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FBI: Va. governor was potential militia target

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-15 00:41
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FILE PHOTO: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam, announces he will not resign during a news conference Richmond, Virginia, US February 2, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was a possible target for kidnapping by the same group charged last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, an FBI agent testified in court on Tuesday.

FBI agent Richard Trask said during a preliminary hearing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that the group discussed taking out other officials due to their coronavirus-related lockdown orders.

"They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically governors of Michigan and Virginia, over shutdown orders," Trask said. "The understanding at the time was to potentially kidnap a sitting governor and remove them from office."

Trask was part of the investigation that thwarted the plot last week to kidnap Whitmer and overthrow state governments and law enforcement. Six Michigan residents were arrested in connection with the plot, while seven others linked to the militia group "Wolverine Watchmen'' were arrested for allegedly planning to attack the Michigan Capitol.

The six men have been charged with intent to kidnap Michigan's governor and face up to life in prison if convicted.

The seven men have been charged with a variety of state crimes, including terrorism, conspiracy and weapons possession. They also talked of planning to storm the Michigan State Capitol and start a civil war, the authorities said.

Trask said one of the six suspects, identified as Adam Fox, spoke about a plan to take Whitmer out on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan and leave her stranded with the engine disabled so that someone would have to "come rescue" her.

The testimony also indicated that the participants were suspicious that government informants were monitoring or had infiltrated their group, changing encrypted messaging platforms and giving each other code names in hopes of escaping such surveillance.

At one point after a planning trip to stake out the governor's vacation home and the surrounding area, Fox asked that all the participants be scanned with a device that is supposed to identify if anyone was wearing a transmission wire or a recording device.

The effort apparently failed, Trask said, with the group eventually infiltrated by four informants or undercover agents who continued to document what the group was planning.

Whitmer and Northam, both Democrats, were among the governors who issued coronavirus-related executive orders that closed gathering places like gyms, bars and restaurants.

Northam's office said that the FBI alerted key members of the governor's security team throughout the investigation.

"Per security protocols for highly classified information, neither the governor nor other members of his staff were informed. At no time was the governor or his family in imminent danger. Enhanced security measures have been in place for governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain," press secretary Alena Yarmosky said.

On April 17, President Donald Trump encouraged protests of social distancing restrictions in Michigan and Virginia and other states with lockdowns.

"LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment," the president wrote on Twitter at the time. "It is under siege!"

Yarmosky connected the targeting of Northam to Trump's tweets to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" and "LIBERATE VIRGINIA".

"Here's the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to 'LIBERATE VIRGINIA' in April — just like Michigan. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop," Yarmosky said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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