A man who pleaded guilty to planning a kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told jurors on Wednesday he and his allies wanted to attack before the 2020 election to prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.
Ty Garbin did not say why they believe a kidnapping this fall would prevent Biden from defeating then-President Donald Trump.
“We wanted to cause as much disruption as possible to prevent Joe Biden from taking office. It was not necessary,” he said of the strike ahead of the election. “It was just preferred.”
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Garbin, 26, is a key witness for prosecutors in the trial of four men charged with conspiracy: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
The group was shut down a month before the election, a stunning bust towards the end of a nationwide campaign that has polarized the country. Investigators said the men were anti-government extremists trying to find $4,000 for an explosive meant to blow up a bridge in northern Michigan during a kidnapping.
They were angry at Whitmer’s statewide COVID-19 restrictions and generally disgusted with politicians, according to trial evidence.
The testimony linked – sometimes indirectly – the kidnapping plot to a series of events, in particular right-wing protests at the Michigan Capitol and elsewhere in response to pandemic orders. Disputes over the 2020 presidential election results followed, culminating in the January 6 US Capitol riot.
Garbin said a kidnapping would be the “trigger” of a civil war “and I hope other states or other groups will follow.”
He explained the Whitmer plan to jurors, taking them through days of training, secret messages and a late-night trip to his weekend home. He told how he built a “shooting house” out of lumber, tarpaulins and scrap materials so the men could practice for possible assault.
The goal was “to remove the governor,” Garbin told a prosecutor.
“There was no question in your mind that everyone knew?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler.
“No question,” Garbin said.
The jury heard from FBI agents and an informant who secretly recorded hours of incriminating conversations. But Garbin’s testimony was important because it came from someone who pleaded guilty and said he willingly participated in the plan to snatch Whitmer. Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, will also testify.
Defense lawyers say the men were framed by the government. Garbin, however, told jurors he had never heard of anyone talking about being influenced by informants.
He said he invited the group to his property in Luther, Michigan, to train for a violent assault on Whitmer’s vacation home.
He set up a rudimentary structure for the men to practice getting in and out of tight spaces.
“I was kind of in the stadium,” Garbin said of the layout. “Each house had a front door. Each house had a living room.
Each house had a hallway. Each house had a back door.
In September 2020, Garbin, Fox, Croft, and others traveled to Elk Rapids in three vehicles for nighttime surveillance of Whitmer’s property. Garbin said his job was to find him and flash a light for others at a boat launch.
He said his ultimate mission would be to “achieve the actual rapture.”
When questioned by the defense, Garbin repeated that Fox was a leader of the cabal. Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons wondered how Garbin could be inspired by a guy who lived in the “sad” basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner store, the living space being divided by hanging covers.
Garbin acknowledged that he called Fox “Captain Autism” and that his shooting skills “were not up to par.”
The plane’s mechanic began cooperating with prosecutors after the group was arrested. Garbin testified before the grand jury that indicted the men, and he was rewarded with a relatively light six-year prison sentence, a sentence that could be reduced after the trial.
“I’m so sorry,” Garbin said last August.
In court on Wednesday, he said he was primarily a libertarian who joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to find people who believed in limited government – ‘I’m not a fan of taxes’ – and supported rights firearms. In June 2020, Garbin said he met Fox at a pro-gun rally at the state Capitol, a connection that would put him on the path to targeting Whitmer.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely speaks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her tenure that appear to be “something fictional” when she sought re-election on March 17.
She faulted Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.