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Wisconsin man 14th person arrested in alleged Whitmer kidnapping plot

Beth LeBlanc Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A 51-year-old Wisconsin man has been charged with material support of an act of terrorism for his alleged role in plans to storm the Michigan Capitol and harm government officials, including kidnapping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Brian Higgins of Wisconsin Dells was arrested in Wisconsin on Thursday and will be extradited to northern Michigan's Antrim County, where three of the other 13 suspects in the alleged kidnapping plot have been arraigned, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel's Office.

Higgins participated in surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home, according to a Michigan State Police affidavit. He also provided night-vision goggles and used a dash camera in his vehicle to record footage of the surveillance. 

Higgins faces up to 20 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. 

This undated photo provided by Columbia County Jail shows Brian Higgins.

Nessel's office confirmed earlier Thursday that an additional person had been charged in relation to the alleged plot. Higgins is the eighth person charged by the state attorney general. Six others were charged by Michigan's two U.S. attorneys on federal counts.

Higgins lives on a 20-acre site in Wisconsin Dells in southern Wisconsin, a town known for its outdoor amusement parks and camping. He was politically active and a frequent presence at Newport town meetings, Supervisor Christopher Davis said.

“He likes to keep up to date on what’s going on and comes to meetings,” Davis said. 

Davis said he was shocked to learn about the criminal case.

“I would have never dreamt anything like this,” he said.

Friends and acquaintances struggled to absorb the allegations leveled against Higgins involving terrorism, surveillance and potential violence. 

“I just found out and can’t believe this is happening,” said Jackie Feist, who has a relative who lives with Higgins.

Higgins lives about 38 miles west of Cambria, a small village of about 800 people where, according to the FBI, five people accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer held field training in July.

That month, accused plotter Barry Croft Jr. of Delaware tried to build an improvised explosive device using ball bearings, a balloon, black powder and a fuse, according to the FBI.

“The construction of the devices was faulty, and they did not detonate as planned,” an FBI special agent wrote in an affidavit filed in federal court.

Last week, Nessel said she expected arrests would be made in her office's investigation into fringe groups threatening domestic terrorism. But she said it was unlikely those individuals would be linked to the individuals already charged by her office.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel

"I don't know that they will be associated necessarily with this particular group," Nessel told "CBS This Morning." "But certainly, do I expect further charges related to this series of groups that seem to be operating together not just in the state of Michigan but across several states in many jurisdictions? Yes, I do."

State and federal prosecutors announced charges a week ago against 13 individuals who they say were training and planning to kidnap Whitmer and storm the state Capitol. 

The seven who are believed to be members and associates of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen have been charged under the state's anti-terrorism law, a 20-year felony. The other six face federal charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which is punishable by up to life in prison. 

Federal documents filed in court last week allege the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer's personal vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

An FBI agent testified during a bond hearing Tuesday that some of the men also had plans of "taking out" Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com