A man who pleaded guilty to planning a kidnapping of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told jurors Wednesday that he and his allies wanted to attack before the 2020 election to prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.
Ty Garbin didn't say why they thought an abduction that fall 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. It didn't have to be,” he said of striking before the election. “It was just preferred.”
Garbin, 26, is a critical witness for prosecutors in the trial of four men charged with conspiracy: Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
The group was arrested a month before the election, a stunning bust near the end of a national campaign that polarized the country. Investigators said the men were antigovernment extremists who were trying to come up with $4,000 for an explosive to blow up a bridge in northern Michigan during an abduction.
They were angry about Whitmer's statewide COVID-19 restrictions and generally disgusted with politicians, according to trial evidence.
The testimony has linked — at times indirectly — the kidnapping plot to a series of events, especially right-wing protests at the Michigan Capitol and elsewhere in response to pandemic orders. Challenges to the results of the 2020 presidential election followed, culminating in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6.
Garbin said a kidnapping would be the “ignition” for civil war “and hopefully other states or other groups would follow suit.”
He explained the Whitmer scheme to jurors, taking them through days of training, secret messages and a late night trip to her weekend home. He talked about how he built a “shoot house” with wood, tarps and scrap materials so the men could practice 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 U.S. 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.
Defense 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 practice 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 traveled to Elk Rapids in three vehicles for night surveillance of Whitmer's property. Garbin said his job was to find it and flash a light to others at a boat launch.
He said his ultimate assignment would be to “perform the actual kidnapping.”
Under questioning by the defense, Garbin repeated that Fox was a leader of the cabal. Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons wondered how Garbin could be inspired by a guy who lived in the “sad” basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, with the living space divided by hanging blankets.
Garbin acknowledged he had called Fox “Captain Autism” and that his shooting skills “weren't top-notch.”
The airplane mechanic began cooperating with prosecutors after the group was arrested. Garbin 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 Wednesday, he said he was mostly a libertarian who joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to find people who believed in limited government — “I'm not a fan of taxes” — and supported gun rights. In June 2020, Garbin said he met Fox at a pro-gun rally at the state Capitol, a connection that would put him on a path to target Whitmer.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seem like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.
She has blamed Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.