WASHINGTON (AFP) – Thirteen men, including members of two right-wing militias, have been arrested for plotting to kidnap the Democratic Governor of the United States (US) state of Michigan and “instigate a civil war”, officials said on Thursday.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer thanked law enforcement for thwarting the kidnap plot and rebuked US President Donald Trump for failing to condemn hate groups.
Announcing the arrests, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel described the conspiracy to kidnap the 49-year-old Whitmer as a “serious and credible threat”.
US attorney for the western district of Michigan Andrew Birge said six men were facing federal charges for conspiring to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home.
Birge said they had conducted surveillance of her residence and even tested a home-made bomb they intended to use to divert law enforcement away from her home.
FBI agents and Michigan police arrested them on Wednesday as they met to “pool funds for explosives and exchange tactical gear”, the Justice Department said.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Whitmer over her tough coronavirus lockdown, and armed right-wing groups have staged protests against her in the state capital Lansing.
“LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Trump tweeted in April.
Late on Thursday, Trump showed little sympathy when he commented via Twitter.
“Rather than say thank you” for the FBI action, Trump said, “she calls me a White Supremacist”.
Without explicitly condemning the plotters, Trump said: “I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!”
Whitmer said that when she took the oath of office “I knew this job would be hard”, but “never could have imagined anything like this”.
She added, “We are not one another’s enemy. This virus is our enemy.” Whitmer pointed to Trump’s refusal at the recent debate with Democrat Joe Biden to condemn white supremacists and “hate groups” like the two Michigan militias that allegedly targetted her.
“Stand back and stand by, he told them,” she said.
“Hate groups heard the President’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action,” she added.
“When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternise with domestic terrorists they legitimise their actions, they are complicit.”
Biden also sought to pin some blame on the Republican President.
Biden said in a statement that he spoke with Whitmer – who was on the shortlist to become his vice presidential candidate – and commended the FBI and law enforcement “for their work to prevent this deranged act by emboldened domestic terrorists”.
He said that Trump “is giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country. We have to stop it”.