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Man in Whitmer kidnap plot: ‘I’m going to terrorize people’

FILE - This combination of photos provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice shows, top row from left, Brandon Caserta and Barry Croft; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris. The four members of anti-government groups are facing trial in March 2022 on federal charges accusing them in a plot to abduct Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. Jury selection begins Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in a trial the presiding judge at the U.S. District Court courthouse in Grand Rapids, Mich., said could take over a month. (Kent County Sheriff, Delaware Department of Justice via AP File)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors in the trial of four men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday played for jurors covert recordings of two of the men mentioning the Democratic governor and speaking excitedly about taking action that would terrorize people.

“I’m gonna hit soon,” Barry Croft Jr. is heard saying during what prosecutors say was a crucial June 6, 2020, meeting of antigovernment activists in Ohio. “I’m going to terrorize people. The right people. The people who have been terrorizing my people.”

A little later, Adam Fox also is heard on audio recorded by an FBI informant, tossing out ideas and telling the group: “You need to take hostages. There’s your value.”

Prosecutors say the men — Fox, Croft, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — planned to snatch Whitmer from her Michigan vacation home because they were angry about pandemic restrictions she imposed. They also planned to blow up a nearby bridge to slow the police response.

FBI agent Todd Reineck testified earlier Thursday that the men were arrested in fall 2020 because there was a “real concern they might obtain real live explosives.” He also testified about social media posts and messages by the men, including some made months before any contact from FBI agents or informants.

I want to bring formal charges against our governor and tyrants in our state. … Let’s do something … bold,” Fox said in a December 2019 Facebook video. In it, Fox is seen intermittently laughing and cursing the government while waving two AR-style assault rifles at a camera.

Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, questioned Reineck about the process of paying informants in cash, vetting them before undercover work, and the choice of electronic devices they used. Reineck also acknowledged under questioning by Gibbons that Fox participated in some legal protests at the Michigan Capitol.

During opening statements Wednesday in the courtroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan, defense attorneys said the FBI tricked the men into participating in a plot to kidnap Whitmer.

Lawyers initially tiptoed around whether agents induced the men to commit crimes they wouldn’t have contemplated on their own, known as entrapment. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker then took the unusual step of allowing them to address an entrapment defense.

Entrapment is a high-risk defense because it’s a concession that crimes may have been committed.

Croft’s lawyer said informants secretly recorded the men when virtually everyone was “stoned, absolutely out-of-your-mind stoned,” leading to fantastical ideas, including using a kite to transport Whitmer.

“They knew it was stoned-crazy talk and not a plan,” Joshua Blanchard said of the FBI.

Harris’ attorney, Julia Kelly, said the former Marine was attracted to an FBI informant called “Big Dan” because he presented himself as a gun training instructor.

“Big Dan was the leader,” she told jurors. “How do I shoot out of a vehicle? Yeah, you go ask Big Dan. That’s what Daniel was looking for in the summer of 2020.”

Caserta’s attorney, Michael Hills, said attack training sessions in Michigan and Wisconsin were “Fed-sponsored events.”

Fox’s attorney, too, told jurors that “Dan” pressured him during visits to a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop where Fox — a “misfit” — lived in the basement. He said “Dan” had a lot of credibility with the people involved in the case, who viewed him as a superior and wanted to please him.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth said evidence would prove their desire to commit violence regardless of anything the informants did or suggested, telling jurors the men were “willing and eager” and preparing for the crime before law enforcement got involved.

“If the defendant was already willing to commit the crime, that is not entrapment.” .

“These defendants were willing and eager, if not already preparing, to commit this crime long before law enforcement got involved,” he said.

He urged jurors to listen to the men’s own words, recorded in social media posts and by confidential informants. He described Fox and Croft as masterminds of the plot, and said the four wanted to create a “war zone here in Michigan.”

In one recording, Croft says Whitmer needs to be “hung.”

“These were not people who were all talk,” he said. “ These were people who wanted to separate themselves from people who were all talk.”

Two critical insiders, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and are expected to testify for the government.

In 2020, Whitmer was trading taunts with then-President Donald Trump over his administration’s response to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile, were regularly protesting at the Michigan Capitol, clogging streets around the statehouse and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

Whitmer, who is seeking reelection this year, rarely talks publicly about the case and isn’t expected to attend the trial. She has blamed Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot. She has said he was also complicit in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.


White reported from Detroit and Burnett reported from Chicago. Reporter John Flesher contributed from Traverse City, Michigan.