Back in October 2020, FBI arrested 13 men who had allegedly planned to kidnap the Michigan governor. Here are the recent developments from the trial this week.
GRAND RAPIDS—Friday marked the 15th day of the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and use violence to overthrow the government. This past week, jurors saw provocative social media posts by the key suspects, a defendant’s longtime companion testified that he was “anti-government,” and both the prosecution and the defense rest their cases.
If you haven’t been paying attention to this historic domestic terrorism case—which may have only been thwarted because the FBI infiltrated the group—here are five things you need to know:
1) The defendants were reportedly angry about Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic. Court documents say Barry Croft, Adam Fox, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta plotted from June to October 2020 to grab Whitmer at her vacation home in northern Michigan because the governor had imposed statewide restrictions along with other mitigation measures in response to COVID-19. At one point, the state had ranked third worst in the nation for COVID-related cases and deaths. Whitmer was later praised for her efforts to protect Michiganders.
2) All four are charged with kidnapping conspiracy and face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in federal prison. Fox, Croft, and Harris also face additional charges related to explosives. Two other militia group members—Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks—have already pleaded guilty and have cooperated with investigators.
3) The defendants’ social postings were used as evidence by the prosecution. Court proceedings showed that Croft, a Delaware trucker, used to regularly vent on Facebook about government and public officials back in 2020. This was when many governors, including Whitmer, were issuing stay-at-home orders and mask requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Which governor is going to end up dragged off and hung for treason first?” Croft wrote in May 2020. “It’s really a spin the bottle match at this point and I’m sure a few mayors are in the running!!! God bless the constitutional republic!!!”
The FBI said that message was “liked” by Fox, who with Croft is described as a leader of the alleged domestic terror plot, according to The Guardian.
Jurors also saw Caserta’s Facebook from late March 2020, a few weeks after COVID cases had hit the state and Whitmer had begun a series of restrictions to fight the spread.
“The government has stolen enough from me,” Caserta said in his post. “They’ve claimed ownership over my body and my property. Now they take away my place to live and source of income because of this?”
Facebook posts written by Caserta and entered into evidence were dark, Politico reports. He called the governor a “psychopath” and said the purpose of the Second Amendment is the “ability to kill agents of the government when they become tyrannical.”
In fall of 2020, Caserta wrote he would shoot “tyrants” after beating them with his hands and feet, letting them “beg’ til they couldn’t beg any more because their mouth is so full of blood.”
4) The defense has denied there was an actual plan to abduct Whitmer, claiming the men were induced by agents and informants and exchanged wild talk while smoking marijuana. On Thursday, when asked if he agreed to kidnap the governor, Harris replied: “Absolutely not.” During cross-examination, prosecutors played a tape for the jury, in which Harris can be heard discussing ways to kill Whitmer.
“Doming her when she’s coming to and from work — meaning shoot her in the head,” the prosecutor asked.
“Correct,” Harris answered.
The defense rested its case Thursday afternoon, just a day after the prosecution finished presenting its evidence. Jury heard the closing arguments Friday and will begin deliberations Monday, April 4.
5) The governor has rarely discussed the kidnapping plot publicly. When she filed for re-election on March 17, Whitmer referenced “surprises” during her term that seemed like “something out of fiction.”
She has also 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 has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.