A jury on Tuesday convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, delivering swift verdicts in a plot that was broken up by the FBI and described as a rallying cry for a U.S. civil war by anti-government extremists.
The result was an enormous victory for the U.S. Justice Department. A distinct jury just 4 months ago couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. but acquitted two other men, a shocking conclusion that led to a second trial.
Fox and Croft were convicted of two counts of conspiracy related to the kidnapping scheme and attempts to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors said they wanted to explode a bridge to disrupt police if the kidnapping could possibly be pulled off at Whitmer’s vacation home.
Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, was also convicted of one other explosives charge. The jury deliberated for roughly eight hours over two days.
“Today’s verdicts prove that violence and threats don’t have any place in our politics and those that seek to divide us shall be held accountable. They’ll not succeed,” said Whitmer, a Democrat, who turned 51 years old on Tuesday.
“But we must also take a tough take a look at the status of our politics,” she added. “Plots against public officials and threats to the FBI are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation, threatening the very foundation of our republic.”
Fox and Croft, who face sentences of as much as life in prison, just stared on the jury because the verdicts were read. Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons shook his head while one other defense lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, removed his glasses.
Jurors declined to talk to reporters outside the courthouse.
“We were hoping for a unique end result,” Gibbons said.
During closing arguments Monday, a prosecutor had a blunt message: Nobody can strap on an AR-15 rifle and body armor and snatch a governor.
“But that wasn’t the defendants’ ultimate goal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “They desired to set off a second American civil war, a second American Revolution, something that they call the boogaloo. They usually desired to do it for a very long time before they settled on Gov. Whitmer.”
The investigation began when Army veteran Dan Chappel joined a Michigan paramilitary group and have become alarmed when he heard discuss killing police. He agreed to turn into an FBI informant and spent the summer of 2020 getting near Fox and others, secretly recording conversations and participating in drills at “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The FBI turned it into a significant domestic terrorism case with two more informants and two undercover agents embedded within the group. Evidence showed the group had many gripes, particularly over COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Whitmer early within the pandemic.
Fox, Croft and others, accompanied by the federal government operatives, traveled to northern Michigan to see Whitmer’s vacation home at night and a bridge that could possibly be destroyed. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, too, were on that ride. They pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.
Whitmer was not physically harmed; six men were arrested hours away from her home in October 2020.
David Porter, who leads the FBI in western Michigan, hailed the verdicts.
“Here in America, in case you disagree together with your government you’ve got options. … What you can’t do is plan or commit acts of violence,” he said outside the courthouse.
Defense attorneys tried to place the FBI on trial, repeatedly emphasizing through cross-examination of witnesses and through closing remarks that federal players were present at every crucial event and had entrapped the boys.
Fox and Croft, they said, were “big talkers” who liked to smoke marijuana and were guilty of nothing but exercising their right to say vile things about Whitmer and government.
“This is not Russia. This is not how our country works,” Blanchard, who was Croft’s attorney, told jurors. “You do not get to suspect that somebody might commit a criminal offense since you don’t love things that they are saying, that you just don’t love their ideologies.”
Gibbons said the FBI is not imagined to create “domestic terrorists.” He described Fox, 39, as poor and living within the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, which was a site for meetings with Chappel and an agent.
In separate but related cases, eight other men linked to the scheme are being prosecuted by the Michigan attorney general in state courts.
Whitmer has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to sentence hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged within the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal.”
The Justice Department charged Croft, Fox and 4 others while Trump was in office. The second trial occurred while the FBI has been under scrutiny by his supporters, especially following a unprecedented seek for documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Law enforcement officials across the country have been warning about a rise in threats and the potential for violence against agents or buildings.