BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Editor
As the shocking news quickly spread last Thursday that state and federal officials had foiled an alleged plot to kidnap and possibly harm or murder Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a late-afternoon press conference opened local eyes even more when Clarkston was mentioned as a location where persons of interest reside.
A house near Waldon Road and Main Street (M-15) was also allegedly raided last Wednesday, but it is not known if arrests were made. No names have been made public from that situation.
Calls to the Independence Township substation were deferred to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, who said that the raid was an FBI and Michigan State Police case.
“I applaud the efforts by the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office, the Michigan State Police, and all local authorities in assisting in uncovering this plot against Governor Whitmer,” said Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard. “It was a pleasure to host partner agencies to use our facilities for briefing and planning prior to the search warrants being executed. Let me be clear – while free speech and having your own individual opinions on politics are what make our country great, violence is never a political expression which will be tolerated, especially here in Oakland County.”
State and federal charges have been filed against 13 individuals to date.
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest – I never could’ve imagined anything like this,” Whitmer said.
“As a mom with two teenage daughters and three stepsons, my husband and I are eternally grateful to everyone who put themselves in harm’s way to keep our family safe,” she said, adding 2020 has been a hard year for all. “Hard for our doctors and nurses. Truck drivers and grocery store workers. It’s been hard for teachers and students and parents. Hard for those who have had to stay isolated to stay safe. And it’s not over yet.
“But here’s what I know. We are Michiganders. We have grit. We have heart. And we are tough as hell.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin commented on the situation.
“I am deeply disturbed to hear of the plot, conducted in part in my own district, to kidnap our Governor and commit violence against law enforcement,” Slotkin said. “I’m so thankful to federal, state and local law enforcement for taking the threat seriously and getting to the perpetrators before they could act. If true, they are cowards and criminals and should be treated accordingly. Make no mistake. This is about as far from their proclaimed patriotism as one can get.
“This is terrorism.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Michigan State Police, said the suspects are alleged to have called on their militia groups’ members to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse, and engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol building and kidnap government officials, including Whitmer.
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel said. “These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance. 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.”
Jody LaMacchia, state representative democratic candidate for the 46th District, issued a statement via email.
“On Thursday, we learned that the FBI thankfully thwarted a plot by a group of conspirators to violently overthrow the Michigan state government and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer,” LaMacchia said.
“We unreservedly condemn those who plotted against Michigan’s government and proudly stand united with Governor Whitmer.
“The federal investigation of the failed plot revealed that the would-be kidnappers were planning to demolish a bridge near Governor Whitmer’s home to hamper a response by law enforcement. Let’s instead work with Governor Whitmer to build bridges among us, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you believe.”
Through the work of more than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials, including experts from outside of Michigan, officers executed a series of search warrants and arrest warrants in more than a dozen cities around the state, including, Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township, and Waterford.
Of the 13 charged, 21-year-old Paul Bellar is from Milford is the lone local suspect. He’s charged with providing material support for terrorist acts (a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine), gang membership (a 20-year felony, which may be served as a consecutive sentence), and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony; felony firearm (a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively).
In total, 19 state felony charges were filed by Nessel against seven individuals known to be members or associates of the militia group Wolverine Watchmen.
Six individuals were also charged by Birge with separate, federal felony charges
Whitmer acknowledged her status with state residents and asked for peace.
“The disruption this virus has caused to our daily lives is immeasurable,” said Whitmer. “It has already taken the lives of more than 210,000 Americans, including over 6,800 right here in Michigan. As painful as these losses are, our hard work and sacrifices have saved thousands of lives. We have one of the strongest economic recoveries in the nation.
“Make no mistake. There will be more hard days ahead, but I want the people of Michigan to know this. As your governor, I will never stop doing everything in my power to keep you and your family safe. You don’t have to agree with me, but I do ask one thing – never forget that we are all in this together.
“Let’s show a little kindness. And a lot more empathy. Give one another some grace. And let’s take care of each other. Wear your mask. Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands frequently. And look out for your neighbors. We are Michiganders. I know we can get through this. We will get through this.”
“Michigan law enforcement officers are united in our commitment to rooting out terrorism in any form and we will take swift action against anyone seeking to cause violence or harm in our state,” added Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police. “Michigan residents can assist us in this mission by speaking up if you see suspicious activity or become aware of someone making threats.
“No tip is too small. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Tips can be submitted online confidentially 24/7 at michtip.state.mi.us.