Six men charged in alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 😲

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Co-leader of Michigan governor kidnapping plot gets 16 years in prison
Adam Fox convicted of conspiracy charges earlier this year at second trial in Grand Rapids

Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
Joey Cappelletti And Corey Williams
Published Dec 27, 2022 • 4 minute read

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The co-leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison for conspiring to abduct the Democrat and blow up a bridge to ease an escape.


Adam Fox’s sentence is the longest of anyone convicted in the plot so far, though it’s significantly shorter than the life sentence that prosecutors sought.


Fox, 39, returned to federal court four months after he and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of conspiracy charges at a second trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They were accused of organizing a wild plot to whip up anti-government extremists just before the 2020 presidential election. Their arrest, as well as the capture of 12 others, was a stunning coda to a tumultuous year of racial strife and political turmoil in the U.S.

The government said Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”


But Judge Robert J. Jonker said that while Fox’s sentence was needed as a punishment and deterrent to future similar acts, the government’s request for life in prison is “not necessary to achieve those purposes.”

“It’s too much. Something less than life gets the job done in this case,” Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “is still in my mind a very long time.”

Jonker said he also considered the emotional baggage Whitmer will have to carry due to the plot.

“It undoubtedly affects other people who are in public office or are considering public office,” he said. “They have to count the cost. That does need a forceful sentence from the court.”

In addition to the prison sentence, Fox will have to serve five years of supervised release. He’ll also get credit for more than two years in custody since his arrest.


“Responding to domestic terrorism plots has been a priority for the Department of Justice since its founding and we’re going to continue to spare no expense to make sure we disrupt plots like these,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge told reporters outside the courthouse following the sentencing.

Fox wore orange prison clothes with long slicked-back hair and a full beard. He showed little reaction when the sentence was read.

Daniel Harris, who was acquitted by a jury earlier this year for his involvement in the plot, sat next to Fox’s mother in the gallery and hugged her after the sentencing was read. Fox looked into the gallery multiple times, often mouthing words.

He shook his head and repeatedly smirked while Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler spoke. Kessler said Fox’s smirking was a sign that he showed no regret.


Fox and Croft were convicted at a second trial in August, months after a different Grand Rapids jury couldn’t reach a verdict but acquitted Harris and one other man. Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced Wednesday.

In 2020, Fox and Croft met with like-minded provocateurs in Ohio, trained with weapons in Michigan and Wisconsin and took a ride to “put eyes” on Whitmer’s vacation home with night-vision goggles, according to evidence.

“People need to stop with the misplaced anger and place the anger where it should go, and that’s against our tyrannical … government,” Fox declared that spring, boiling over COVID-19 restrictions and perceived threats to gun ownership.

Whitmer wasn’t physically harmed. The FBI, which was secretly embedded in the group, broke things up by fall.


“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” Kessler said in a court filing ahead of the hearing.

At the time, Fox was living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, the site of clandestine meetings with members of a paramilitary group and an undercover FBI agent. His lawyer, Christopher Gibbons, said he was depressed, anxious and smoking marijuana daily.

Gibbons said a life sentence would be extreme.

Jonker said there was nothing that made him think of Fox as a “natural leader,” but said conspiracies like the plot to kidnap Whitmer take “a lot of fuel” and that Fox “provided it.”

“It’s important to recognize the likelihood of this ever happening, thank God, was low because law enforcement was on it early,” Jonker said. “I think the chances of this actually happening were incredibly remote.”


In arguing Tuesday for a life sentence, Kessler said, “I think you could say that none of this would have happened if Mr. Fox was not involved.”

“They wanted a second civil war or revolution,” Kessler said of the conspirators before Jonker’s sentence. “They wanted to ruin everything for everybody. This wasn’t about masks or about vaccines. They were talking about overthrowing the government before the coronavirus pandemic. They had enough guns and armour for a small war.”

Fox was regularly exposed to “inflammatory rhetoric” by FBI informants, especially Army veteran Dan Chappel, who “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism’ but also his need for friendship, acceptance and male approval,” Gibbons said in a court filing.


Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

Three members of a paramilitary group that trained with Fox were convicted in October of providing material support for a terrorist act. Their sentences, handed down earlier this month in state court, ranged between 7 to 12 years.

Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.

When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”

— Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story.

 

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Judge orders another long prison term in Michigan governor kidnap plot
Barry Croft Jr. was fourth and final federal defendant to learn his fate

Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
Joey Cappelletti And Corey Williams
Published Dec 28, 2022 • 4 minute read

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Delaware trucker described as an architect of the conspiracy to kidnap Michigan’s governor was sentenced Wednesday to more than 19 years in prison — the longest term yet given to anyone convicted in the plot.


Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Barry Croft Jr., 47, who was the fourth and final federal defendant to learn his fate. Judge Robert J. Jonker described him as “the idea guy” behind the plot and called him “a very convincing communicator” for people who were open to his views.


“However twisted or irrational it may seem to many of us, it did resonate to the targeted audience,” the judge said. “That is as important a method of leadership as being out in the field telling people where to go.”

Defence attorney Joshua Blanchard said he would appeal the sentence.

Croft and Adam Fox were convicted in August of conspiracy charges in Grand Rapids. Croft also was found guilty of possessing an unregistered explosive.


Fox, 39, was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years behind bars. The government also sought a life sentence for him.

Both men were accused of hatching a stunning plot to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home just before the 2020 presidential election. The conspirators were furious over tough COVID-19 restrictions that Whitmer and officials in other states had put in place during the early months of the pandemic, as well as perceived threats to gun ownership.

Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI was secretly embedded in the group and made 14 arrests.

“We’re talking about a conspiracy to physically kidnap the governor, potentially assassinate her as well. It doesn’t get much more serious than that,” Jonker said before announcing Croft’s sentence. “The group had a lot of guns. This group had all kinds of material ready to go to achieve their end.”


Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler called Croft the “spiritual leader” of the group of conspirators, comparing his role to that of “some sheikh in ISIS.”

“He essentially was putting himself as a role of a prophet … there are people who believe this sort of rhetoric, and he used it,” Kessler told the judge.

“This man is fully radicalized. He hasn’t changed his viewpoint,” Kessler added. “He’s not admitting the ideas are wrong because he still holds them. This whole thing was Mr. Croft’s idea.”

Whitmer’s office declined to comment Wednesday. She said in August that the guilty verdicts proved that “those who seek to divide us will be held accountable.” She also said such plots are “a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism” that threaten “the very foundation of our republic.”


Croft regularly wore the type of tricorn hat common during the American Revolution and had tattoos on his arms symbolizing resistance — “Expect Us” — as he traveled to Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to meet with like-minded extremists.

A different jury in Grand Rapids couldn’t reach a verdict on the pair at the first trial last spring but acquitted two other men.

The abduction was meant to be the beginning of a “reign of terror,” Kessler said in court documents. Croft’s plan called for riots, “torching” government officials in their sleep and setting off violence across the country.

In one key piece of evidence, Croft, Fox and others traveled to see Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, with undercover agents and informants inside the cabal.


At one point, Croft told allies: “I don’t like seeing anybody get killed either. But you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you know what I mean?”

Croft’s attorney tried to soften his client’s role. In a court filing, Blanchard said Croft did not actually have authority over others and often frustrated them because he “just kept talking.”

Croft “went way down a conspiracy rabbit hole,” Blanchard said Wednesday in seeking a sentence less than life.

“When the pandemic touched off, a lot of people went down a similar rabbit hole and suddenly Mr. Croft was connected with a lot of people who felt the same way he did,” Blanchard told the judge.

Blanchard, who got emotional in the courtroom when speaking about Croft’s three children, told reporters outside the courthouse that the sentence means Croft will not get to see his kids grow up.


Blanchard also maintained that Croft wasn’t the “ideas guy” he’s been portrayed as. He insisted that “most of what Mr. Croft said was excluded because the government didn’t want the jury to hear it.”

Two men who pleaded guilty and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

In state court, three men recently received lengthy sentences for assisting Fox in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is.

When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”

— Associated Press Writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story.
 

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Jury clears 3 men in the last trial tied to the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
Ed White
Published Sep 15, 2023 • 3 minute read
Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot
Molitor, one of three men accused of assisting a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testified in his own defense Thursday, portraying himself as a scared participant in a daytime ride to see her vacation home in northern Michigan.
A jury acquitted three men Friday in the last trial connected to a plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a scheme that was portrayed as an example of homegrown terrorism on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.


William Null, twin brother Michael Null and Eric Molitor were found not guilty of providing support for a terrorist act and a weapon charge. They were the last of 14 men to face charges in state or federal court. Nine were convicted and now five have been cleared.


The Nulls and Molitor were accused of supporting leaders of the plan by participating in military-style drills and traveling to see Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan. The key players, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., were convicted of a kidnapping conspiracy last year in a different court.

In the latest trial, the jury heard 14 days of testimony in Antrim County, the location of Whitmer’s lakeside property, 185 miles (297 kilometers) north of the state Capitol.


There were gasps in the courtroom as the jury foreperson announced the verdicts, first for each brother and then Molitor. Deliberations began Thursday morning and lasted a few more hours Friday. The men cried as they hugged their lawyers and supporters.

“You gentlemen are free to leave,” Judge Charles Hamlyn said.

Outside the courthouse, a juror approached Molitor and “said he was very sorry for all he had gone through,” defense attorney William Barnett told The Associated Press. “The man shook his hand and gave him a hug.”

Barnett said jurors privately told the judge the evidence simply did not add up to “material support” for a kidnapping plot, a key phrase in the charge.

“They went after three peoples’ lives and destroyed them for three years,” Barnett said of the attorney general’s office. “I’m just lost for words. This is an emotional moment.”


Authorities have said an attack on Whitmer began to simmer at a regional summit of anti-government extremists in Dublin, Ohio, in summer 2020. Fox, Croft and William Null were in attendance while an FBI informant also inside the gathering secretly recorded profanity-laced screeds threatening violence against public officials.

The disgust was also fueled by government-imposed restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recordings, text messages and social media posts introduced as evidence at trial.

Whitmer’s chief of staff, JoAnne Huls, said Friday’s verdicts were disappointing and would “further encourage and embolden radical extremists trying to sow discord and harm public officials or law enforcement.”


State Attorney General Dana Nessel said the “verdicts are not what we hoped for.”

Molitor, 39, and William Null, 41, testified in their own defense, admitting they had attended gun drills and taken rides to see Whitmer’s property. Molitor was in a pickup truck with Fox and had recorded a brief video of the house.

But William Null said he and his brother broke away when talk turned to getting explosives. Molitor said Fox was “incredibly dumb” and wouldn’t pull off a kidnapping.

During closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor William Rollstin urged jurors to not be swayed.

“If you help in whole or even in part you’ve satisfied that element” of the crime, he said. “Was he helping him to plan? Was he helping him prepare? The answer is absolutely.”


Michael Null, 41, did not testify and his lawyer took the unusual step of declining to question any witnesses during the trial. Tom Siver told jurors that Michael Null did nothing wrong.

“A stroke of genius,” Barnett said of Siver’s strategy of silence.

Informants and undercover FBI agents were inside the group for months before arrests were made in October 2020. Whitmer was not physically harmed.

Nine men were previously convicted in state or federal court, either through guilty pleas or at three other trials. Shawn Fix and Brian Higgins pleaded guilty in Antrim County and had agreed to cooperate but were never called as prosecution witnesses at the last trial.

After the plot was thwarted, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” Out of office, Trump called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal” in 2022.
 
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