Two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan's governor wanted to grab Gretchen Whitmer and hang her, prosecutors said during a stark closing argument Monday as the government tried for a second time to get convictions in an alleged plot to trigger a revolution in 2020.
The jury got the case around noon after a morning of final remarks, including a fiery challenge by defense lawyers who accused the FBI of manufacturing a scheme against Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. Prosecutors, however, called that a phony narrative.
“These defendants were outside a woman’s house in the middle of the night with night-vision goggles and guns and a plan to kidnap her," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “And they made a real bomb. That's far enough, isn't it?”
After a nine-day trial, Kessler repeatedly urged jurors to also focus on what Fox and Croft were saying months before the FBI placed undercover agents and informants inside the group that summer.
It was Kessler's effort to get the jury to look past a constant defense argument that the men were entrapped by the government every step of the way.
“'Which governor is going to be dragged off and hung for treason first?'” Kessler said, quoting Croft's own words.
“Any governor would do," the prosecutor said. “By the end of June, he was telling people Michigan's government is a target of opportunity, and God knows the governor needs to be hung. He didn't just want to kidnap her. He wanted to have his own trial and execute her.”
The ultimate goal: a second American Revolution, “something called the boogaloo,” Kessler said.
Fox, 39, and Croft, 46, are on trial for a second time, after a different jury in April couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict but acquitted two other men.
The jury heard secretly recorded conversations and read violent social media posts. Two undercover agents and an informant testified for hours, explaining how the men trained in a “shoot house” in Wisconsin and Michigan and visited Elk Rapids to see Whitmer’s home and a nearby bridge that could be blown up.
Other critical witnesses: Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty, and informant Dan Chappel, an Army veteran who said he went to the FBI after joining a Michigan paramilitary group and hearing plans to kill police.
There's no dispute that Fox, Croft and their allies were furious about COVID-19 restrictions and generally disgusted by government.
“You remember (Fox) talking about his inspirations for his constitutional republic? Not George Washington. Not Abraham Lincoln. Timothy McVeigh, the people at Waco, Ruby Ridge — that's what his inspiration was," Kessler said, referring to the Oklahoma City bomber and the sites of deadly standoffs in Texas and Idaho, respectively, that involved the government.
Defense lawyers, however, have portrayed the men as “big talkers,” a bumbling, foul-mouthed, marijuana-smoking pair exercising free speech and incapable of leading anything as extraordinary as an abduction of a public official. They say FBI agents and informants fed their outrage and pulled them into their web.
“In America, the FBI is not supposed to create domestic terrorists so that the FBI can arrest them,” Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons told the jury. “The FBI isn’t supposed to create a conspiracy so the FBI can stand up and claim a disruption.”
Gibbons said there was “fantastical talk” by Fox and others — about storming Mackinac Island, getting helicopters and boats and maybe escaping through the St. Lawrence Seaway.
He said Fox was “isolated, broke, homeless,” living in the basement of a vacuum store in the Grand Rapids area.
“Somebody really cool is showing him attention, who wants to be his friend,” Gibbons said of Chappel.
Croft's attorney, Joshua Blanchard, offered a similar assessment in a scathing attack on the FBI's tactics. He reminded the jury that two more informants with recording devices were in the group but were never called as government witnesses, including a woman who shared a hotel room with Croft and traveled with him from the East Coast.
“You don't have to agree with Barry’s politics. I surely don't,” Blanchard said. “But we should all agree that the principles of truth and justice are the foundation that our country is built upon. The FBI has told us the truth doesn't matter to them. ... You have the power to put a stop to that today.”
Croft is a trucker from Bear, Delaware. The jury will resume deliberations Tuesday.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Over the weekend, she said she hasn't been following the second trial but remains concerned about “violent rhetoric in this country.”
“This is a dangerous trend that is happening,” Whitmer said at the Michigan Democratic Party’s convention in Lansing. "We cannot let it become normalized and I do hope that anyone that’s out there plotting to hurt their fellow Americans is held accountable.”
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal.”
The Justice Department charged Croft, Fox and four other men while Trump was in office. The second trial occurred while the FBI has been under scrutiny by his right-wing supporters, especially after an extraordinary search for documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Law enforcement officials across the country are warning about an increase in threats and the potential for violence against agents or buildings.
Find the AP’s full coverage of the kidnapping plot trial: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.
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