LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s attorney general charged an eighth person Thursday in what authorities have described as a foiled scheme to storm the state Capitol building and kidnap officials, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Brian Higgins, 51, of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, was charged with material support of an act of terrorism, Attorney General Dana Nessel said. If convicted, Higgins could get up to 20 years in prison.
Seven men purportedly linked to an extremist paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court last week with providing material support for terrorist acts and possession of a firearm while committing a felony.
Federal charges were filed against six others in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat.
“While the political rhetoric in our nation may at times be divisive, I am encouraged by the united front our law enforcement community has displayed in response to this indescribable act of terror,” Nessel said.
“These were very credible, and very serious threats to our elected officials and the public in general, and the swift actions taken by state and federal authorities this past week are nothing short of heroic.”
In statements and court papers, authorities have alleged that members of two anti-government groups took part in plotting the Whitmer kidnapping and other crimes, although some were charged under federal law and others under state law.
“Wolverine Watchmen members together with another group led by Adam Fox, the ‘Michigan III%ers,’ engaged in planning and training for various acts of violence, including kidnapping politicians and storming the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing,” Michigan State Police detective Sgt. Michael Fink said in an affidavit released Thursday.
The document did not identify officials other than Whitmer who might have been targets for abduction. An FBI agent testified during a federal court hearing this week that Whitmer and Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam had been mentioned during a June 6 meeting of groups of extremists from several states, including at least two of the federal defendants.
The affidavit said Higgins assisted four members of the Wolverine Watchmen who took part in surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan. Higgins provided night-vision goggles for the mission, the document said.
“Additionally, he used a mounted digital dash camera located in his vehicle to record the surveillance of the Governor’s home in order to aid in kidnapping plans,” it said.
A federal complaint said the groups cased the property Aug. 29 and the night of Sept. 12, and that the plotters had discussed taking Whitmer to Wisconsin for “trial.”
The state suspects hoped that by attacking the Capitol and law enforcement officers, they would “instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse,” Nessel said.
Higgins was arrested Thursday in Wisconsin and will be extradited to Michigan, she said.
A spokesman for Nessel said it was uncertain whether Higgins had an attorney. He was being held in the Columbia County Jail in Wisconsin. The county district attorney’s office said it wasn’t known when he would appear in court there.
A federal judge Tuesday ordered three of the federal defendants held without bond until trial. A bond hearing for two others — including Fox — was scheduled for Friday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
PERSPECTIVE ON INVESTIGATING YOUR OWN THREATS
While these terror charges are tied to the governor’s threats, another aspect of the evidence includes threats against law enforcement.
The indictment related to the federal case said, “The militia group had already been brought to the attention of the FBI by a local police department in March 2020, when members of the militia group were attempting to obtain the addresses of local law-enforcement officers. At the time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group’s plans to target and kill police officers, and that person agreed to become a CHS.”
CHS stands for confidential human source, people who became crucial in helping investigators gather evidence and ultimately file these charges.
“The fact that somebody stepped forward and said, ‘This is being planned that I’m uncomfortable with the violence that they’re talking about.’ They reported it. It’s that kind of somebody being willing to step forward that really does keep individuals safe when these kinds of plots are happening,” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young told News 8.
She was asked to share perspective on how investigators approach a case when evidence includes threats of violence against law enforcement.
The sheriff said anyone who wants to overthrow a governmental body is an anarchist ahead of any other political affiliation the public often rushes to scrutinize.
“It’s absolutely very concerning,” LaJoye-Young said. “When you’ve agreed to serve the community put yourself in harm’s way, there’s a risk that comes with that, but I really feel like cases like this put an exclamation point on that. We really all have to work together in this community to keep each other safe.”
She noted the informant was crucial in preventing potential violence, which is a risk her department knows is out there.
“We have to be very cognizant that there are individuals that want to hurt us, but you can’t approach every call that way because if you approach every call where you think your safety’s jeopardized, it would impact the way that you communicate. The way that you listen. The way that you work through whatever circumstance you’re faced with.”
Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.