GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP/WOOD) — A jury on Tuesday convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, delivering swift verdicts in a plot that was broken up by the FBI and described as a rallying cry for a U.S. civil war by anti-government extremists.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of two counts of conspiracy related to the kidnapping scheme and attempts to use a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors said they wanted to blow up a bridge to disrupt police if the abduction could be pulled off at Whitmer’s vacation home.
Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, was also convicted of another explosives charge.
Fox and Croft, who face sentences of up to life in prison, just stared at the jury as the verdicts were read. Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons shook his head while another defense lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, removed his glasses.
The jury deliberated for roughly eight hours over two days. Fox’s attorney Christopher Gibbons said that during the trial, he did not know what outcome to expect.
“The jury was very difficult to read throughout the entire process,” he said. “They kept their game faces on.”
Jurors declined to speak to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids.
“My client is disappointed in the verdict,” Gibbons said, speaking to reporters outside the courthouse. “It’s been a good fight. We’ve made it twice in a row. We were hoping for a different outcome today.”
He cited “issues” with the jury that the judge has ordered be dealt with in private and indicated an appeal was likely.
“We will be pursuing all avenues of relief for our clients in between now and sentencing,” Gibbons said. “….In the legal process, there’s always another day and there’s always another rule, and another avenue and we will be pursuing all of those vigorously on behalf of our clients.”
Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard had tried to get the matter involving the jury placed on the public record. He had raised a concern about that juror on the third day of the trial.
“I believe that justice should happen in public,” he said.
He has also sued the U.S. Attorney’s Office over its handling of the case.
“I think justice should happen in public,” he repeated, “and they wouldn’t let things be public in this case. That’s why I filed the lawsuit, and so we’re going to pursue that.”
It was the second trial for the pair after a jury in April couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict. Two other men were acquitted and two more pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors. The result was a victory for the government following the shocking mixed outcome in April.
“The verdict confirms that this plot was very serious and very dangerous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge told reporters. “It posed a threat not only to the governor personally and her family, but also to innocent bystanders and the basic social order. No governor, no public official, should have to contend with what Gov. Whitmer contended with here. All of our elected officials, everyone, deserves to be able to live in safety and not in fear.”
Asked by News 8 what made the difference this time, Birge declined answer.
Croft and Fox’s arrests nearly two years ago came at an extremely tense time: the volatile homestretch of the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump playing out against a backdrop of armed protests over COVID-19 restrictions, especially in Michigan. Jury selection in the retrial coincidentally occurred a day after FBI agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate for documents, putting the agency in headlines at the same time that the judge was trying to detect any biases about law enforcement in the jury pool. Law enforcement officials across the country have been warning about an increase in threats and the potential for violence against agents or buildings.
In a statement, Whitmer, a Democrat, said the convictions demonstrated that “violence and threats have no place in our politics” and said plots like the one against her and threats like those against federal investigators “are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation…”
“I want to thank the prosecutors and law enforcement officers for their hard work and my family, friends, and staff for their support.
“Today’s verdicts prove that violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable. They will not succeed.
“But we must also take a hard look at the status of our politics. Plots against public officials and threats to the FBI are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation, threatening the very foundation of our republic.
“I ran for office because I love my fellow Michiganders and my home state with all my heart. I always will. I cannot—I will not—let extremists get in the way of the work we do. They will never break my unwavering faith in the goodness and decency of our people.
“I will stay focused on getting things done for the people of Michigan.”Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
She previously blamed then-President 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. On Aug. 6, three days before jury selection, Trump told conservative activists that the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”
The verdicts came down on Whitmer’s 51st birthday.
THE CASE AGAINST CROFT AND FOX
During closing arguments Monday, a prosecutor had a blunt message: No one can strap on an AR-15 rifle and body armor and snatch a governor.
“But that wasn’t the defendants’ ultimate goal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “They wanted to set off a second American civil war, a second American Revolution, something that they call the boogaloo. And they wanted to do it for a long time before they settled on Gov. Whitmer.”
The investigation began when Army veteran Dan Chappel joined a Michigan paramilitary group and became alarmed when he heard talk about killing police. He agreed to become an FBI informant and spent summer 2020 getting close to Fox and others, secretly recording conversations and participating in drills at “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The FBI turned it into a major domestic terrorism case with two more informants and two undercover agents embedded in the group. Evidence showed the group had many gripes, particularly over stay-at-home orders and other pandemic restrictions imposed by Whitmer.
Fox, Croft and others, accompanied by the government operatives, traveled to northern Michigan to see Whitmer’s vacation home at night and a bridge that could be destroyed. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, too, were on that ride. They pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution.
Whitmer was not physically harmed; six men were arrested hours away from her home in October 2020.
David Porter, who leads the FBI in western Michigan, hailed the verdicts.
“The defendants in this case believed that their anti-government views justified violence,” Porter told reporters. “Today’s verdict is a clear example that they were wrong in that assessment. Here in America, if you disagree with your government, you have options: you can criticize your government, you can protest, you can vote your elected officials out of office. However, what you cannot do is plan or commit acts of violence.”
He said the FBI would “continue to investigate anyone who seeks violence in furtherance of ideology.”
Defense attorneys tried to put the FBI on trial, repeatedly emphasizing through cross-examination of witnesses and during closing remarks that federal players were present at every crucial event and had entrapped the men.
Fox and Croft, they said, were “big talkers” who liked to smoke marijuana and were guilty of nothing but exercising their right to say vile things about Whitmer and government.
“This isn’t Russia. This isn’t how our country works,” Blanchard, Croft attorney, told jurors. “You don’t get to suspect that someone might commit a crime because you don’t like things that they say, that you don’t like their ideologies.”
Gibbons said the FBI isn’t supposed to create “domestic terrorists.” He described Fox, 39, as poor and living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, which was a site for meetings with Chappel and an agent.
“I do not think that we did go too hard (on attacking the FBI’s credibility,” Gibbons told reporters. “I think that the record speaks for itself.”
No sentencing date was set. U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker told defense lawyers that any post-trial challenges to the verdicts should be filed under seal for now.
In separate but related cases, eight other men linked to the kidnapping scheme are being prosecuted by the Michigan attorney general in state courts.
White reported from Detroit. News 8’s Rachel Van Gilder reported from Grand Rapids.
*Correction: A previous version of this article included an incorrect title for Birge. He is an assistant U.S. attorney. We regret the error, which has been fixed.