GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Two men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor wanted to nab Gretchen Whitmer and hang her, prosecutors said in a brutal closing argument Monday as the government made a second attempt to obtain convictions in an alleged plot to start a revolution in 2020.
The jury heard the case around noon after a morning of closing remarks, including a fiery challenge from defense attorneys who accused the FBI of fabricating a scheme against Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. Prosecutors, however, called this is a false story.
“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 pretty far, 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 in the group that summer. .
It was Kessler’s effort to get the jury to look past a constant defense that the men were set up by the government every step of the way.
“”Which governor is going to be dragged and hanged for treason first? ‘” Kessler said, quoting Croft’s own words.
“Any governor would do,” the prosecutor said. “At the end of June, he was telling people that the government of Michigan was a target of opportunity, and God knows the governor needs to be hanged. 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, said Kessler.
Fox, 39, and Croft, 46, are on trial for the second time, after a different jury in April could not reach a unanimous verdict but acquitted two other men.
The jury heard secretly taped conversations and read violent social media posts. Two undercover officers and an informant testified for hours, explaining how the men trained at a ‘shooting house’ in Wisconsin and Michigan and traveled to Elk Rapids to see Whitmer’s home and a bridge nearby that could be destroyed.
Other critical witnesses: Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty, and informant Dan Chappel, an Army veteran who said he turned himself in to the FBI after joining a Michigan paramilitary group and hearing plans to kill policemen.
Both sides agree that Fox, Croft and their allies were furious with covid-19 restrictions and generally disgusted with the government.
“Do you remember [Fox] talk about his inspirations for his constitutional republic? Not George Washington. Not Abraham Lincoln. Timothy McVeigh, the people of Waco, Ruby Ridge – that’s what inspired him,” Kessler said, referring to the Oklahoma City bomber and the sites of deadly clashes in Texas and Idaho, respectively, which involved the government.
Defense attorneys, however, described the men as “big talkers”, an awkward, rude, marijuana-smoking couple exercising freedom of speech and incapable of leading anything as extraordinary as the kidnapping of an official. They say FBI agents and informants fueled their outrage and dragged them into their web.
“In America, the FBI is not supposed to create domestic terrorists so the FBI can arrest them,” Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons told the jury. “The FBI is not supposed to create a conspiracy so that the FBI can stand up and call for disruption.”
Gibbons said there had been ‘fantastic conversations’ between Fox and others – about storming Mackinac Island, getting helicopters and boats and maybe escaping by 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 showing him some 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 FBI tactics. He reminded the jury that two other informants with recording devices were part of the group but were never called as government witnesses, including a woman who shared a hotel room with Croft and was traveling with him from the East Coast.
“You don’t have to agree with Barry’s politics. I certainly don’t,” Blanchard said. “But we should all agree that the principles of truth and justice are the foundation upon which our country is built. The FBI told us the truth didn’t matter to them. … You have the power to put a end to that. today.”
Croft is a trucker from Bear, Delaware. The jury will resume its deliberations on Tuesday.