Updated, 12:56 p.m., 10/13/20 with comments from Whitmer
The group of men accused of conspiring to kidnap and kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also targeted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
An FBI special agent testified during a hearing in federal court that the three defendants had discussed “taking out” a sitting governor, specifically mentioning Whitmer and Northam in response to their public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a Thursday statement that the “the FBI alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation.” But “per security protocols for highly-classified information, neither the governor nor other members of his staff were informed,” she added.
“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.” She also blamed tweets from President Donald Trump for inciting violence against Northam.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April — just like Michigan,” she added. “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.”
Joe Macenka, a spokesman for the Capitol Police, wrote in a Thursday email that “all threats of this nature are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the Division of Capitol Police, the Virginia State Police, the FBI and any other appropriate law enforcement partners.
“That said, we do not comment on operational specifics for the simple reason that doing so might endanger our stakeholders or law enforcement agencies,” he added.
Northam first implemented a stay-home order for Virginia in late March, as Whitmer did in Michigan, but the state has gradually been easing restrictions through the spring and summer. Currently, the commonwealth is in Phase Three of its reopening plan, which allows for indoor dining and recreation activities such as indoor swimming as long as certain precautions are followed.
Tuesday’s hearing included a wide sample of evidence collected during the investigation against the defendants, who were indicted with four other members or connections of a Michigan-based extremist organization known as the Wolverine Watchmen.
The group was implicated late last week for the plot against Whitmer, part of a wider plan for an anti-government uprising. Thirteen men are now facing multiple terrorism and conspiracy charges. The investigation remains ongoing.
“It wasn’t simply to kidnap. It was to put me on a trial of some sort and possibly execute me,” Whitmer said on “The View” on Tuesday. “That’s the kind of thing you expect to hear from a group like ISIS. That’s why when people refer to them as militias, we have to call them out as what they are — domestic terrorists.”
The charges came after months of anti-Whitmer rhetoric and outrage from right-wing activists, who have held numerous protests against her use of executive powers throughout Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak. At many of those demonstrations, protesters were heavily armed.
Whitmer said she wasn’t surprised that Trump continued to criticize her hours after state and federal officials announced the indictments.
“This is a moment where leaders can either call out evil intent and plot like one to — unprecedented — to take out a sitting governor. Shouldn’t matter what side of the aisle that governor sits on,” she said. “It was an opportunity to say, ‘How are you? How is your family? We care about you. We may not agree, but we care about you.’ That’s the decent thing to do. That’s not what happened. It’s a stark reminder of the character in our nation.”
It’s not the first time a threat has been made against Northam. Last year, as Virginia Democrats prepared to introduce new gun control legislation in the General Assembly, a Newport News man was arrested and charged with one felony count of threats to bomb or burn after threatening to kill Northam and burn the executive mansion down. In January, Northam also banned guns on Capitol Square after “credible threats of violence” in advance of major gun rights rally.