Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a news conference in August. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
The group of men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as part an alleged terrorist plot also targeted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the Detroit News reported Tuesday morning.
An FBI special agent testified during a hearing in federal court that the three defendants had discussed “taking out” a sitting governor, specifically mentioning Whitmer and Northam in response to their public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said in a Thursday statement that the “the FBI alerted key members of the Governor’s security team throughout the course of their investigation.” But “per security protocols for highly-classified information, neither the governor nor other members of his staff were informed,” she added.
“At no time was the Governor or his family in imminent danger,” Yarmosky said. “Enhanced security measures have been in place for Governor Northam and his family for quite some time, and they will remain.” The governor and his staff found out about the threats on Thursday morning, she added later.
Yarmosky also blamed tweets from President Donald Trump for inciting violence against Northam.
“Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to ‘LIBERATE VIRGINIA’ in April — just like Michigan,” she added. “In fact, the president regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop.”
Northam declined to answer further questions during a Thursday afternoon news conference — his first public appearance since he tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 25 — citing the “ongoing criminal investigation” into the threats. But he reiterated that neither he nor First Lady Pam Northam were in any imminent danger, and said he would not continue his work as governor under a “cloud of intimidation”
“That’s not who I am,” he added. “I was elected to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia, and that’s what I plan to do.”
Joe Macenka, a spokesman for the Capitol Police, wrote in a Thursday email that “all threats of this nature are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly by the Division of Capitol Police, the Virginia State Police, the FBI and any other appropriate law enforcement partners.
“That said, we do not comment on operational specifics for the simple reason that doing so might endanger our stakeholders or law enforcement agencies,” he added.
Northam first implemented a stay-at-home order for Virginia in late March, but the state has gradually been easing restrictions through the spring and summer. Currently, the commonwealth is in Phase Three of its reopening plan, which allows for indoor dining and recreation activities such as indoor swimming as long as certain precautions are followed. Unlike many other states, Northam never required brick and mortar retail spaces to close.
Tuesday’s hearing included a wide sample of evidence collected during the investigation against the defendants, who were indicted with four other members or connections of a Michigan-based militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen.
The group was implicated late last week for the plot against Whitmer, part of a wider plan for an anti-government uprising.
It’s not the first time a threat has been made against Northam. Last year, as Virginia Democrats prepared to introduce new gun control legislation in the General Assembly, a Newport News man was arrested and charged with one felony count of threats to bomb or burn after threatening to kill Northam and burn the executive mansion down. In January, Northam also banned guns on Capitol Square after “credible threats of violence” in advance of massive gun rights rally that brought thousands of armed demonstrators to the streets around the Capitol.
This story was updated to include later comments from Gov. Ralph Northam.
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