GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The four men charged with planning to kidnap the governor of Michigan.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — The four men planning officer to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were influenced by informants and federal agents who targeted them for their anti-government views, defense attorneys said Wednesday, describing the men as big talkers and wannabes who never meant what they said.
Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Roth argued the men were “willing, eager, if not already prepared” to get Whitmer before investigators infiltrated the group. He said the men – angry at the Democratic governor’s COVID-19 restrictions at the start of the pandemic – recruited a militia and prepared to break into Whitmer’s home, tie him up and to take him away.
Investigators moved in and stopped a ‘tragedy’ when the men planned to acquire a bomb to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s home to prevent police from responding quickly, Roth told the jurors during his opening statement in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“They weren’t all-talking people,” he said. “These are people who wanted to separate themselves from people who were all talking.”
Four men are tried: Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris. They are accused of taking critical actions over several months, including secret messages, gun drills in the woods and an overnight drive through northern Michigan to scout Whitmer’s second home and figure out how to do it. jump the bridge.
After the prosecutor and three of the four defense attorneys made opening statements, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker took the unusual step of allowing them to speak again to specifically address a defense of entrapment — a claim that the government would have instigated the men to commit crimes they ‘not otherwise committed.
Defense attorney Joshua Blanchard said the FBI hired an informant with a long criminal history to contact Croft and lure him to militia meetings and firearms training in Ohio. , Wisconsin and Michigan. Another informant, Blanchard said, drove Croft to Wisconsin from Delaware.
“There was no plan, there was no deal and no kidnapping,” Blanchard said.
Roth said jurors would see social media posts and hear secretly recorded conversations full of angry, vulgar and sexist language about violence and plans to take down a “bully”.
“They will tell you how real it was. … They’ll tell you they’re going to jail for it,” he said.
Roth described Fox and Croft as the masterminds of the plot. He said the four wanted to create a “war zone here in Michigan”, and urged jurors to set aside thoughts about men’s opinions or Whitmer’s work.
“What you have is that the defendants agreed, planned, trained and were prepared to break into a woman’s home as she slept with her family in the middle of the night and with violence and under the threat of a gun, they would tie him up and take him out of that house,” Roth said. “And to do that, they would shoot, blast and kill anyone who gets in their way.”
When Roth began his opening, he pointed the finger at each defendant, saying they had taken active steps to enact their plot. Courtroom lights dimmed and prosecutors projected photos of defendants at various stages of the alleged conspiracy.
Roth pointed to Croft, sat down at a defense table in a gray suit and tie, and told jurors he could now cut the figure of a “harmless middle school teacher.” As he said this, an image of Croft holding a rifle in camouflage gear appeared on the screen.
“He looked a little different back then,” the prosecutor said.
But Croft’s attorney said when informants secretly taped Croft and others, all of them were “stoned, stoned crazy”.
“The FBI is supposed to protect us from dangerous criminals and terrorists,” Blanchard said. “It’s also an agency that’s supposed to protect our freedoms. And when they do that, you expect them to be thick-skinned. This means that by protecting our rights, they are not punishing people who say mean things about them. And they’re not supposed to target people they’re angry with.
Lawyers for Caserta and Harris tried to steer them away from Fox and Croft, pointing out that the pair had not traveled to northern Michigan to scout Whitmer’s home.
Defense attorney Julia Kelly said Harris, a veteran, was unhappy with the country’s direction and attended gun rights rallies and protests against stay orders. at Whitmer’s house. Kelly said Harris joined a group known as the Wolverine Watchmen to keep his military skills sharp for possible security work in Afghanistan, not as part of some sinister plot.
Attorney Christopher Gibbons, representing Fox, told jurors he was virtually homeless, living in a vacuum cleaner’s basement, and not a conspiracy mastermind as prosecutors claim.
The first witness, FBI agent Todd Reineck, testified about Fox and Croft’s social media posts in the spring of 2020, including profanity messages between the two. They included a Facebook video in which Fox said, “We have the numbers. We have arms. We have the ammunition… we need to take back our country.
In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump about his administration’s response to COVID-19. His detractors, on the other hand, demonstrated regularly at the Michigan Capitol, clogging the streets around the state house and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.
The FBI said it foiled the kidnapping plot with the arrest of six men in October 2020.
Whitmer, who is seeking re-election this year, rarely speaks publicly about the case and is not expected to attend the trial. She has blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those accused in the plot. She said he was also an accomplice in the deadly January 6 Capitol insurrection.
White reported from Detroit and Burnett reported from Chicago. Journalist John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.
Find full AP coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
Michael Tarm, Ed White and Sara Burnett, Associated Press