How it all began: In June 2020, members of multiple extremist and militia groups from different states hosted a meeting in Ohio to discuss their frustrations with restrictive COVID lockdowns across the country, according to the court testimony of the FBI. The men proposed rebelling and even using violence against state governments in response, deciding that it was necessary to spread their message within their respective communities to begin forming an organized effort.
Enter the suspects: Days later, the Bureau brought the focus of its investigation to Michigan, where an extremist militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen caught wind of the idea. Over the next few months, the group communicated via encrypted chats and in-person meetings to discuss a hypothetical plan to unseat their Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
The plot itself: The most developed version of the plan, according to the FBI's testimony, involved planting explosives under a bridge near Whitmer's vacation home, breaking in and subduing her, and blowing up the bridge to slow police response.
- The Wolverine Watchmen discussed either leaving Whitmer stranded on a boat in Lake Michigan or taking her to Wisconsin for a mock trial in which she would be declared a "tyrant" guilty of "treason."
- The Watchmen went as far as conducting shooting drills, tactical training sessions, and at least one nighttime surveillance trip near Whitmer's home and the nearby bridge.
- Six men were charged by the Department of Justice with conspiracy to commit kidnapping while the other 8 received varying state charges, including gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, felony firearm, and committing a threat of terrorism.
- Suspect Adam Fox is considered the chief mastermind of the plot by the government.
The controversy: Based on the accounts of federal operatives, hundreds of hours of captured audio and video, and thousands of text messages and social media posts from within the group, the prosecution claims to have enough evidence to prove that a terror attack on the governor was imminent. However, much of what is known about the government's methods of investigation has drawn suspicion. Multiple reports and court documents show that the FBI, through at least 12 confidential informants and an unknown number of undercover agents, directly influenced each stage of the plot against Whitmer, including its creation. Many of these operatives held key positions of leadership in the group as the plan developed.
Dan, informant: An early member of the Wolverine Watchmen known to the public as Dan reached out to law enforcement once he grew worried of the group's potential for violence. The FBI made him an informant, kept contact, and instructed him for the remainder of their investigation.
- Dan later helped organize meetings for the Watchmen where action against Whitmer was first discussed, personally encouraging them and paying for transportation. As the idea of the kidnapping was gaining traction, a weapons training session was held in Wisconsin between multiple militia groups. Dan personally drove 5 Watchmen to the event and helped pay for food, gas, lodging, and transportation expenses with FBI funds.
- He eventually reached second-in-command status with the Watchmen and was a top planner for the attack, often working one-on-one with Fox for hours to discuss the logistics.
- He participated in the nighttime surveillance trip near the governor's home, riding with other men and staying at a campsite with them.
Stephen Robeson, informant: A convicted felon with a lengthy history of working with the government, Stephen Robeson was one of the earliest FBI infiltrators.
- He, along with at least one other unknown informant, was present at the original June 2020 discussion in Ohio between the different extremist groups. He had repeatedly encouraged members to attend via phone calls, incentivizing them by paying for hotel and food expenses.
- He organized the training session in Wisconsin for the Watchmen and the other militias.
- He illegally used charity money to fund weapons for the plot against Whitmer. The FBI was aware of it; agents tapped a phone call between Fox and Dan in which Dan confirmed it.
"Red," agent: Dan brought an undercover agent into the group who went by the nickname ''Red.'' He acted as their explosives expert whom they planned to purchase bombs from.
- During the surveillance trip, Red led Fox under the bridge near the governor's home, discussing effective spots to plant explosives.
Other top leaders: The head of transportation for the Watchmen was an agent, and the head of security was an informant.
Selective testimony: Due to an abundance of undisclosed information, the full extent of the federal government's involvement remains unknown. The FBI admitted in its initial affidavit for the case that it was only disclosing information related to 2 agents and 2 informants as evidence against the accused.
The coverup of Robeson: Among the numerous personnel left out of the government's case was Robeson, who was repeatedly referred to anonymously as an "individual from Wisconsin." After he publicly revealed his ties to the investigation, the government increased its attempts to distance itself from him.
- Federal prosecutors charged him for the illegal weapons funding over a year after it occured, and the FBI now claims it was unaware of it at the time.
- Prosecutors now allege that he was a "double agent" who repeatedly disobeyed the Bureau's instructions, deliberately aiding in the plot against Whitmer.
The federal trial for the 6 defendants who are considered the primary leaders of the conspiracy, including Fox, began on Mar. 8. The cases in state courts against the other 8 plotters have yet to be settled.
The defense plans to center its arguments around "entrapment," the legal concept of law enforcement inducing defendants to commit crimes they would not otherwise have committed.
- Attorneys claim the accused were engaging in mere fantasy until the FBI began pushing the idea of the kidnapping onto them.
- They have also brought up Fox's erratic mental health to discredit the possibility of an elaborate and viable plot being led by him.
The prosecution maintains that the defendants' criminal histories and affinity with violence were the driving forces of the plot.
- In direct response to entrapment claims, they have argued, "Dan and the government agents working with him did nothing but watch and monitor as the relationship between Fox and the Wolverine Watchmen… moved on from the initial contact phase into a full blown alliance, in which the Wolverine Watchmen were training with, and supporting Fox's plans for politically motivated violence."
- Two defendants have pleaded guilty and will testify against the other 4.