Witness after witness for the prosecution, he recounted regular training sessions during the summer of 2020, called “field training exercises”, during which the members participated in shooting exercises, received a medical training and have practiced navigation techniques. Others described how some members of the group twice went to explore Ms Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, where prosecutors said they planned to abduct her. (On one such trip, they had the wrong address for the house, so they just drove aimlessly down her street.)
No attack ever took place and no deadline for a kidnapping was set, according to testimonies, and the details of the alleged plan sometimes differed from witness to witness. FBI informant Dan Chappel said he believed the group was planning to kill Ms Whitmer, whose handling of the Covid-19 pandemic had infuriated the men. Ty Garbin, the man who previously pleaded guilty in the case, said he believed the group of men might abandon the governor in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan. Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, said he had hoped to die in a shootout with the governor’s security service.
“There was no plan to kidnap the governor, and there was no agreement between these four men,” said Joshua Blanchard, a lawyer for Mr Croft, in his closing arguments. He said the government had tried to conjure up a conspiracy using a network of informants and undercover agents, and that ‘without a plan, the snitches had to make it look like’ there was movement towards a plan .
Ms. Whitmer, a first-term governor with a national profile, did not testify or appear in court during the trial.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Ms. Whitmer took a more restrictive approach than some other Midwestern governors, keeping many rules in place even as the number of new virus cases plummeted. At the time of the men’s arrest in October 2020, the governor criticized then-President Donald J. Trump’s rhetoric about hate groups. Ms. Whitmer is up for re-election this fall.
During the trial, secretly recorded audio and chat messages showed members of the group repeatedly airing grievances against the government, particularly over Covid-19 restrictions, and expressing openness to a series of possible attacks. . But the central tension of the case was where the right to free speech, even hate speech, ended and became a crime.