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Michigan Charges 8th Man In Alleged Domestic Terrorism Plot To Kidnap Gov. Whitmer

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in an online political event in August. Authorities say they short-circuited a plot to kidnap her. An eighth man has now been charged in the case.
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in an online political event in August. Authorities say they short-circuited a plot to kidnap her. An eighth man has now been charged in the case.

An eighth man is now charged with supporting an act of terrorism in the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home. Attorney General Dana Nessel's office says Brian Higgins, 51, was arrested in Wisconsin Thursday. He allegedly brought night-vision goggles to aid surveillance of Whitmer's home.

Higgins participated "in a plan of domestic terrorism that included storming the Michigan Capitol building and harming government officials," the attorney general's office said.

The eight men are members of the militia group Wolverine Watchmen or are associates of the group, the attorney general's office said. They face a total of 20 state felony charges, including, for some, gang membership. Another six men are facing federal charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.

"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," the affidavit against Higgins says, "including kidnapping politicians and storming the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing."

Michigan has been a hot spot for disagreements over shutdowns and other restrictions Whitmer ordered to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus — actions that allegedly sparked the plot against her. The affidavit says some of the men were motivated by a desire to punish government officials who they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution.

"At least some of the defendants participated in various demonstrations at the Michigan Capitol building over the past several months," the attorney general's office says.

State prosecutors say the suspects joined forces with the goal of targeting law enforcement officers and "made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse."

The men trained together in tactical exercises and eventually discussed plans to kidnap Whitmer before the November election, the affidavit says. They were also preparing for the "boogaloo" — a term that refers to a racial or political civil war.

"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."

Higgins is charged with material support of an act of terrorism, a felony that Nessel's office says carries a potential 20-year maximum prison sentence. He was arrested Thursday in Wisconsin. Higgins is scheduled to be extradited to Michigan and arraigned in a district court in Antrim County, though no court dates have yet been scheduled.

Another suspect in the state case, Paul Bellar, is facing extradition from South Carolina where he was arrested last week. Bellar had the role of "Sergeant," based on his expertise in firearms and medical training and ability to design tactical exercises, the affidavit states.

The other suspects facing state charges are in custody in Michigan jails, the attorney general's office says.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.