A 25-year-old member of the groupMichigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer last fall pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to kidnapping conspiracy. Ty Garbin is the first to be convicted in the high-profile case, and his detailed account of the alleged kidnapping plot could aid prosecutors in securing more convictions.
Garbin and five other men were arrested in October and charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer at her vacation home and place her on trial for treason.were accused of a separate plot to kidnap a number of government officials, including Whitmer.
Garbin appeared Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The kidnapping conspiracy charge he faces is punishable by up to life in federal prison.
The airplane mechanic agreed to "fully cooperate" with the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, Michigan State Police and Attorney General's Office in ongoing investigations and to testify against the other five defendants charged in federal court in Western Michigan, according to the plea agreement filed by prosecutors earlier Wednesday.
Judge Jonker highlighted Garbin's plea agreement in court. "It might mean some day you are called to the courtroom and obligated to tell the truth about what you know, even if it ends up hurting people you know. Do you think you could do that?" he asked the defendant.
"I could, your honor," Garbin responded.
Mr. Garbin will also serve as a witness against eight others accused in state court of cooperating with the plot and has agreed to submit a polygraph examination. His guilty plea follows an order earlier this month to stand trial along with five others accused of participating in the kidnapping plot who were also charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Garbin admitted in the plea agreement to being a member of the Wolverine Watchmen, an organization that officials called a "self-styled 'militia' group." He also said in the agreement that three of his federal co-defendants were members of the group.
The conspiracy detailed by FBI agents in court filings included surveillance of Governor Whitmer's northern Michigan vacation home.
In a private chat, Garbin used emojis to suggest blowing up a bridge near Governor Whitmer's property to stall police, according to the FBI. In court on Wednesday, Garbin confessed to participating in a nighttime surveillance run at the lawmaker's vacation home.
The FBI also said Garbin trained with firearms at his property and improvised explosive devices made with black powder, balloons, and a fuse, layered with BBs.
As a convicted felon, Garbin will not be permitted to possess firearms.
"You can't lawfully possess a firearm again. Period," Judge Jonker advised, adding, "I know that firearms have been a focus and interest of yours. But they won't be."
"I understand that, your honor," Garbin said.
Prosecutors have accused the Michigan man of suggesting members of the militia "[shoot] up the governor's vacation home." In an affidavit to the court, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask wrote that Garbin agreed to go after Governor Whitmer's home, "even if it only resulted in destruction of property," and offered "to paint his personal boat black to support the surveillance of the vacation home from the lake where the vacation home is situated."
Defense lawyers have stressed the defendants were exercising their First Amendment rights, arguing the accused never carried out any kidnapping plot.
The conviction comes as federal law enforcement officials stand on high alert following the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. The Department of Homeland SecurityWednesday, warning Americans about terrorist threats to the United States "fueled by false narratives" including unfounded claims about the 2020 presidential election.
"Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence," the bulletin said.
Former Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff warned reporters Wednesday of continuing national security threats nationwide, including at state Capitol buildings. "We've seen over the last couple of months attacks by these right-wing extreme groups, not just on federal government here in Washington, but on state capitols," Chertoff said. "This is a national problem. It is not really a Washington DC or federal government problem."
Garbin is scheduled to appear for sentencing on July 8 before the United States District Court in the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division.