Tag: Virginia

Virginia Governor Was Also a Possible Target of Anti-Government Plot, F.B.I. Says

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia was discussed as a possible target by members of an anti-government group charged last week with plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor, the F.B.I. said on Tuesday.

During a hearing in Grand Rapids, Mich., Special Agent Richard J. Trask II of the F.B.I. said that Mr. Northam and other officials were targeted because of their aggressive lockdown orders to restrict the spread of the coronavirus.

Last week, 13 men accused of involvement in the alleged plot were charged with a variety of state and federal crimes including terrorism, conspiracy and weapons possession. They also talked of planning to storm the Michigan State Capitol and start a civil war, the authorities said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the authorities said the suspects also spoke about “taking” the Virginia governor “based” on coronavirus lockdown orders that restricted businesses.

Mr. Trask said that some of the suspects held a meeting in Dublin, Ohio, several months ago where they “discussed possible targets” for “taking a sitting governor.”

Mr. Trask also provided additional details about the alleged plans to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. One of the suspects, Adam Fox, spoke about a plan to take Ms. Whitmer out on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan, and leave her stranded with the engine disabled so that someone would have to “come rescue” her, Mr. Trask said.

The other alternative had been to take Ms. Whitmer to Wisconsin or another unspecified state and to put her on trial. The accused had referred to her as “a tyrant.”

Last week, the authorities said the men were affiliated with an extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen, which court documents called “an anti-government, anti-law enforcement militia group.”

The group met many times for tactical and firearms training and practiced building explosives, the F.B.I. said, and spoke about attacking law enforcement officers.

Mr. Trask and the prosecutor mentioned several other men who they said were involved in the surveillance and the discussion of the plot, including one from Wisconsin, but who were not among those arrested.

The testimony also indicated that the participants were suspicious that government informants were monitoring or had infiltrated their group, changing encrypted messaging platforms and giving each other code names in hopes of escaping such surveillance.

At one point after a planning trip to case the governor’s vacation home and the surrounding area, Mr. Fox asked that all the participants be scanned with a device that is supposed to identify if anyone was wearing a transmission wire or a recording device.

The effort apparently failed, Mr. Trask said, with the group eventually infiltrated by four informants or undercover agents who continued to document what the group was planning.

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Anti-government paramilitary groups in plot against Michigan governor also discussed kidnapping Virginia governor, FBI agent says

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Members of anti-government paramilitary groups discussed kidnapping Virginia’s governor during a June meeting in Ohio, an FBI agent testified Tuesday during a court hearing in Michigan.

Special Agent Richard Trask was part of the investigation that led to six men being arrested and charged last week with plotting to kidnap Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Seven other men face state terrorism charges.

Trask did not name Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, during his testimony in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids. He said members of anti-government groups from multiple states attended the meeting.

“They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” Trask said. He said the people at the meeting were unhappy with the governors’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trask did not discuss further planning aimed at Northam.

The FBI did not brief Northam on any potential threat, according to a state official with knowledge of the governor’s briefings who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The June meeting was part of the FBI’s investigation of various anti-government groups, leading to last week’s stunning announcement that six men had been arrested for an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.

Tuesday’s court hearing was to review investigators’ evidence against Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta and whether they should be detained before trial. The men are all Michigan residents.

A sixth man, Barry Croft, was being held in Delaware.

The FBI used confidential sources, undercover agents and clandestine recordings to foil the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Some defendants had conducted coordinated surveillance of the Democratic governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan in August and September, according to a criminal complaint.

The men were trying to retaliate against Whitmer due to her “uncontrolled power” amid the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. They said four of the men had planned to meet last week to pay for explosives and exchange tactical gear.

Whitmer, who was considered as Joe Biden’s running mate and is nearly halfway through a four-year term, has been widely praised for her response to the virus outbreak but also sharply criticized by Republican lawmakers and people in conservative areas of the state. The Capitol has been the site of many rallies, including ones with gun-toting protesters calling for her ouster.

Whitmer put major restrictions on personal movement and the economy, although many of those limits have been lifted since spring.

Fox, who was described as one of the leaders, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids. The owner said Fox was opposed to wearing a mask during the pandemic and kept firearms and ammunition at the store.

The defendants face up to life in prison if convicted.

Seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and providing material support for terrorist acts by seeking a “civil war.”

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Ministries and photographer claim Virginia LGBTQ rights law forces them to ‘violate’ their beliefs

A Christian conservative legal group has filed lawsuits on behalf of nonprofit ministries and a photographer, saying a new Virginia law offering LGBTQ protections forces them to “abandon” their beliefs.



a close up of a flag: Pride flags decorate Market Square in Old Town Alexandria during Pride Month on June 24, 2020, in Alexandria, Virginia.


© Shannon Finney/Getty Images
Pride flags decorate Market Square in Old Town Alexandria during Pride Month on June 24, 2020, in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Virginia Values Act offers sweeping protections to the state’s LGBTQ community in areas including housing, employment, public spaces and credit applications. It was signed into law in April.

But a group caled the Alliance Defending Freedom says the law has forced its clients “to abandon their core convictions in hiring and other polices or face fines up to $100,000 for each violation.”

“Our clients offer spiritual guidance, education, pregnancy support, and athletic opportunities to their communities because of the religious beliefs that motivate them,” ADF senior counsel Denise Harle said in a statement.

“But Virginia’s new law forces these ministries to abandon and adjust their convictions or pay crippling fines — in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution and other state laws. Such government hostility toward people of faith has no place in a free society,” Harle added.

In a statement from his press secretary, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court.

“Attorney General Herring believes that every Virginian has the right to be safe and free from discrimination no matter what they look like, where they come from, or who they love,” Press Secretary Charlotte P.L. Gomer told CNN.

“LGBT Virginians are finally protected from housing and employment discrimination under Virginia law and Attorney General Herring looks forward to defending the Virginia Values Act in court against these attacks.”

What the lawsuits claim

The ADF is representing the Calvary Road Baptist Church, Community Fellowship Church, Community Christian Academy and Care Net, a pregnancy center in one lawsuit and photographer Bob Updegrove in the other.

In Calvary Road Baptist Church v. Herring, the ADF says its clients believe “marriage is between one man and one woman, and that God created humanity as immutably male and female. ”

The Virginia Values Act, it claims, forces churches and other organizations with similar beliefs to choose between “risking bankruptcy while being punished for their religious convictions, or abandoning their ministries all together.”

Updegrove, according to ADF, is a Virginia-based photographer who also owns a photography studio.

He creates art “to promote messages consistent with his convictions, including his convictions about marriage,” ADF said.

The state’s law, ADF says, forces him “to create photographs celebrating same-sex weddings or stop his wedding business altogether” and forbids him to explain on his business’ website “his religious reasons for only creating artwork consistent with his beliefs about marriage.”

“Artists should be free to choose the messages they promote,” the ADF argues in a statement.

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