The men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also discussed “taking out” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam because of coronavirus lockdown orders, an FBI agent revealed Tuesday.
The disclosure by FBI Special Agent Richard Trask that Northam also was being eyed for possible kidnapping came at a bond hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for three of the suspects.
Trask, who did not use Northam’s name during his testimony, said the idea of kidnapping Northam and Whitmer was raised at a meeting the men attended in June in Ohio with other members of anti-government groups.
“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask testified.
Northam’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement Tuesday, “The FBI alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation.”
But Yarmosky also said that in line with “security protocols for highly-classified information, neither the Governor nor other members of his staff were informed.”
“At no time was the Governor or his family in imminent danger,” Yarmosky said. “Enhanced security measures have been in place for Governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain.”
Both Whitmer and Northam are Democrats who were criticized on Twitter earlier this year by President Donald Trump for their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, which include restrictions on businesses and other nonessential services.
The president, who is a Republican, in April tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” in reference to Whitmer’s strict lockdown orders for the state to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the same day, Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Whitmer last week suggested that Trump was “complicit” in the alleged plot against her because of his rhetoric.
On Tuesday, Northam’s spokeswoman echoed that suggestion in her own statement.
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April — just like Michigan,” Yarmosky said.
“In fact, the President regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop.”
CNBC has reached out to the White House for comment on Yarmosky’s statement.
Federal authorities and state law enforcement officials in Michigan last week arrested 13 men in connection with the alleged scheme to kidnap Whitmer and related crimes.
Six defendants are charged in federal court with conspiring to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home, after which one defendant allegedly planned to put her on trial for “treason.”
Those defendants include Kaleb Franks, 26, Daniel Harris, 23, and Brandon Caserta, 32, the three men who were the subject of Tuesday’s court hearing.
Seven other men known to be members or associates of the militia group Wolverine Watchmen were charged under the Michigan state anti-terrorism law.
Whitmer, during an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, was asked about the news of Northam being discussed by the same suspects in the alleged plot to kidnap her.
“I think in this moment in American politics, it’s so crucial that people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle stand up and call this out and call it what it is and examine their own behavior and ask, ‘Have I done anything to contribute to this?'” Whitmer said.
“Giving domestic terror groups credibility or giving them space or sending them messages or encouragement means that you’re complicit. This is a moment in American history where we need to see leaders stand up for the right thing, right now. Lives are on the line. Whether it’s around Covid-19 or it is around domestic terror,” the governor said.