A second insider in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer told jurors Thursday that the group was ready to use a grenade launcher and machine gun to fight off security guards at her vacation home.
Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty in February, backed many points offered a day earlier by Ty Garbin, another man who admitted a role in a savage scheme to abduct Whitmer and take her by boat to Lake Michigan.
Franks, 27, said an alleged leader, Adam Fox, believed Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions were “tyrannical” and that the US Constitution gave men the right to fight back. He said no one was forced to stick to the plan and many people had given up by the end of summer 2020.
“I was going to be an operator,” Franks replied when asked by a prosecutor to describe his role in a kidnapping. “I would be one of the frontline people, so to speak, using my gun.”
He said Fox talked about snatching the Governor “every time I saw him.”
Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are on trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with Franks and Garbin, the four were arrested in October 2020, a month before the national election.
Garbin, 26, testified Wednesday that Whitmer’s kidnapping could serve as a “trigger” for a US civil war involving anti-government groups and possibly prevent Joe Biden from being elected.
Authorities said the men were armed extremists who, after weeks of training, were trying to come up with $4,000 for an explosive. They practiced that summer by rushing into rudimentary structures built to look like a house or office.
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Traveling at night, they spotted Whitmer’s second home in Elk Rapids in September 2020 and inspected a bridge that could be destroyed to thwart any police response, according to trial testimony and secretly taped conversations.
Croft “discussed attacking his security department,” Franks told the jury. “He said he would use the grenade launcher he had, and he was talking about putting a machine gun on the truck.”
Franks, a drug rehabilitation trainer, said he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to work on his firearms skills. He eventually encountered Fox and Croft, who were not members of the militia, and found himself in the middle of a conspiracy.
Franks said he stayed with the group because he hoped he would be killed in a shootout with police during the kidnapping, but hid it from others.
“I didn’t want to live anymore,” he said, moments after settling into the witness chair. “A large part of my family was dead. I had financial difficulties. I just wasn’t happy.
Defense attorneys are trying to show the jury that there was no believable conspiracy, just lots of profane, violent and crazy talk about Whitmer and other politicians trampling on their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also claim that informants and undercover agents who infiltrated the group framed the men.
During defense questioning, Garbin said there was talk of taking Whitmer by boat to Lake Michigan after he kidnapped her, then dumping the engine in the water and letting her drift.
But Garbin also acknowledged that the group didn’t have a boat lined up and he wasn’t sure how they would get back to shore while The Governor floated solo.
“The goal was to be a major inconvenience, right? Because she would just be picked up from the lake,” Croft defense attorney Joshua Blanchard said, referring to a rescue.
“At some point, yes,” Garbin replied.
Garbin, an aircraft mechanic, began cooperating with prosecutors shortly after the group’s arrest. He was rewarded with a relatively light six-year prison sentence, a sentence that could be reduced after the trial. Franks has yet to be sentenced but is also hoping for a break.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely speaks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her tenure that appear to be “something fictional” when she sought re-election on March 17.
She blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.