Wisconsin man charged in alleged Whitmer plot released on bond

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Wisconsin man charged in connection with alleged plans to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has been released on bond, records show.

Brian Higgins faced an extradition hearing Monday in a court in Columbia County, Wisconsin, appearing by Zoom from jail. His attorney, Christopher Van Wagner, requested bond, which was granted.

A district attorney representing Wisconsin asked for a $1 million bond, citing the seriousness of the charges. Van Wagner said his client, a lifelong resident, did not pose a major flight risk and had no criminal history.

Judge Todd Hepler set bond at $10,000. It's the lowest bond granted for any of the 14 conspirators charged in the alleged plot, so far.

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

Higgins was ordered to limit travel to Columbia and Dane counties in Wisconsin, surrender his passport and have no contact with others charged in the alleged kidnapping scheme, the records show.

A status conference is scheduled for Nov. 18. 

The Wisconsin Dells resident was arrested Thursday. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office later announced Higgins had been charged with material support of an act of terrorism for his alleged role in the plot that state and federal authorities said involved training and planning by a militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen to kidnap Whitmer and storm Michigan's Capitol in Lansing.

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.

State and federal prosecutors announced charges this month against 13 individuals. 

During an Oct. 13 hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids a magistrate judge ordered Waterford resident Kaleb Franks, Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta of Canton Township jailed without bond while awaiting trial after determining they are dangers to the community.

Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 26, both of Munith, are being held on $10 million bond.

Federal documents filed in court allege the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer's 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 were planning on "taking out" Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

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

Higgins lives on a 20-acre site in southern Wisconsin. His residence is 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.

If convicted, Higgins faces up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Nessel's office has said Higgins would be extradited to northern Michigan's Antrim County, where three of the other 13 suspects in the alleged kidnapping plot have been arraigned.

In a statement Monday, his lawyer said he "hopes to discuss possible agreement for Higgins’ voluntary appearance in Antrim County before the next Wisconsin hearing date."

Van Wagner added that he "hopes the Michigan prosecutors will consider allowing Higgins, who disputes the charges against him, to appear there voluntarily in that time frame and then be released on the same bond terms set today."

"This would save the state of Michigan substantial costs and resources in the extradition proceedings, as well as the costs of transporting and holding Higgins in Michigan while this case wends its way to trial some time next year," he said.

The attorney said "even the state’s notably sparse factual assertions against Higgins show that he ... was not part of any militia or anti-government movement, and was in Michigan but once, unlike the other accused men, whose activities were tracked for months by the FBI. Higgins stands alone and apart from those other arrestees."