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Keep accused Whitmer kidnap plotter in jail, feds say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors on Monday fought an attempt by a Waterford Township man accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to leave jail on bond while awaiting trial in the high-profile extremism case.

Kaleb Franks, 26, aka "Red Hot," is dangerous and a flight risk and his lawyers have not presented any new evidence that would justify overturning a federal magistrate judge's order jailing the man last month, prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

The bond fight comes one month after prosecutors said the FBI had thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Whitmer. The conspiracy, which included surveillance visits to Whitmer's home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices, was motivated by anger over Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions, according to prosecutors.

FBI agents said Whitmer was among several governors singled out by the accused plotters. Others included South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam while one accused plotter threatened to hang President Donald Trump.

"Franks trained in combat tactics with semiautomatic weapons, cased the governor’s home at night, and conspired to manufacture untraceable guns to raise money for the conspiracy," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote. "No condition or combination of conditions short of detention would reasonably assure the safety of the community."

Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot. Specifically, Franks' lawyers have called the plot absurd and said there was no imminent threat to public officials.

There is a threat to Franks, however, his lawyers argued. Franks has diabetes and is at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 in jail, said his lawyer, Scott Graham. 

Prosecutors dismissed the diabetes argument, saying the court was aware of his medical issues before ordering him detained pending trial.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said Franks and co-defendants were dangers to the public and ordered them held without bond pending trial. The judge also said there was sufficient evidence to support the kidnapping conspiracy charge, pointing to allegations the alleged co-conspirators conducted nighttime surveillance of Whitmer's vacation home in northern Michigan.

The men facing federal kidnapping conspiracy charges were part of a broader attempt to spark a civil war by overthrowing the government and kill police personnel, according to the government. In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal court, including members and associates of an obscure militia, the Wolverine Watchmen.

The conspiracy charge filed against Franks is punishable by up to life in federal prison.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews