GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Evidence released Friday by federal prosecutors shows the level of sophistication of those accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Among the exhibits released were a crudely-drawn map of Whitmer’s summer home, an emoji-laden text exchange about blowing up a bridge and a weapons training video in which two men jumped, guns blazing, from the front seat of a PT Cruiser.
‘It doesn’t have to be a good plan to be dangerous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in federal court in Grand Rapids Friday. “They got caught because they’re amateurs and they hadn’t thought it through.”
But Mark Satawa, defense attorney for one of the six federal defendants, told reporters the suspects were all talk and no action.
“We’re talking about guys who want to run around in the woods and say bad things about the government,” said Satawa, who is representing Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland in Livingston County.
“What we’re talking about is a First Amendment right to assembly, a First Amendment right to speech, a Second Amendment right to possess guns and own guns,” Satawa declared.
Satawa is known for representing a member of the Hutaree Militia, a Michigan-based group that was indicted in 2010 on charges of conspiring to commit rebellion against the government amid other crimes. A federal judge dismissed the charges in 2012, ruling the government had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants had reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the government.
But in the case of the six men accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer, federal prosecutors say there’s evidence of clear intent, including pictures and videos the men shot while physically surveilling Whitmer’s summer home.
Federal Magistrate Judge Sally Berens on Friday determined there was enough probable cause to proceed with the case.
“The government isn’t required to show conspirators signed on a dotted line, they have to show unity of purpose,” Berens said in court Friday. “The fact that (the plan) was likely to be unsuccessful is not relevant.”
Evidence released Friday by federal prosecutors included weapons training videos, as well as a monologue in which defendant Brandon Caserta talks about killing police officers, saying “if this whole thing starts to happen, I’m telling you what, dude, I’m taking out as many of those m—– f—ers as I can.”
Also among the evidentiary items released Friday were a hand-drawn map of Whitmer’s summer home and a picture of a man who appeared to surveilling Whitmer’s home from across the lake.
Prosecutors also turned over to reporters multiple text message threads in which the alleged terrorists shared pictures of a bridge near the governor’s home and discussed through emojis blowing it up to delay police response.
In other texts, the men spoke of concerns the group had been infiltrated by the feds and discussed the need to switch to a different encrypted communication platform and maintain a low profile.
Federal agents in court Friday testified the arrest happened Oct. 7, in part due to concerns one of the informants had been compromised.
Defense attorney Mark Satawa signaled he plans to raise questions about the informants’ credibility. Prosecutors said the government paid one informant $8,600 for expenses and a second informant $14,800 for reporting and expenses.
According to federal documents, neither informant has a criminal history and both were deemed “reliable” by the FBI, which was able to corroborate information provided.
The FBI also planted two undercover agents in the group.