Watchmen member who flipped and became a paid informant for the feds, and undercover agents who embedded themselves in the group, the FBI busted the operation, focusing on Fox and his mission to grow an army of like-minded people and stage a revolt.

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Fox would forge a relationship with Barry Croft of Delaware. The two agreed to work together, unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.

They recruited members on social media and through friends, conversed in secret chat rooms, and held meetings at peoples’ homes and businesses to discuss how they would carry out their mission — all while the FBI watched.

The FBI had embedded both paid informants and undercover agents in the group, who recorded meetings and reported back about meetings in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

One of the first recorded meetings was in Dublin, Ohio.

On June 6, Croft, Fox and 13 others from several states met in Dublin, where they talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient. They discussed different ways of achieving this goal, from peaceful endeavors to violent actions.

At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution. Michigan came up, including Whitmer.

Several members talked about murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor — a mission they realized would require more members. So they encouraged each other to talk to their neighbors and spread their message.

As part of that recruitment effort, Fox reached out to the Wolverine Watchmen, which had already been on the FBI’s radar following a tip from local police that some members of that militia group were trying to obtain the addresses of local law-enforcement officers as part of a plan to target and kill police officers.

One of those militia members had expressed concern about the plan to kill cops and spoke to the FBI about it, and eventually agreed to become a confidential informant.

That informant helped the FBI build a case as federal agents would learn that Fox and militia members held recruitment meetings, including one at a Second Amendment rally at the State Capitol in Michigan, and field training exercises on private property in remote areas of Michigan. There, militia members engaged in firearms training and tactical drills.

Mich. governor kidnap plot: ‘MOLOTOV COCKTAILS’ TO DESTROY COP CARS

In an effort to recruit more members, Fox told his associates and the confidential informant that he “planned to attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces.”

Fox discussed this plan in a June 14 phone call with an informant.

“Fox said he needed ‘200 men’ to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan, and take hostages, including the Governor,” the affidavit states. “Fox explained they would try the Governor of Michigan for “treason,” and he said they would execute the plan before the November election.”

On June 20, Fox invited members of the group he had met online to a meeting at his business. The group met in the basement of the shop, which was accessed through a trap door hidden under a rug on the main floor. Suspicious of spies, Fox collected all of their cellular phones in a box and carried them upstairs to prevent any monitoring.

The confidential informant handed over his phone, though his recording device remained hidden.

While being secretly recorded, the group discussed plans for storming the Capitol, countering law enforcement first responders and using “Molotov cocktails” to destroy police vehicles. They also planned an additional meeting for the first weekend of July, when they would conduct firearms and tactical training.

On June 25, Fox took to Facebook. He live-streamed a video to a private Facebook group — again the informant was watching. In the video, Fox complained about the judicial system and the State of Michigan controlling the opening of gyms, and referred to Whitmer as “this tyrant bitch.”

“I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.” Fox said to the group.

Three days after venting about Whitmer, a tactical training exercise was held at the home of a militia member.

On July 7, another meeting was held at the home of another militia group member. Again, the informant was there. One man said he was “not cool with offensive kidnapping” and that he was “just there for training.”

Mich. governor kidnap plot: HOMEMADE BOMBS AND A ‘SNATCH AND GRAB’

In early July came another meeting, this one in Cambria, Wisconsin.

There was firearms training, combat drills and one militia group member trying to build an improvised explosive device using black powder, balloons, a fuse, and BBs for shrapnel. It was a botched job and the devices didn’t blow up as planned — all of which was captured on a video taken by the informant. Members also shared photos and videos of the exercise in Facebook discussions.

On July 18, the group met in Ohio again. An informant recorded the meeting, during which members discussed attacking a Michigan State Police facility. In a separate conversation, one man suggested shooting up Whitmer’s vacation home.

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On July 27, the kidnapping came up again. The informant had met Fox at his Grand Rapids business, where Fox said the best opportunity to abduct Whitmer would be when she was arriving at, or leaving, either her personal vacation home or the Governor’s official summer residence.

Fox described it as a “Snatch and grab.”

“ ‘Grab the f—’ Governor. Just grab the b—-. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over,” Fox is heard saying.

After abducting Whitmer, Fox’s plan was to take her to Wisconsin for a “trial.” He also suggested the group get a Realtor to help find the exact location of the vacation home and collect information on the surrounding homes and structures.

Fox discussed the importance of knowing the layout of the yard, homes, and security. He wanted to map out the surrounding property and gates, and plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints to refine their strategy.

Fox also suggested recruiting an engineer or a “demo guy,” as he put it.

That same day, Fox posed a question to the group in an encrypted group chat: “OK, well how’s everyone feel about kidnapping?”

No one answered.

‘THIS IS WHERE THE PATRIOT SHOWS UP’

On July 28, according to the Mich. governor kidnap plot, Fox had narrowed down his attack. In a phone call with the informant, he said that he would target Whitmer’s vacation home and summer residence. The call was not recorded, though that same day, Fox posted this to a private Facebook page:

“We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen … This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears … it starts now so get f—prepared!!”

Almost two weeks would pass before another tactical training took place in Munith.

It was Aug. 9. Again, the group talked about the kidnapping plot, though this time Fox would discuss destroying the governor’s boat.

An encrypted group chat would follow, with one man stating: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her … at this point. F—it.”

In a follow-up chat, a member told the informant “OK sounds good I’m in for anything as long as its well planned.”

On Aug. 18, in a private chat, one member told the informant the name of the lake in northern Michigan where the vacation home is located, and he said he was looking for an escape route using a boat on the lake.

According to the FBI, the group went to great lengths not to get caught. The members communicated via encrypted online platforms and use “code words” or phrases to describe their plans in a self-proclaimed effort to avoid detection. For example, in a July 24 phone call, Fox said he had researched the governor’s office online, and he believed that the governor kept only a ceremonial office in Lansing.

Fox wondered aloud whether the group just needed to “party it out, make a cake and send it,” in what the informant believed was a coded reference to sending a bomb to the Governor.

Fox then discussed the need to be ready. They would train for the next three months.

“In all honesty right now … I just wanna make the world glow, dude. I’m not even f——- kidding. I just wanna make it all glow dude. I don’t f——- care anymore, I’m just so sick of it,” Fox is heard saying in recorded conversations. “ That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back … everything’s gonna have to beannihilated man. … we’re just gonna conquer every f—thing man.”

On July 26, came talk of a “baker.”

In a phone call with the informant, Fox said that he had not heard back from the “baker,” which was understood to mean a bomb manufacturer. Fox also said: “Maybe we should just make a bunch of cupcakes and send them out” — an apparent reference to a more widespread bombing campaign.

One month later came another meeting, this time at a home in Lake Orion. The group was concerned that a rat had infiltrated their group, and everyone had to bring personal documents to confirm their identities. Everyone was cleared.

There was more talk of ‘killin’ her’ and surveilling the vacation home. One man advised he had spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles. Still worried about law-enforcement infiltration, the members moved their group chat to a different encrypted messaging application.

TWICE THEY SPIED ON WHITMER’S HOUSE

It was daytime when the groups conducted surveillance on Whitmer’s home.

The first time was Aug. 29.

Fox, the informant and a third person conducted the surveillance, which was secretly recorded. Fox used his cell phone to attempt to locate the residence, but initially had trouble finding it. He contacted a friend, who sent pictures of the house from the internet and helped lead him there.

Fox and the others took photographs and slow-motion video from their vehicle as they drove by it, and discussed conducting additional surveillance from the water at a later date. Another individual looked up the locations of the local police department and Michigan State Police in the area to estimate how long it would take law enforcement to respond to an incident at the governor’s house.

“We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our f—state down,’ Fox said during the surveillance. “ I don’t give a f—if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”

On Aug. 30, Fox shared photos from the surveillance trip to the encrypted chat group. One man offered to paint his personal boat black to help spy on the vacation home from the lake.

In a text message conversation that same day, the man with the boat asked the informant how the surveillance had gone. The informant shared a screenshot of the area, which showed a bridge in the vicinity.

The man texted back with symbols and emojis, suggesting demolition of the bridge would hinder the police response. One man had brought what he called his “chemistry set” — which included components for building an explosive device, including a commercial firework, black powder, pennies and electrical tape.

During the exercise, the group set the device in a clearing surrounded by human silhouette targets, and one man detonated it to test its effectiveness.

Then came more talk about the kidnapping. It would go down at night. Eight people, including an undercover federal agent and an informant, would conduct a nighttime surveillance of the vacation home in preparation for the kidnapping.

Three others would remain at the camp in Luther.

During the late evening of Sept. 12 and into the early morning of Sept. 13, the group drove from Luther to the vicinity of the vacation home in three separate vehicles.

An undercover agent and informant recorded the operation.

‘SHE HAS NO CHECKS AND BALANCES’

Fox, Croft, two men working undercover an individual from Wisconsin were in the first vehicle. Croft and Fox discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of the vacation home. They stopped at the M-31 highway bridge on the way, where Fox and the undercover agent inspected the underside of the bridge for places to seat an explosive charge.

Fox took a picture of the bridge’s support structure, which he later shared with an informant in their encrypted chat. From there, they drove to a public boat launch across the lake from the vacation home to watch for the other cars in their group.

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Ty Garbin of Hartland Township, Franks and another individual from Wisconsin traveled in the second vehicle. A digital dash camera was mounted in the vehicle and was activated to record the surveillance for later reference, which footage was later shared with the informant

Two others and an undercover agent drove to the lake in a third vehicle. Their job was to drive around and make sure no one was following.

During the surveillance operation, Fox vented about Whitmer.

“She f——- g—loves the power she has right now … she has no checks and balances at all.”

Croft chimed in: “All good things must come to an end.”

The group then started discussing destroying the vacation home.

On the morning of Sept. 13, the group started finalizing plans to kidnap Whitmer.

They reconvened at Garbin’s property in Luther; there were 10 men:

Fox, Garbin, Kaleb Franks of Waterford, Daniel Harris of Lake Orion, Brandon Caserta of Canton, the paid informant, two undercover federal agents and two others.

An undercover FBI agent told Fox that it would cost about $4,000 to procure the explosives that the group wanted to use to blow up the bridge leading to the vacation home.

Fox later shared that information with the group and they agreed to conduct a final training exercise in late October. But Fox objected.

Late October was too close to the Nov. 3 election, Fox posted in a Sept. 14, encrypted chat, stressing the group needed more time to train and execute the kidnapping before Nov. 3.

So the group agreed to use the time until the final training exercise to raise money for explosives and other supplies. On Sept. 17, in an another encrypted group chat, Fox asked the group what it thought of a militia group invitation to participate in an armed protest at the State Capitol.

Garbin advised against it: “there needs to be zero and i mean zero public interaction if we want to continue with our plans.”

Added Caserta: “When the time comes there will be no need to try and strike fear through presence. The fear will be manifested through bullets.”

Fox responded: “Copy that boys, loud and clear!”

On Sept. 30, Fox called the undercover informant and discussed purchasing a taser for the operation of Mich. governor kidnap plot.

On October 2, Fox confirmed that he had purchased an 800,000 volt taser in an encrypted chat message with the informant.

The plan would go as follows: On Wednesday, the group would meet with an undercover FBI agent to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

Caserta said he couldn’t be there because he would be at work. Croft had returned to Delaware.

The rendezvous didn’t go as planned.

It was a setup.

Instead of meeting with the man who would sell them explosives, the five Michigan suspects were arrested by FBI agents.

A sixth man, Croft, was arrested in Delaware.

If convicted, all six defendants face up to life in prison for conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

©2020 Detroit Free PressMcClatchy-Tribune News Service

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NJ cops won’t face penalty for making too few arrests under new bill

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Under the proposal, agencies would be barred from using the number of arrests made or citations issued to evaluate an officer’s overall performance

Credit By Blake Nelson for – nj.com December 14, 2020

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill Friday to prevent cops from facing demotion, discipline or pay cuts just because they didn’t arrest more people.

A department would be barred from considering the number of arrests made or citations issued when evaluating an officer’s overall performance, under a proposal (S1322) approved 6-0 by the state Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

Current law allows those statistics to be one of the factors considered when officials weigh promotions, demotions, dismissals, discipline and salaries.

Police “are all too often pressured to write more tickets to increase revenue and help municipalities balance their budgets,” state Sen. Shirley Turner, D- Mercer and one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. Other departments have been accused of having secret arrest “quotas,” she said.

“These policies, whether written or unwritten, have fallen hardest upon low-income individuals and people of color,” Turner added.

The bill would still allow arrest and citation statistics to be tracked. The proposal must pass the full Senate and Assembly before it can head to the governor’s desk.

Several policing reforms have advanced since George Floyd protests swept the state. The governor recently signed a bill into law largely requiring departments to use body cameras, but other reforms have stalled.

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Police prepare for protests after officer-involved shooting in Philadelphia leaves criminal dead

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November 13, 2020 – Credit Law Enforcement Today

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Police in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania got into a vehicle pursuit with a man who was armed with a gun.

When the subject crashed his car during the pursuit, he began to fire on the officers, prompting them to return fire, striking and killing the man.

The incident occurred on November 12th when officers in an unmarked police vehicle noted a red Ford Mustang that was stopped in an intersection near B and Stella Streets.

The officers honked their horn, apparently hoping the driver would move out of the intersection and allow them to pass, but the car did not move.

Officers exited their vehicle and approached the man, who was holding a gun in his hand. When they got the man’s attention, he seemed startled and fled. 

The vehicle pursuit continued until the car crashed near Jasper Street and Hart Lane. The driver, who has not been identified at this time, took off in an attempt to get away from the officers. 

Fearing for their lives, the officers returned fire, striking the man. Officers rushed into render aid to the man, and called for medics to respond to the scene. Once they arrived, they transported the suspect to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Thankfully, the police were not injured during the incident. The officers involved will be placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which is normal procedure for these cases. 

Philadelphia Police Sergeant Eric Gripp said:

“When the officers in their unmarked vehicle came upon that crash, one of the officers exited the vehicle and stayed with the crashed vehicle to preserve that scene. While the other officer stayed inside of their unmarked car to try to ascertain the location of the driver.

“Shortly thereafter, he came upon this male…at which point the officer exited his vehicle [and] attempted to stop the male. From what we have through surveillance footage and body cam footage…it appears that the offender fired at least two shots at our police officer. 

“Our police officer fired at least two shots in return, striking the male…that male was transported by police to Einstein Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter…

This is a very fluid situation…while this investigation is taking place, it will be handled by our Officer Involved Shooting Investigation Unit along with Internal Affairs who will provide the results of their concurrent investigations to the District Attorney’s Office.”

“New dash cam video shows the 39 year old suspect in the red mustang fleeing from police, driving the wrong way and almost hitting Avi D, in his car. The suspect eventually crashed, and fled on foot before exchanging shots with @PhillyPolice.”

At this point, police stated that they have identified the male as a 39-year-old Hispanic, but they are not releasing his name. This is most likely because they have not made contact with the man’s next of kin.

The City of Philadelphia is just getting over the mass riots, protests, and looting that occurred after police shot and killed Walter Wallace, Jr. In that incident, police were called because Wallace was threatening family members with a knife.

When police arrived on the scene, they made contact with Wallace who was still armed with the knife. Officers backed up, almost to the point of running away from Wallace, while shouting orders for the man to drop the knife, which he ignored.

After several orders were ignored and Wallace appeared to pick up his pace towards officers, they opened fire, striking and killing him at the scene.

Despite the video evidence which proves officers account of the situation, the city still became a center of unrest because Wallace allegedly suffered from mental illness which is believed by the family to have caused the incident.

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2 officers ambushed in New Orleans, one shot in face by man in pedicab

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The officers were in an SUV when the pedicab approached

Credit: The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — A pedicab passenger inexplicably shot a New Orleans police officer in the face in the French Quarter on Friday afternoon, just as revelers began arriving to celebrate Halloween weekend.

The officer was wounded at about 4:25 p.m. while in his patrol vehicle near St. Philip and Royal streets. Other officers took him to a hospital rather than wait for paramedics, and police arrested the alleged gunman within minutes, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the officer was in serious but stable condition after being shot under his left eye. The bullet was lodged in the officer’s skull, but the four-year veteran, whose name was not immediately released, was responsive as he walked into the hospital holding his cheek, Ferguson said.

A second officer, a 16-year veteran, was wounded by glass shards in the shooting, from a shattered window on the cruiser.

“Two of our officers were ambushed,” said Ferguson, who said officers confiscated a gun that they think was used in the shooting. “This is a dark day.”

Ferguson said the suspect, who had a gun holster on him, appeared to be experiencing some type of medical episode when he was captured. He said the man was taken to a hospital for evaluation, and he made clear that the arresting officers did not use any physical force on the suspect.

“I want to commend those officers for maintaining professionalism,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson did not identify the suspect or specify what charges he would face.

Friday night, a law enforcement source identified the suspect as Donnell Linwood Hansel, 45. 

Several eyewitnesses said two officers were in an SUV on Royal Street crossing St. Philip when a pedicab riverbound on St. Philip approached. A man in the back of the pedicab stood up and fired at least five shots into the driver’s side door of the police vehicle, they said. The shooter ran off as the pedicab crashed.

Gabriel Shaffer, an artist who owns a gallery on that block of Royal, said he heard the wounded officer get out of the vehicle while moaning and exclaiming in pain.

“I could clearly hear him say, ‘Oh, my God, somebody just took my life!'” Shaffer said. “It was pretty awful.”

Tour guides Angie Still and Karen Fernandez said they were just a few yards away when the shooting erupted. They saw an officer on the passenger side of the targeted police vehicle jump out and scream, “Officer down!” Neither officer from the vehicle appeared to have time to return fire.

“We were just sitting there in shock,” Still said.

Douglas Mackar, who was in a building overlooking the scene of the shooting, said he heard the gunshots and ran to the window. He said he saw the driver of the pedicab crash into the sidewalk and run for cover.

Mackar said he ran from the window to check on his girlfriend, and by the time he returned, the wounded officer had already been whisked away to the hospital. “Whoever was first on the scene got him loaded up and out of here within seconds,” Mackar said.

A woman who asked that her name not be published said she saw the suspected shooter flailing, screaming and trying to bite first responders who were loading him into an ambulance after his arrest.

At the wig shop Fifi Mahoney’s, employees grabbed a few passerby from the street and locked them inside along with six customers. One customer, a doctor, left and dashed to the shooting scene to help, returning later with bloodied hands to take his wife home, an employee said.

Ferguson said passersby helped officers find the gunman by pointing him out as he ran to the intersection of St. Peter and Decatur streets. A retired Army veteran performed first aid on the officer’s face wound before he was taken to the hospital, Ferguson said.

The police chief thanked those members of the public for each of those actions, which came amid a party atmosphere that is typical in the French Quarter on a Friday evening.

Donovan Livaccari of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge called the shooting was a sobering reminder of the dangers inherent to professional law enforcement.

“Merely driving down the street … can lead to gunfire,” he said. “These two officers were not responding to a call for service. They were not looking for an armed subject on a pedicab. They were driving around in the French Quarter on routine patrol.”

“If the city can’t even keep the police safe, how can we feel safe?” wondered a worried Kim Planche Hunter, who has lived in the French Quarter resident for 70 years.

Ferguson said the attack marked a particularly grueling hour in what has been a difficult year for both his agency and the city. Not only has New Orleans been gripped by the deadly coronavirus pandemic since March, it also took a direct hit two days earlier from Hurricane Zeta, a strong Category 2 storm that caused widespread damage and left tens of thousands without electricity even two days later.

“We’ll get through this together,” Ferguson said.

Katelyn Umholtz contributed to this report.

(c)2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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