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Federal judge says there is enough evidence for charges against 5 Michigan militia members

Alleged Michigan militia members in court
Alleged Michigan militia members in court 01:16

A federal judge in Michigan said Friday there is enough evidence to support a conspiracy charge against five defendants accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Lawyers for the defendants had argued that the suspects were not plotting a kidnapping but a First Amendment activism and "loose talk." U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens ruled, however, there was enough evidence for it to go to a grand jury.

Berens said the plan seemed to be at its face to kidnap Whitmer and take her elsewhere, and whether or not it was successful or too difficult does not have to play into their intent.

Prosecutors released photos on Friday that showed the alleged ringleader, Adam Fox, taking photographs of the lake area around Whitmer's vacation home. The prosecution argued that alleged conspirators surveilled the home and the area around it twice during the course of the plan. They also released a map allegedly hand-drawn by Fox of the area surrounding Whitmer's vacation home. Prosecutors say the defendants had undergone surveillance around Whitmer's vacation home, and released screenshots of encrypted messages showing the suspects discussing surveillance. 

Prosecutors also released evidence that included photos and videos of the defendants participating in field training exercises. These included video showing defendants allegedly demonstrating their ability to rapid reload a rifle, which a special agent testified is a skill needed for gun fights. 

And prosecutors released screenshots of encrypted messages that allegedly show the group worried they have been infiltrated by law enforcement and discuss meeting up with personal documents to confirm their identities.    

Fox waived his right to a detention hearing on Friday. Bond was denied for another defendant, Ty Garbin. A sixth man, Barry Croft, was arrested in Delaware and has been ordered to Michigan for trial. 

FBI agent Richard Trask testified he believed the plot predated President Trump's "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" tweet on April 17. Defense attorney Gary Springstead, who represents Ty Garbin, grilled Trask about whether the suspects were "supportive" of Mr. Trump's tweet, but Task said he was "not aware." 

Carole Kabrin

"Discussions of this plot happened prior," Trask said. 

After court was adjourned on Friday, Garbin's other attorney, Mark Satawa, said they respected the judge's decision, but they have a "different view of the evidence."

"Our client and his family are salt of the earth people ... they are good people," Satawa said. "My client is not a crackpot."

Fox has been accused of saying he wanted to kidnap Whitmer before the November 3 election. Trask testified the suspects discussed the election in the recordings, and "it could have related to the president" and the suspects were also upset about the lockdowns.   

Under questioning, Trask said he was not aware if Fox had any mental health or anxiety issues, but said he was aware Fox smoked marijuana. He did not argue with the idea that Fox had "kind of a big mouth," saying "he does enjoy talking quite a bit." 

Trask testified several members of anti-government paramilitary groups from several states had discussed kidnapping Whitmer or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Virginia was another state Mr. Trump had tweeted needed to be "liberated." 

Scott Graham, an attorney for defendant Kaleb Franks, argued the comments were "loose talk." 

"This overriding allegation of a conspiracy is so outlandish, it's got to be made up of actual facts," he said. "How do they actually tie in with a agreement."   

Prosecutors argued that there was enough evidence of an actual plot to kidnap Whitmer even though the defendants had not discussed specifically what they would do with her if they had been successful. 

"You're crossing a pretty serious line when you go in the middle of the night in multiple cars and stage up at a gas station and ... you go to the house of the sitting governor of the state to go surveil their house at night," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said.  

Kessler said the defendants "got caught because they are amateurs and they hadn't thought things through."   

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