Whitmer kidnapping retrial, take 2: Insurrectionists or ‘boneheads’?
- Prosecutors show evidence the men wanted to start a second revolution
- Defense attorneys describe one man as a ‘big talker’ and the other as a ‘outsider’ who was ‘high on marijuna all the time’
- The retrial begins amid renewed suspicions of the FBI and federal government
Opening statements began Wednesday morning in the retrial of two men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 in an effort to start a “second revolution.”
Attorneys delivered their opening statements in the high-profile domestic terrorism case involving two men who called for the hanging of governors they called “tyrants” in anti-goverment Facebook groups.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Christopher O’Connor told jurors in Grand Rapids that Adam Fox, 38, and Barry Croft, 46, discussed trying to spark an uprising by taking governors hostage, before FBI informants were planted in their militias and began building a case against them.
- Whitmer kidnap plot retrial jury selection starts: It could make or break case.
- Jury: Two not guilty of Whitmer kidnapping; mistrial for other two
“This wasn’t just talk,” O’Connor said. “These two men wanted to hang, grab, kill elected officials long before they decided to kidnap Michigan’s governor.”
The trial comes as the FBI’s conduct is under scrutiny, following this week’s search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Florida. Conservatives have cited the kidnapping case as an example of a runaway, politicized FBI, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, calling it an “absolute debacle.”
Fox of Wyoming, Michigan, and Croft of Delaware face up to life in prison if convicted of charges that deadlocked a jury in April.
During that trial, jurors also acquitted two other co-defendants, Daniel Harris of Lake Orion and Brandon Caserta of Canton Township.
In his opening statement, O’Connor focused on Croft’s 2017 involvement in Three Percenters, a sub-ideology of the militia movement, and his “call to build a group of soldiers to take out the tyrannical elected officials.”
O’Connor played an audio recording Fox sent Croft in which he disparaged militias and said he was “gonna put together a group to go snatch” an elected official.
As they did during this spring’s first trial, defense attorneys portrayed their clients as blowhards who were manipulated by undercover and overzealous FBI agents.
Fox’s defense attorney, Christopher Gibbons, said his client is a “Facebook big talker” who committed no documented crimes before the FBI “started getting big talkers to connect” on social media and through training events.
“During that time there were no plots, no plans, no crimes, just a lot of big, ugly talk,” Gibbons said.
“Adam had never led a thing in his life, but he was made the commanding officer of the Three Percenters of Michigan?” Gibbons asked, noting they weren’t a threat and disorganized. “You will see by the end of this trial that Adam’s militia is not real.”
Gibbons said Fox was “easily manipulated” by FBI informants but that “engaging in heated rhetoric is not a crime.”
“It’s not a crime to say outrageous things. It’s not a crime to not like your government. It’s not a crime to not like your governor, or president, or anybody else who sits in elected office,” Gibbons said.
He went on to describe Fox as an “unemployed” loner in a bad relationship who “doesn't really have any friends.”
Croft’s defense attorney, Joshua Blanchard, had a similar approach, acknowledging Croft “said some awful things” on Facebook but was an outsider in the Wolverine Watchmen militia group whose members were recruited to kidnap Whitmer.
Blanchard said Croft was “high on marijuana all the time” and the Wolverine Watchmen didn’t “take him very seriously.”
“You’ll hear them describe Barry as a stoner kind of wack looking dude,” Blanchard said, referring to audio recordings made by government informants.
As with the first trial, prosecutors have hundreds of hours of recordings and texts and videos of the defendants encouraging people to stand up to “tyrants” because of the COVID-19 orders.
In March 2020, Fox posted a video on Facebook saying that “everybody sits on Facebook” but that they “have the numbers, we have the arms, we have the ammunition, we have all the … tools and strategy we need to go take our country back.”
“I want to hang all those motherfuckers. All of them,” Croft said in the May 29, 2020 video, adding he wanted to “dangle them until their tongues hang out their mouths.”
The trial resumes Thursday in federal court.
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