"Honey, I'm making explosives," undercover FBI agent tells of alleged plotter making bomb near daughter
Barry Croft was loading gunpowder into a rubber balloon when his 10-year-old daughter walked up.
“Daddy?" she said.
"What, honey?" Croft replied.
"Do you want a Dorito?"
"Honey, I'm making explosives. Can you get away from me please?"
The exchange was captured on a secret recording made by undercover FBI agent Mark Schweers in July of 2020, and played for jurors in federal court in Grand Rapids on Thursday. Croft is on trial along with three other men over an alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer that fall. As part of the alleged plot, prosecutors say Croft wanted to build a series of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs to slow down police, so the men could get away with the governor.
What the men allegedly planned to do next was captured in another secret recording by Schweers. They would kidnap her at a home she owns on Birch Lake in Elk Rapids, and take her from there by boat to Lake Michigan
“[D]rive it out to the middle of Lake Michigan, drop the f—ing motor, leave her there with nothing, stranded in the middle of the f—ing lake,” said Adam Fox, another defendant in the case. “And just leave her.”
Barry Croft, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were all angered by the emergency orders issued by Whitmer and other governors in the Spring of 2020, orders that were meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Tyranny is coming harder and harder down on the people,” Brandon Caserta says in one of the recordings.
It was September of 2020, and Caserta said he expected more pandemic shutdown orders would be coming. Fox said he believed opposing the orders and standing up for constitutional rights would soon be seen as illegal.
“If they’re going to label us criminals in months, then let’s go out and be criminals now,” Fox said. “In the eyes of my God, I will die a f—ing saint … covered in blood.”
Schweers testified that the initial plan was to try to storm the Capitol Building in Lansing “by force” and take politicians hostage. But as the summer wore on, and the men realized they wouldn’t have the resources to pull it off, they focused more on Whitmer. Schweers said the men zeroed in on her vacation home on Birch Lake because it offered the softest "target” for kidnapping her.
But first, they would need explosives. Some for throwing or shooting at police. And some for taking out a bridge near the governor’s home to prevent police from responding.
“We’re going to need some boom-boom,” Fox said on another recording obtained by Schweers.
Fox was meeting with a man he knew as “Red,” an explosives expert who had offered to sell the men what they needed to take out the bridge. “Red” was another undercover FBI agent.
Defense attorneys have argued that their clients were surrounded by undercover agents and informants throughout the entirety of the alleged plot to kidnap the governor. And, they argue, it was the agents and informants, who really drove the plan forward.
Joshua Blanchard, the attorney for Barry Croft, questioned a different FBI agent on the stand Thursday morning. FBI agent Christopher Long works out of Delaware, Croft’s home state, and was the lead agent assigned to investigate him. Blanchard presented a text message from Long to another informant in the case in the summer of 2020, when it seemed as if the group might be breaking apart.
“Keep working to solve the differences within the group,” Long texted to the informant. “Try to show them that they were brought together by Croft and he has good ideas, you just have to find common ground.”
Long said at the time he sent the message, some of the plotters were thinking of kicking Croft out of the group, because he was too aggressive and they feared Croft would get them arrested.
“They all wanted to do violence,” Long said.
But Croft was more direct, he spoke in ways that seemed even more violent. And he wanted to act sooner, Long said. So others wanted him out.
Blanchard argued they should have let him go.
“Your role at the FBI is to break up violent action, correct?” Blanchard asked Long.
Yes, said Long. But FBI agents were worried if Croft left the group, they would lose the ability to monitor the planning. It increased the risk of a “lone wolf” attack without warning. They wanted the group together so they could continue to keep tabs.
Friday, defense attorneys will have a chance to dig deeper into the role of undercover agents and informants in the case. Schweers is expected back on the stand for cross examination.