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Charges announced in plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan

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Six men have been arrested and charged with a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), the federal government revealed Thursday.

Angry at the governor’s policies to combat the spread of Covid-19, the men deemed Whitmer a “tyrant” and spent months planning to kidnap her, the government claims. They zeroed in on a plan to “use deadly force” to attack Whitmer’s vacation home, and planned to purchase additional supplies this week, FBI special agent Richard Trask wrote in an affidavit.

Six men — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta — are being charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor.

The government says the conspirators were in contact with a militia group based in Michigan — training in tactics and weapons with the group, and attempting to build an explosive device with a militia group member.

Though the group is not named in the federal government’s court papers, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel identified the group as the Wolverine Watchmen, and said her office has arrested and charged seven of its members under the state’s anti-terrorism act (in addition to the federal government’s charges against the previous six men). Nessel said the charged men hoped to “instigate a civil war.”

According to Trask’s affidavit, Fox and Croft had been “discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components” since at least early 2020, asserting that they believed state governments were violating the Constitution.

In June, Fox focused his attention on Gov. Whitmer, calling her a “tyrant bitch” and livestreaming a video “in which he complained about the judicial system and the State of Michigan controlling the opening of gyms,” the government claims.

“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch,” Fox said in a July conversation recorded by the FBI.

Harris also suggested in an encrypted group chat to “have one person go to her house, knock on the door, and when she answers it just cap her,” but the group settled on kidnapping, the government says.

Fox allegedly expressed hope that the plot would inspire similar overthrows of governors in other states. “I can see several states takin’ their fuckin’ tyrants. Everybody takes their tyrants,” he said, according to the government.

This plot looks like it wasn’t just idle talk

Trask’s affidavit goes on to give several details of the alleged conspiracy that make it seem like it wasn’t just empty talk — the planning had advanced quite far. The government claims:

  • The group started off by meeting secretly in the basement of Fox’s business, through a trapdoor that Fox kept covered with a rug. Fox didn’t permit cellphones to be brought down there (but one attendee was wearing a wire).
  • Over the summer, the men trained in tactics and weaponry at the home of one of the militia group’s members. They discussed storming the Michigan Capitol but soon concluded that Whitmer would be more vulnerable at either her vacation home or the governor’s official summer residence. “It’s a perfect fuckin’ setup. Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible,” one plotter said in a recorded conversation.
  • Eventually, some of the men made two trips to surveil Whitmer’s vacation home, and discuss logistics for the kidnapping. They proposed bombing a nearby bridge to slow any police response. They also discussed setting off bombs elsewhere to distract the police while the kidnapping unfolded.
  • Fox said in an encrypted chat that he had bought an 800,000-volt taser for use in the operation, and he and several others planned to meet with someone (unbeknownst to them, an undercover FBI agent) Wednesday to buy explosives.

This week, investigators made their move. According to Robert Snell of the Detroit News, the FBI raided a Michigan home Wednesday night, and the six men accused in the federal complaint were arrested.

On Thursday, Nessel said her office has filed state charges against seven of the militia group’s members, all of whom are now in custody, as well. She charged them under the state’s anti-terrorism act.


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White House defends Pence campaigning after aide’s COVID-19 test

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President Donald Trump’s chief of staff has defended a decision by Vice President Mike Pence to continue an aggressive campaign schedule even after Pence’s closest aide tested positive for COVID-19.

The decision to stay on the campaign trail, which was announced hours after the White House on Saturday said Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short tested positive for the virus, has been derided by public health experts.

At least four other people in Pence’s orbit have also tested positive, according to reports in United States media.

A spokesman for Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force since late February, said he will continue to campaign with just nine days until the November 3 election because he is considered “essential personnel”. That exempts the vice president from quarantining, despite being a “close contact” to someone who has been infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, the spokesman said.

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, defended that assertion on Sunday, saying Pence is “not just campaigning, he’s working” during the last leg of the presidential contest.

Trump and Pence have multiple daily campaign events scheduled as part of a battleground-state blitz they hope will close the gap in polls with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Meadows said Pence will wear a mask while campaigning, except for when he speaks at rallies.

“He’s wearing a mask as it relates to this particular thing because the doctors have advised him to do that,” he said during the interview.

Meadows also appeared to confirm a New York Times report that he had sought to prevent details of the infection from going public. When asked about the report, he said: “Sharing personal information is not something that we should do, not something that we do actually do, unless it’s the vice president or the president, or someone that’s very close to them where there is people in harm’s way.”

Pence, who held in-person rallies in Florida on Saturday, most recently tested negative on Sunday morning, hours before he was set to host a campaign event in North Carolina. Trump had tested positive for the virus on October 2 but was later cleared to return to campaigning after being briefly hospitalised.

‘Grossly negligent’

The decision to continue campaigning has been widely criticised by public health experts.

Dr Ali Nouri, a molecular biologist and president of the Federation of American Scientists, noted that Pence’s “negative test does not mean he is virus-free”.

“Even gold standard PCR tests don’t detect the virus in early stages when levels are low,” he tweeted on Sunday.

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease expert at George Mason University, in an interview with The Associated Press news agency, called the decision “grossly negligent”.

“It’s just an insult to everybody who has been working in public health and public health response,” she said. “I also find it really harmful and disrespectful to the people going to the rally” and the people on Pence’s own staff who will accompany him.

“He needs to be staying home 14 days,” she added. “Campaign events are not essential.”

Meanwhile, Dr Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and the former health commissioner of Baltimore, said Pence’s decision sets a bad example for a country grappling with a new surge in cases.

The US has reported more than 83,000 new infections two days in a row, breaking its daily record for new cases on Friday. More than 224,000 people have died in the country from COVID-19.

“How can we ask our patients to follow public health guidelines when [Pence] won’t?” she wrote.

Cavalier approach

The plan for Pence largely underscores the cavalier approach to the coronavirus the Trump campaign has taken throughout the election season, even after the president, his wife and son tested positive.

The president has continued to host rallies with little social distancing and with some congregants not wearing masks. He has used his own experience, and the fact that his teenage son, Barron, was asymptomatic, to portray the pandemic as overblown by Democrats and the media.

As recently as Saturday, the president suggested the US might already have a vaccine if it were not for “politics”, renewing unfounded allegations that actors inside government agencies have been working to slow the development of an inoculant to hurt his chances at re-election.

That, despite public health experts repeatedly stressing that even the most ambitious timelines would not produce a safe vaccine before election day.

In an interview on Sunday, the White House’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci said it would be clear whether a government-supported COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective by early December, but more widespread vaccination would not be likely until later in 2021.

“We will know whether a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of November, the beginning of December,” Fauci told the BBC.

“When you talk about vaccinating a substantial proportion of the population, so that you can have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak, that very likely will not be until the second or third quarter of the year.”

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Road to 270: This state could be a ‘game over’ win for Biden

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CNN’s John King breaks down the spending and traveling of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in the run-up to Election Day.

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‘Cancel Borat’: Some in Kazakhstan not amused by comedy sequel

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The release of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat sequel has yet again elicited mixed reactions in Kazakh society.

The mockumentary comedy film, directed by Jason Woliner and entitled Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, was released on Friday on Amazon Prime.

The fictional titular character is a Kazakh journalist and television personality Borat Sagdiyev, played by Baron Cohen, and characterised by his exaggerated racist, antisemitic and misogynist views, which are portrayed in the film as being typical in Kazakhstan.

While the movie is a satire on American ignorance and prejudice, rather than an attempt to mock Kazakhs, not everyone in Kazakhstan has appreciated the joke.

Prior to the movie’s release, more than 100,000 people signed an online petition to cancel the film.

Small groups of protesters also gathered in front of the US consulate in the Kazakh city of Almaty on the day of the premiere.

The social media reaction was particularly heated. The hashtag #cancelborat appeared on Twitter and Instagram, with thousands of Kazakhs outraged by the alleged racism of the movie and accusing Baron Cohen of insulting the nation.

To make things worse, before the premiere the film’s marketing team set up fake Instagram and Twitter accounts impersonating the Kazakh government. Initially, most tweets focused on the weather and the activities of the country’s ministers.

“Little known fact: Kazakhs were first in the world to domesticate horses. Another great moment in the history of our great nation! #technology #worldculture,” said a tweet from September 30.

That same day, the spoof account tweeted to congratulate Donald Trump – the “great friend of the Kazakh people” – for winning the presidential debate before it even took place.

“Apologies. We are unable to currently follow debate because of poor Wi-Fi signal despite recent government purchase of broadband account. Please inform us of developments! #debates2020,” said a subsequent tweet.

“GREAT NEWS! We are using Wi-Fi of neighbouring a**holes Uzbekistan! Watching debate again!,” the account tweeted minutes later.

While the press office of the Kazakh prime minister felt obliged to deny being the author of the account, this time the authorities restrained from making official comments about the movie.

‘Borat the last thing to worry about’

The first Borat movie, titled Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which was released in 2006, initially elicited criticism from government officials.

But in 2012, Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said he was “grateful to Borat for helping attract tourists to Kazakhstan”.

He also said following the film’s release, the number of visas issued by the country grew tenfold.

Kazakh society, however, remains divided.

“Borat has once again split the Kazakhstanis into two camps. Some people are deeply outraged and say that the film is a lie because it was shot in Romania, not Kazakhstan. Our country is only 30 years old and state symbols are still sacralised,” Tatiana Fominova, a Kazakh marketing specialist, told Al Jazeera.

“The other half understands that the film is primarily about the United States and Sacha Baron Cohen has picked Kazakhstan almost randomly,” she said.

Fominova noted that, because of Borat, foreigners often laugh at Kazakhstan as they believe the movie reflects reality.

She said she had come across this reaction herself during a trip to the US, which she said was unpleasant, but added she would not hold it against the filmmakers.

“The level of absurdity and corruption in our country is so high that Borat is the last thing to worry about,” Fominova said.

“Kazakhstan grabs world media attention only in connection to consecutive political and social scandals. Borat cannot spoil this image even more.”

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