Skip to content
Far-Right Men Charged in Michigan Guv Kidnap Plot Duck Conviction

 | Breaking News Updates

Top stories | abc News


Photo illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo by JIM WATSON / Getty

In a shocking twist, a group of white men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election dodged convictions on Friday.

After five days of deliberations, a Michigan jury acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta of multiple counts, including conspiracy, for what prosecutors said was a depraved scheme born out of anti-government anger over COVID restrictions. -19 from the Democratic leader. The jury, however, could not reach a consensus on the other two defendants and alleged ringleaders of the conspiracy – Adam Fox and Barry Croft – and so their cases ended in a mistrial.

The partial verdict came after five days of deliberation and was perhaps the worst blow to federal prosecutors seeking to crack down on right-wing extremists in the aftermath of a particularly violent and disorderly election season. It also came after the case was marred by allegations of misconduct against some of the FBI agents involved, as well as a “double agent” informant whom the feds effectively disavowed.

Since the jury was deadlocked on the charges against Fox and Croft, a mistrial was declared, although the two remained in custody. The rulings came after the jury twice indicated it was deadlocked in the highly anticipated trial.

“The best birthday present of my life” Caserta told the courtroom after the verdict was read, according to information from the Detroit News. He and Harris were released immediately.

Outside the courthouse, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge told reporters that even though the verdict was “not the outcome we wanted”, prosecutors still planned to pursue another case against Fox and Croft. “We thought the jury would convict beyond a reasonable doubt based on the evidence… We believe in the jury system,” he added.

Did this kidnapping plotter accused Whitmer simply condemn himself?

Prosecutors said the defendants, who included militia members and self-proclaimed patriots, spent months crafting the violent plan after Whitmer locked down the state in an effort to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus. The plot allegedly included plans to kidnap the governor, blow up a bridge to prevent cops from rescuing her, and possibly leave her stranded on a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan.

“In America, there are a lot of things you can do. You can criticize the government publicly, absolutely,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said during closing arguments Friday. “If you don’t like government policies, you can protest them. If you don’t like elected leaders, you can vote them out.

“What you can’t do is kidnap them, kill them or blow them up,” Kessler said.

Defense attorneys for the four men argued throughout the month-long trial that their clients had been drawn into a conspiracy by FBI informants in which they otherwise would never have been involved. Lawyers noted that the informants received thousands of dollars in the course of their work.

The feds actually agreed they had an informant problem. One of them, Stephen Robeson, was accused by prosecutors of being a “double agent” who had worked “against the interests of the government”. BuzzFeed News noted that Robeson pleaded guilty last year to a firearms charge for a sniper rifle. Yet his secret recordings were key evidence and a second informant testified at trial.

Meanwhile, at least three FBI agents who had played key roles in the investigation have not been called to the stand after a spate of scandals. One was fired last year after being accused of domestic violence against his wife, allegedly linked to an argument over an orgy.

Defense attorneys did all they could to focus on allegations of abuse by botched federal authorities.

“When I look at what happened in this case, I am ashamed of the behavior of the main law enforcement agency in the United States,” Josh Blanchard, who represents Croft, told jurors. “The investigation was an embarrassment. There was no plan and there was no agreement.

Harris, a 24-year-old ex-Marine, also insisted to jurors that there was no organized plan to kidnap Whitmer, insisting he had joined the group to “drink beer , shooting guns and talking about girls”. He also took the opportunity to slap his co-defendants, describing Croft as a “stoner pirate” who was “kind of bonkers” to jurors.

Will a “double agent” informant and the mayhem of the FBI torpedo the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping case?

Prosecutors say Harris and Caserta were members of a self-proclaimed militia called the Wolverine Watchmen, which The Daily Beast reported scared neighbors in rural Michigan before their arrests in the fall of 2020. Fox, that prosecutors described Croft as one of the ringleaders of the plot – and allegedly affiliated with the far-right anti-government “Three Percenter” movement. The group’s name refers to the false notion that only a tiny fraction of the residents of the 13 colonies fought in the American Revolution. Several current or former adherents of the false worldview were charged with conspiracy during the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol.

The only defendant to speak, Harris later admitted to building a malfunctioning explosive device with Croft and setting it off. “I was putting BBs and a little gunpowder in this balloon, and we were going to blow up a stove,” Harris added. “We put it in a stove. We lit the fuse and we ran.

His testimony came after two of his alleged former co-conspirators testified against him after he pleaded guilty to the scheme. Both said Harris was an active and willing participant in the conspiracy.

Prosecutors argued during the trial that the group took several steps to carry out its violent plan, including tactical training, building bombs and building up an arsenal in hopes of starting a second civil war.

In September 2020, however, the group began to fall apart after an FBI informant introduced an undercover agent into the mix, who posed as an explosives expert. The men were arrested in October of that year after the FBI and Michigan State Police raided several homes.

“Barry Croft crossed the country four times to plan this. Adam Fox came (to Whitmer’s cottage) twice. It wasn’t just protected speech,” Kessler said on Friday, saying the group also took measures to conceal his plans “They weren’t going to protest. They were specifically keeping a low profile so no one would know what they were doing.”

Learn more about The Daily Beast.

Do you have any advice? Send it to The Daily Beast here

Get the Daily Beast’s biggest scoops and scandals straight to your inbox. Register now.

Stay informed and get unlimited access to The Daily Beast’s unrivaled reports. Subscribe now.



Breaking News Updates abc News

Yahoo

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.