Six men have been charged with plotting to overthrow Michigan’s government and kidnap its governor.
They are accused of conspiring to abduct Gretchen Whitmer from her holiday home, with one of the suspects saying that he wanted to try her for “treason”.
According to a court filing, they plotted for months, consulted and trained with militia members, and even rehearsed the kidnapping in August and September.
Governor Whitmer has thanked law enforcement for apprehending and charging what she has described as “sick and depraved men”, who were “preparing to kidnap and possibly kill me”.
She also added that “hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the state of Michigan”.
Ms Whitmer also pinned some blame on President Donald Trump, noting that he did not condemn white supremacists in last week’s debate with presidential rival Joe Biden and instead told a far-right group to “stand back and stand by”.
She said: “Hate groups heard the president’s words, not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry, as a call to action.
“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”
But in a statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate.
“Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
The six “violent extremists” – Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta – were arrested on Wednesday, and all face life in prison if convicted.
According to the FBI, one of the suspects was quoted as saying: “She has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now. All good things must come to an end.”
Governor Whitmer has been praised, but also deeply criticised – including by Mr Trump – for the state’s response to coronavirus after she put major restrictions on personal movement and on the economy, although many of those limits have now been lifted.
The Michigan Supreme Court last week said a 1945 law used as the foundation for many of her orders was unconstitutional.
However, there is no suggestion in the criminal complaint that the men were inspired by Mr Trump.
On one video livestreamed to a private Facebook group in June, Fox complained about the judicial system and restrictions against gym openings due to COVID-19.
According to the complaint, he said: “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.”
In a statement, Facebook said: “We remove content, disable accounts and immediately report to law enforcement when there is a credible threat of imminent harm to people or public safety.
“We proactively reached out and cooperated with the FBI early in this ongoing investigation.”
According to the FBI, Fox said he needed 200 men to storm the Capitol building in Lansing and take hostages, including the governor.
It is claimed he would execute the plan before the presidential election on 3 November, but the group later shifted to targeting the governor’s holiday home.
Prosecutors said two of the men had discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from Ms Whitmer’s residence, and one of them had even inspected the underside of a bridge for places to lodge an explosive.
Informants and undercover agents were used to thwart the alleged plot.
“Our efforts uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officers, government officials and the broader public,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told a news conference.
According to FBI special agent Richard Trask, one of the men had posted in an encrypted chat – saying he did not want a final training exercise to be held in the last week of October because it would not leave enough time to execute the kidnapping before the election.
Mr Trask added: “The group agreed to use the time until the final training exercise to raise money for explosives and other supplies.”
Meanwhile, Michigan’s attorney general has charged seven people with plotting to target law enforcement and attack the State Capitol building.
The group, all in custody, are allegedly linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.
They are suspected of attempting to identify the homes of law enforcement officers to “target them” and “made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war”.