2 men face retrial over plot to kidnap Michigan governor

Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Michigan Governor Kidnapping Plot (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and spark a national uprising face a new trial this week, months after a jury failed to reach a verdict against the pair while they acquitted two others.

The result in April was a blow to federal prosecutors, who had set out to show that extremists were committed to tearing down Whitmer and wreaking havoc near the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump.

The trial of Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. probably means a public broadcast of secretly recorded conversations, text messages and frightening posts on social media. It also comes at a time of intense news coverage of the US House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot by Trump supporters at the Capitol.

Jurors will see how undercover FBI agents and informants had infiltrated the Michigan group. In response, defense attorneys will again argue that Fox and Croft were shielded by the First Amendment when they expressed malicious opinions about the government and were caught every step of the way.

“The stakes are higher because the government has doubled down,” Matthew Schneider, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit, said of the second trial. “They’re going to try this again, and the government’s view is, ‘We’re going to prevail.’

Also in the background: Whitmer’s re-election campaign for another term is burning up. Jury selection begins Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“This is like deja vu all over again,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.

The government alleges that Fox, who lived under a vacuum cleaner shop in the Grand Rapids area, and Croft, a truck driver from Bear, Delaware, wanted to target Whitmer as well as other public officials over their tough restrictions in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A handmade “shooting house” was erected for weekend practice. There is evidence that Croft, Fox and undercover agents made a night trip to northern Michigan to check on Whitmer’s second home and discuss planting an explosive under a bridge. Two men who pleaded guilty will testify again for the prosecution.

“I’m going to strike soon,” Croft was heard saying during a June 2020 rally with anti-government activists in Ohio. “I’m going to terrorize people. The right people. The people who have terrorized my people.”

Fox and Croft are charged with conspiracy. The first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict against them. However, the jury acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Caserta’s lawyer, Michael Hills, said the second trial will be “shorter and more focused” with two people instead of four.

“Defending one more time is always difficult for the defense,” Hills said. “They have everything against them, the power of the government.”

The judge said he will not mention the outcome of the first trial during jury selection. But if potential jurors say they are aware of it, Jonker will ask if it will affect their ability to be fair and impartial.

“The jury really needs to understand that their decision has to be based on the evidence in this case, not what happened in another case,” Jonker told the lawyers.

Whitmer, a Democrat, said little publicly after the initial trial, but opened up to The Washington Post during a recent interview.

“Does anyone think these kidnappers wanted to keep me or ransom me?” Whitmer said. “No. They were going to put me on trial and then execute me. It was an assassination, but nobody talks about it that way. Even the way people talk about it has softened the seriousness of it.”

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White reported from Detroit. Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, an Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative staff member, contributed to this story.

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez

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Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial

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