March 11 (UPI) — Jurors in the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer heard secret recordings from an FBI informant in which the men described plans to violently capture the governor.
Barry Croft, a Delaware long haul trucker and one of the alleged ringleaders of the plot, envisioned the group would detonate homemade bombs near Whitmer’s cottage in northern Michigan, kidnapping her in the disorder as snipers would take out her security detail and explosives would detonate on a bridge to slow police.
“I’m going to hurt people real … bad,” Croft said in a recording. “I’m sorry for that, I really am, because it’s wrong.”
“You wanna terrorize people? I’m gonna terrorize people,” Croft also said.
Croft, Adam Fox of Wyoming, and Michigan men Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta all face charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, as they allegedly plotted to kidnap the governor in response to COVID-19 restrictions in the state.
Two other Michigan men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb James Franks have pleaded guilty and plan to testify against the others.
Croft told the men they were at “war, whether you recognize it or not,” adding that he believed they would earn praise for kidnapping Whitmer.
“You got the governor, they’re gonna love you,” he said.
FBI special agent Christopher Long testified that the FBI began monitoring Croft, who prosecutors said is part of a far-right domestic-terror organization known as the “Boogaloos” who are awaiting a second U.S. civil war, in 2019 after he made anti-government and anti-law enforcement posts on Facebook.
Fox, who also was accused of leading the plot, also posted on Facebook in 2019 that “actual change” would only happen with the arrests of “our governor and tyrants in our state.”
Long testified that Fox did not come into contact with the FBI until June 2020 when he had spoken with an undercover FBI informant about setting up a meeting between him and the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia based in Michigan.
In recordings played in court at the time Fox said the group had to “do something” to help gym owners who “have to be hurting financially” as their facilities were closed under state orders due to the pandemic and described his plans for Whitmer.
“I’m kind of serious about this. But I want to have the governor hog-tied, laid out on a table while we all pose around like we just made the world’s biggest god-damn drug bust, bro,” Fox said.
During the first day of the trial on Wednesday, defense attorneys said the suspects simply talked big while attending training sessions and smoking marijuana and were entrapped by FBI agents.
They also argued that the suspects already had anti-government feelings and that COVID-19 pushed them overboard.”
“There was a lot of public emotion about COVID restrictions … some presidents even talked about it,” defense attorney Joshua Blanchard said, referencing President Donald Trump’s tweets calling to “liberate” states such as Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia that saw protests over COVID-19 restrictions.
As the prosecution sought to disprove the entrapment claims, Long described the FBI’s efforts to surveil the men, saying the agency tracked them with key fobs, drones and live pole cameras as they believed they had access to unidentified bomb suppliers.
He said the suspects were arrested in an October 2020 sting operation in which an undercover informant drove them to a warehouse in Ypsilanti, Mich., where they were told they would meet with a bomb supplier to buy explosives but were arrested in the parking lot.
Long said informant Stephen Robeson secretly recorded the conversations in meetings with the group in the summer of 2020, but the defense attorneys argued he should have been removed from the case after he defied FBI instructions.
Blanchard said the government had Robeson sign a non-disclosure agreement to prevent him from talking to the defense after he pleaded guilty to unlawfully possessing a firearm.
“I was tasked by the government to keep a persona to where I sometimes could have a firearm, sometimes I couldn’t. And I did not disclose to the agent like I should have, I was supposed to, that I did that at the time,” he told a judge.