GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Tuesday, a jury found two men guilty of conspiring to abduct Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. The FBI foiled the conspiracy, which was described as an anti-government extremist rallying cry for a civil war in the United States.
The result was a significant triumph for the U.S. Department of Justice. Four months ago, a different jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., but acquitted two other men, a shocking verdict that led to a retrial.
Fox and Croft were found guilty of two charges of conspiracy in relation to the kidnapping plot and attempts to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. If the kidnapping could be carried out at Whitmer’s holiday home, prosecutors said they planned to detonate a bridge to thwart authorities.
Croft, a truck driver from Bear, Delaware, was found guilty of a second explosives offense. The jury deliberated for around eight hours over the course of two days.
“Today’s verdicts prove that violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable. They will not succeed,” said Whitmer, a Democrat, who turned 51 years old on Tuesday.
“But we must also take a hard 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 life terms if convicted, simply stared at the jury as the findings were read. Christopher Gibbons, a defense attorney, shook his head as Joshua Blanchard, another defense counsel, removed his glasses.
Outside the courthouse, jurors declined to talk with reporters.
“We were hoping for a different outcome,” Gibbons said.
A prosecution delivered a direct message during Monday’s final arguments: No one may use an AR-15 and body armor to abduct a governor.
“But that wasn’t the defendants’ ultimate goal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “They wanted to set off a second American civil war, a second American Revolution, something that they call the boogaloo. And they wanted to do it for a long time before they settled on Gov. Whitmer.”
The investigation began when Army veteran Dan Chappel joined a paramilitary group in Michigan and became frightened after hearing talk about killing police officers. He decided to become an FBI informant and spent the summer of 2020 cultivating relationships with Fox and others, surreptitiously recording talks and engaging in “shoot house” exercises in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The FBI transformed it into a major domestic terrorism investigation by embedding two additional informants and two undercover agents within the organization. The evidence revealed that the organization had numerous complaints, particularly about the COVID-19 limits placed by Whitmer at the onset of the pandemic.
Fox, Croft, and others, accompanied by federal agents, headed to northern Michigan to observe Whitmer’s vacation home at night and a potentially destructible bridge. Additionally, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks were on that ride. They admitted guilt and provided testimony for the prosecution.
Whitmer was not physically injured; in October 2020, six guys were detained hours away from her residence.
The FBI director in western Michigan, David Porter, praised the verdicts.
“Here in America, if you disagree with your government you have options. … What you cannot do is plan or commit acts of violence,” he said outside the courthouse.
Defense counsel attempted to put the FBI on trial, emphasizing frequently during cross-examination and closing arguments that federal agents were there at every critical incident and had set the men up.
Fox and Croft, they claimed, were “big talkers” who enjoyed smoking marijuana and whose only crime was exercising their First Amendment right to speak ill of Whitmer and the government.
“This isn’t Russia. This isn’t how our country works,” Blanchard, who was Croft’s attorney, told jurors. “You don’t get to suspect that someone might commit a crime because you don’t like things that they say, that you don’t like their ideologies.”
Gibbons stated that the FBI is prohibited from creating “domestic terrorists.” Fox, 39, was described as living in the basement of a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids region, where he met with Chappel and his agent.
In other but connected instances, the Michigan attorney general is prosecuting eight additional men with ties to the conspiracy.
Whitmer has accused then-President Donald Trump for fomenting mistrust and outrage about coronavirus limitations and for refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those convicted in the conspiracy.
Recently, Trump referred to the kidnapping scheme as a “false deal.”
During Trump’s presidency, the Justice Department filed charges against Croft, Fox, and four other individuals. The second trial occurred while his supporters scrutinized the FBI, particularly after an unprecedented search for records at the Mar-a-Lago home.
Nationwide, law enforcement officials have warned of an uptick in threats and the potential for violence against agents or structures.