Music and NPR News for Central and Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local/Regional News

Alleged Whitmer kidnap plotters used Facebook to connect and plan, prosecutors tell jurors
Carole Kabrin / for Michigan Radio
The defendants, from left: Barry Croft, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Daniel Harris

Before they met in person, before they trained, before they moved their conversation about toppling “tyrants” to an encrypted chat app, they had Facebook, prosecutors say.

On the first day of testimony in the federal trial for four men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, prosecutors presented a series of Facebook messages, voice messages and videos allegedly shared between the men in the spring and early summer of 2020.

The messages were sent to investigators by Facebook after being subpoenaed by the government. They show comments sent in a private group, labeled “F— Around and Find Out,” where some of the men initially posted about their anger over statewide pandemic orders, and discussed kidnapping governors.

“These governors need arrested. I’ll go send me,” posted Barry Croft, one of the defendants in the case, according to the Facebook logs submitted by prosecutors.

“The lock up your Governor challenge. Which of the beautiful colonies is going to be the first to snatch a criminal b–tard!?!?” Croft posted in another message.

“We need to get these f—ing governors and arrest them,” another defendant, Adam Fox, said in a voice recording that prosecutors say was also sent via Facebook. Both Fox and Croft originally connected via the social network in the early stages of forming a plan that would turn into a criminal conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, according to prosecutors.

The Facebook logs also show Croft connecting Fox, who lived in Grand Rapids, to members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia whose members were based in Munith, near Jackson.

Prosecutors offered the evidence in an effort to show that both Fox and Croft had the desire to kidnap a sitting governor before they made contact with any undercover FBI agents or informants in the case.

Defense attorneys say it was those informants and agents who were the leaders of the alleged plot, entrapping the four men. During the trial’s opening statements Wednesday, Josh Blanchard, the defense attorney for Barry Croft, argued that many of his client's “mean” words presented as evidence during the trial were things he said while he was “absolutely bonkers out of your mind stoned.”

In addition to musing about kidnapping the governor, Blanchard said Croft also talked about celestial beings, the Egyptian pyramids, and a plan to cut down every tree along the borders of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan and line them up to create a barrier. Croft said things like, “water is my friend,” according to Blanchard.

And when it came to the idea of kidnapping Whitmer, Blanchard said Croft also talked about attaching her to a kite and flying her over Lake Michigan to Wisconsin.

“That’s not how kites work!” Blanchard told jurors.

“They knew it was stoned crazy talk,” Blanchard said of the FBI, telling jurors the case should have been closed.

Adam Fox was “basically homeless” and was “trying to be cool,” according to his attorney, Christopher Gibbons. That’s why he posted pictures of himself online with assault-style weapons and went along on supposed-training missions to kidnap the governor, according to Gibbons.

Daniel Harris, a third defendant, was “not perfect,” according to his attorney, Julia Kelly. But he was left out of the conversations about kidnapping because the others knew he wanted no part of it. Instead, Harris was just following the lead of an FBI informant, named Dan, according to Kelly.

“Big Dan was the leader,” Kelly said to jurors. “Big Dan was in charge.”

The fourth defendant, Brandon Caserta, was just a “prepper,” interested in weapons and “survivalist kinds of things,” according to his attorney, Mike Hills.

“He didn’t agree to kidnap the governor of Michigan,” Hills told jurors.

But through the early Facebook posts, and hundreds of potential pieces of evidence prepared for the trial, prosecutors told the jury they can show that the men not only talked about kidnapping the governor, they were serious about it. Among that evidence will be testimony from two of the men initially charged over the plot, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks. Both pleaded guilty and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors to show that there was no entrapment in the case.

“Attorneys make a lot of promises,” assistant United States attorney Jonathan Roth told jurors. “Pay attention to the evidence.”