Violent militia groups have long had a thing for Facebook, and a newly foiled violent plot makes clear that hasn’t changed.
In a 15-page criminal complaint released Thursday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation accused six men of a months-long effort — discussed over Facebook and unnamed encrypted messaging apps — to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. According to the complaint, the men used Facebook Live to call for possible ideas, and Facebook more broadly to share photos and videos of their bomb and weapons tests.
The entire plot appears to have kicked off in response to coronavirus-related shutdowns, with the complaint noting that one alleged participant, Adam Fox, was particularly incensed about the state-mandated closure of gyms.
“I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something,” Fox, broadcasting on Facebook Live to a private group this past June, told some co-conspirators. “You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.”
Some of those ideas, according to the FBI, involved kidnapping the Governor at her vacation home and holding a mock “trial” before killing her.
Importantly, the FBI had not one but two confidential sources within the group. As such, any encrypted apps the men may have used (though the complaint doesn’t specify, Facebook Messenger offers an encryption option) were useless. Encryption doesn’t do you any good if someone on your group chat hands all your conversations over to law enforcement, after all.
Importantly, the militia did more than just talk. Over the weekend of July 10, five of the six charged met in Wisconsin to conduct “field training exercises.” Those exercises included firing a rifle fitted with a silencer, and the construction — and attempted demolition — of two improvised explosive devices.
“Attendees shared photos and video recordings of the exercise in Facebook discussions that included [one of the FBI’s confidential human sources],” notes the complaint.
The planning advanced so far as to involve actual scouting trips to Governor Whitmer’s vacation home, and included discussion of blowing up a nearby bridge to slow possible police response.
Bridge Michigan, a news nonprofit, identified what appear to be social media accounts belonging to two of the accused men. While the posts are no longer viewable on Facebook and Instagram, a screenshot obtained by Bridge Michigan shows a Facebook post from Brian Caserta, one of the accused, pondering the legitimacy of violence.
“Is it morally legitimate to initiate violence and theft against non violent people?” reads the now-deleted Facebook post.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, uploaded to Vimeo by Bridge Michigan and embedded below, Caserta talks in detail about his new gun.
In late July, the complaint notes that Fox used Facebook to rally his accused fellow co-conspirators.
“We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen,” he is accused of posting to a private Facebook page. “This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears . . . it starts now so get fucking prepared!!”
We reached out to Facebook for a general comment on the alleged use of its services by militia groups to plan violence, and by these men specifically.
“We remove content, disable accounts, and immediately report to law enforcement when there is a credible threat of imminent harm to people or public safety,” a Facebook spokesperson told Mashable over email. “We proactively reached out and cooperated with the FBI early in this ongoing investigation.”
Notably, Facebook officially banned violent militia groups in August of this year.