The Wolverine Watchmen militia group didn't just plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but they were on a mission to attack the state Capitol and target police officers at their homes as part of a broader mission to instigate a civil war, authorities said Thursday in announcing felony charges against 13 militia members accused in a sensational case of domestic terrorism.
Attorney General Dana Nessel referred to the accused as "extremists" who are hoping to recruit new members "by seizing on a moment of civil unrest" to wreak havoc on the country. She identified the militia group as the Wolverine Watchmen, whose members are accused of, among other things, conducting surveillance outside Whitmer's vacation residence, using code language and encrypted messages to throw off police and planting a bomb under a bridge to divert law enforcement.
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel said at a press conference Thursday. "This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy, some of these groups’ mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”
Nessel's comments follow the filing of an FBI affidavit in U.S. District Court that alleges six militia members plotted a revolt on the government that included kidnapping Whitmer.
According to the FBI affidavit, the accused purchased items including a Taser and night goggles, conducted surveillance at Whitmer's cottage, and discussed blowing up a bridge to divert police, kidnapping Whitmer, and taking her to Wisconsin to face a "trial" for treason.
Michigan militia members say they are trying to take their movement mainstream, fashioning themselves as a private security force willing to defend against protests over racial injustice and police brutality that have turned violent in some parts of the state and country.
Dozens of armed members from various militias, most of them white, descended on the Michigan Capitol Thursday, mingling with other fringe groups like Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys at an annual Second Amendment rally. Their public show of force would have been rare two decades ago, when militias largely operated in secrecy after two men with ties to the early Michigan movement bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City.
"Militias are finally starting to realize that we have an important role in the public eye," said Phil Robinson, a Barry County resident and co-founder of the Michigan Liberty Militia. "The time is not to hide in the shadows. The time is to get out and be vocal, be visible."
Robinson — sporting black fatigues, an AR-15 pistol modified to mimic a rifle, wooden shield and braided beard — as become the unlikely face of the Michigan militia movement.
In May, his group acted as an armed "security detail" at a rally in Lansing, where thousands gathered to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order for COVID-19. They reprised the role at a similar protest in Grand Rapids, and Robinson spoke at an "American Patriot Rally" at the Capitol in July.