One member of an anti-government group accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan last fall pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court, with documents revealing new details about the group’s plans to storm the Michigan Capitol and commit other violence.
Ty G. Garbin, a 25-year-old airplane mechanic, agreed to testify against the other five defendants charged in federal court in western Michigan, according to the plea agreement filed by prosecutors. Eight other men have been accused in state court of cooperating with the violent plans, and Garbin will serve as a witness against them, too, it said.
Under questioning by Judge Robert J. Jonker in court, Garbin said that he realized that his testimony might end up hurting people he knows. His sentencing was scheduled for July 8.
The defendants, arrested in October, were accused of planning to kidnap Whitmer around the time of the Nov. 3 election and either to abandon her in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan or to take her to another state, possibly Wisconsin, and put her on trial.
They accused Whitmer of acting like a “tyrant” for restrictions the state had put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The plot came amid heightened political tensions surrounding the presidential election, tensions that had been building all year in Michigan with protests against lockdowns that armed groups helped to organize starting in April.
Former President Donald Trump had tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” at that time, and two of the accused in the state case were among the protesters who entered the Michigan statehouse last spring carrying long guns and dressed in camouflage.
Other plans discussed by the group included a military-style assault on the Michigan statehouse, as well as carrying out attacks against Michigan state police, and the plea agreement included new details about those scenarios.
Garbin and several of the others accused in the plot were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a secretive armed organization that spent much of 2020 discussing and rehearsing various efforts to attack the government, according to the court papers. The plans were laid out at several meetings and “field training exercises” in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.
At one “field training exercise” in Cambria, Wisconsin, in July the defendants used plywood, shipping pallets and a door frame to construct a “shoot house” to practice breaching the Michigan Capitol or other buildings, according to the documents. Adam D. Fox, the accused leader of the group, had allegedly sought to recruit 200 men for the attack, but it was later abandoned because it was too complicated and some members of the group opposed it.
In the plot to kidnap the governor, the defendants visited Whitmer’s vacation home in Michigan twice and planned to buy $4,000 worth of explosives to blow up a bridge to try to prevent the police from responding to their plan.
The group discussed waiting until after the election, as members anticipated widespread civil unrest that might make it easier to carry out the plan, the agreement said. At a field training exercise near Luther, Michigan, the men also built a shoot house to simulate an attack on the governor’s house and practiced attacking it with firearms, the plea agreement stated.
The field training exercises also included attempts to build homemade bombs that included gunpowder, shrapnel and fireworks for ignition. Two attempts to explode such devices failed, according to court papers.
Gary K. Springstead, the lead attorney defending Garbin, said his client already faced a life sentence for the kidnapping charge, a felony. Further charges for weapons or explosives were possible as federal officials released more details about what the group had done. The plea agreement could help lower the amount of jail time for the kidnapping plot and also stave off further charges, said Springstead.
During preliminary hearings in October, Springstead and other attorneys in the case had focused on the idea that the men were practicing their First and Second Amendment rights when denigrating the governor.
The fact that the men had cased the governor’s house made any such defense much harder, he said. “There was a line that was crossed, something that you cannot undo,” the attorney said.
Fox had posted pictures and video of the vacation home on the group’s encrypted chat. In addition, Garber had joined with the other men in discussing what to do if President Joe Biden won the election and selected Whitmer for his Cabinet and she was assigned Secret Service protection. The men talked about attacking her security detail, including possibly using a shoulder-fired weapon to destroy a lead vehicle in her convoy.
One defendant, Barry G. Croft Jr., from Delaware, said that he had brought an AR-15 military-style rifle with a projectile launcher for that purpose, the plea agreement said. Fox had also told the group that he had zip ties and a Taser to help “neutralize” the governor, the agreement said.
The government used two informants from among the armed paramilitary group and two undercover agents to build the case against the men, but Springstead said his client could tell the entire story.
Springstead said Garbin regretted what he had done.
“Everyone is entitled to their thoughts about what the governor should or should not do, but he realized that he had made a terrible mistake,” he said.