By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Grand Rapids, MI – Prosecutors failed to convict four men charged with federal crimes for plotting to kidnap controversial Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Authorities had charged 24-year-old Daniel Harris, 38-year-old Adam Fox, 46-year-old Barry Croft Jr., and 33-year-old Brandon Caserta with conspiracy, NBC News reported.
Harris, Fox, and Croft also faced charges of knowingly conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against persons or property in connection with a plan to blow up a bridge near the governor’s property in order slow the police response to her kidnapping.
Prosecutors also charged Croft and Harris with possession of an unregistered destructive device and Harris was charged with possession of a semi-automatic assault rifle that wasn’t registered to him, according to NBC News.
The federal jury found Harris and Caserta not guilty of the charges against them.
The judge declared a mistrial for Fox and Croft after jurors were unable to reach a verdict in those cases, NBC News reported.
JoAnne Huls, Whitmer’s chief of staff, vowed the governor would not be deterred from her agenda and lamented the “normalization of political violence.”
“Today, Michiganders and Americans — especially our children — are living through the normalization of political violence,” Huls said in a statement after the verdicts were announced, according to NBC.
“The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly,” she continued. “But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.”
Prosecutors have not said whether they intended to recharge the cases that ended in mistrials.
Thirteen people were arrested on Oct. 8, 2020 when the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) brought a months-long investigation into the alleged plotting a violent overthrow of multiple law enforcement and government components, The Detroit News reported.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said the group allegedly called on its followers to seek out law enforcement officers’ home addresses in order to target them, and held trainings and planning sessions in preparation for a violent attack on the Michigan State Capitol.
“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Nessel told The Detroit News. “These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance.”
“This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy,” she added. “Some of these groups’ mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”
The FBI opened an investigation into the group earlier this year after hearing about social media discussions regarding the violent overthrow of law enforcement and multiple state governments, The Detroit News reported.
Fifteen individuals from multiple states met it Dublin, Ohio, in June of 2020 to firm up their plot, according to investigators.
Among them was an FBI confidential source who recorded the secret conversations, The Detroit News reported.
“The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient,” according to the FBI’s report. “They discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions.”
“At one point, several members talked about state governments they believed were violating the U.S. Constitution, including the government of Michigan and Whitmer,” the federal investigation revealed.
In order to recruit more people, Fox allegedly contacted a militia group based in Michigan that the FBI had already been keeping its eye on, The Detroit News reported.
The militia group, which was not named in the court filing, ended up on the FBI’s radar after a member became concerned about the group’s plot to target police and reached out to local law enforcement, according to federal agents.
“The FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group’s plans to target and kill police officers, and that person agreed to become a [confidential source],” court documents read.
Fox complained in a Facebook video in June of 2020 about Michigan’s judicial system and the effect the state’s COVID-19 restrictions were having on gyms, The Detroit News reported.
He referred to Whitmer as a “tyrant b—h,” and said that the group had to “do something,” according to the court affidavit.
Members of the group allegedly scoped out Whitmer’s vacation home on Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan on Aug. 29, 2020 and over the weekend of Sept. 12, 2020, to include calculating how long it would likely take law enforcement to respond to the home in the event of an emergency, The Detroit News reported.
Fox and two other members of the group allegedly photographed and videoed the property as part of their surveillance.
“We ain’t going to let ’em burn our f–kin’ state down,” Fox said in one recording, according to the affidavit. “I don’t give a f–k if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.”
“Snatch and grab, man,” he said, according to Breitbart News. “Grab the f–kin’ Governor. Just grab the b—h. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.”
They allegedly discussed taking Whitmer to Wisconsin, where they said they would make her stand “trial” for treason and execute her prior to the Nov. 3 elections, according to The Epoch Times.
According to court documents, the group allegedly detonated at least one improvised explosive device loaded with shrapnel “to test its anti-personnel effectiveness,” then went and checked out the underside of the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home to figure out the best place to attach an explosive, The Detroit News reported.
The suspects initially planned to hold one last training exercise in late October of 2020 but ended up postponing because of the November election.
Instead, they moved ahead with fundraising efforts to buy an 800,000-volt Taser, more explosives, and various other supplies, according to investigators.
It is unclear whether or not the group had selected another date to carry out the alleged kidnapping plot.
Members of the group were arrested during a meeting in eastern Michigan where they planned to exchange tactical gear and pool funds for more explosives, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge told The Detroit News.