Michigan’s attorney-general has filed domestic terrorism charges against a 14th man accused of taking part in a plot by armed extremists to kidnap the state governor as retribution for the public health orders she imposed to control spread of the coronavirus.
The latest suspect in the alleged conspiracy, Brian Higgins, 51, was arrested on Thursday in his home state of Wisconsin, where he faces extradition proceedings, Michigan Attorney-General Dana Nessel said.
Mr Higgins is the eighth man charged by Michigan authorities in the case, all of them described by prosecutors as members or associates of an anti-government militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen.
Six other men have been arrested on federal kidnapping charges stemming from the same joint investigation by the FBI, state police and other agencies.
They are accused of conspiring to abduct Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has clashed sharply with Republican President Donald Trump about stay-at-home measures she ordered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prosecutors say the men also sought to target law enforcement officers at their homes for intimidation, made threats of violence to incite civil unrest and trained for an operation to storm the Michigan state capitol in Lansing to take government officials hostage.
An FBI agent who testified at a detention hearing for several defendants on Tuesday in federal court described a meeting in Ohio where he said some of the accused conspirators also discussed ideas for killing Ms Whitmer and a possible abduction of Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.
The agent said the two governors were singled out because of COVID lockdown measures the conspirators believed had gone too far.
When first men were arrested and the plot was revealed last week, Ms Whitmer blamed Mr Trump for not condemning far-right groups.
“Just last week, the President of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” she said.
“ ‘Stand back and stand by,’ he told them. ‘Stand back and stand by’. Hate groups heard the President’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”
At least three of the defendants were among hundreds of protesters, many carrying weapons, who thronged the Michigan capitol on April 30 as state lawmakers debated Ms Whitmer’s request to extend her emergency health authority.
Mr Higgins, like his seven co-defendants charged in state court, has been charged with providing material support for terrorist acts, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.