A US man who has pleaded guilty to planning to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told jurors on Wednesday that he and four men on trial wanted to attack before the 2020 election to prevent Joe Biden from winning the United States presidency.
Ty Garbin did not say why the alleged plotters thought an abduction of Whitmer would stop Biden from defeating then-President Donald Trump.
“We wanted to cause as much a disruption as possible to prevent Joe Biden from getting into office,” Garbin said. “It didn’t have to be” before the election, he said. “It was just preferred.”
Garbin, 26, is a key witness for prosecutors in the trial of four men who have been charged with conspiracy: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
The group was arrested a month before the election in a stunning bust in the middle of a US presidential campaign that polarised the nation. Investigators said the men were anti-government extremists who were trying to come up with $4,000 for explosives to blow up a bridge in northern Michigan during an abduction.
The men were angry about Whitmer’s statewide COVID-19 restrictions and generally disgusted with US politicians, according to trial testimony.
Garbin explained the scheme to jurors, taking them through days of training, secret messages, and a late-night trip to Whitmer’s weekend home. He talked about how he built a “shoot house” with wood, tarps, and scrap materials to resemble the lakeside property so the men could practise an eventual assault.
The goal was “to kidnap the governor”, Garbin told a prosecutor.
“There was no question in your mind that everybody knew?” Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler asked.
“No question,” Garbin said.
The jury has heard from FBI agents and an informant who secretly recorded hours of incriminating conversations. But Garbin’s testimony was significant because it came from someone who pleaded guilty and said he was a willing participant in the plan to snatch Whitmer.
Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, will also testify.
Defence lawyers claim the men were entrapped by the government. Garbin, however, told jurors that he never heard anyone talk about being swayed by informants.
He said he invited the group to his property in Luther, Michigan to train for a violent assault on Whitmer’s second home. He put together a crude structure so the men could practise going in and out of tight spaces.
“I was kind of ballparking it,” Garbin said of the layout. “Every house had a front door. Every house had a living room. Every house had a hallway. Every house had a back door.”
In September 2020, Garbin, Fox, Croft and others travelled to Elk Rapids in three vehicles for night surveillance of Whitmer’s property. Garbin said his job was to find the house and flash a light to others at a boat launch.
He said his ultimate assignment would be to “perform the actual kidnapping”.
Garbin, an aeroplane mechanic, began cooperating with prosecutors after the group was arrested. He testified to the grand jury that indicted the men, and he was rewarded with a relatively light six-year prison sentence, a term that could be reduced after the trial.
“I am truly sorry,” Garbin said last August.
In court on Wednesday, Garbin explained that he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to find people who believed in limited government and supported gun rights.
In June 2020, he said he met Fox at a pro-gun rally at the Michigan Capitol, a connection that would put him on a path to target Whitmer.
Whitmer has blamed Trump for fomenting anger about coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn violent right-wingers like those charged in the case. Whitmer also has said the former president was complicit in the January 6 Capitol riot.