GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A jury on Tuesday convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, a quick victory for prosecutors in a foiled plot that has been described as a rallying cry for a American Civil War by anti-government extremists.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were also convicted of conspiracy to obtain a weapon of mass destruction, namely a bomb to blow up a bridge and thwart police if the kidnapping could be called off at the vacation home of Whitmer.
Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, was also convicted of another explosives charge. The jury deliberated for approximately eight hours over two days.
It was the second trial for the couple after a jury in April failed to reach a unanimous verdict after five days. Two other men were acquitted and two others pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors.
The result was a big win for the US Department of Justice after the shocking mixed result last spring.
“You can’t just put on an AR-15 and a body armor and go and snatch the governor,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors.
“But that was not the defendants’ ultimate goal,” Kessler said. “They wanted to start a second American Civil War, a second American Revolution, something they call the boogaloo. And they wanted to do it for a long time before they settled on Governor Whitmer.
The investigation began when Army veteran Dan Chappel joined a Michigan paramilitary group and became alarmed when he heard reports of police officers being killed. He agreed to become an FBI informant and spent the summer of 2020 bonding with Fox and others, secretly taping conversations and participating in drills at “film houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The FBI made it a major domestic terrorism case with two other informants and two undercover agents embedded in the group. Evidence showed the group had many issues, particularly the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Whitmer at the start of the pandemic.
Fox, Croft and others, accompanied by government agents, traveled to northern Michigan to see Whitmer’s vacation home at night and a bridge that could be destroyed.
Defense attorneys attempted to bring the FBI to trial, repeatedly pointing out, during cross-examination of witnesses and during closing remarks, that federal actors were present at every crucial event and framed the men.
Fox and Croft, they said, were “big talkers” who liked to smoke marijuana and were only guilty of exercising their right to say vile things about Whitmer and the government.
“It’s not Russia. That’s not how our country works,” Croft’s attorney, Joshua Blanchard, told jurors. “You can’t suspect that someone might commit a crime because you don’t like the things they say, you don’t like their ideologies.”
Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons said the FBI is not supposed to create “domestic terrorists.” He described Fox as poor and living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner store, which was a meeting place with Chappel and an agent.
Whitmer, a Democrat, blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those accused in the plot .
Over the weekend, she said she had not been following the second trial but remained concerned about “the violent rhetoric in this country”.
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal.”
White reported from Detroit.