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Feds find bomb components in alleged Whitmer kidnapping plot

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal agents recently found "explosive device components" while investigating six men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and need more time to consider seeking federal terrorism charges, according to a court filing Monday.

The disclosure was included in a filing by federal prosecutors who asked a federal judge to give the government more time to seek an indictment against the six men who are being held without bond.

The filing comes three weeks after prosecutors said the FBI had thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Whitmer. The conspiracy included surveillance visits to Whitmer's home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices.

Prosecutors also need more time to sift through evidence collected during the investigation. That evidence includes hundreds of hours of undercover audio recordings and more than 13,000 pages of encrypted text messages.

"The evidence also included potentially illegal firearms and explosives evidence, which must be examined by FBI and ATF experts to determine whether additional federal charges are appropriate," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote.

FBI agents in Michigan, Delaware and Wisconsin also have collected “voluminous evidence” from the six men while executing search warrants, including computers and cellphones.

The men facing federal kidnapping conspiracy charges were part of a broader attempt to spark a civil war by overthrowing the government and kill police personnel, according to the government. In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal court, including members and associates of an obscure militia, the Wolverine Watchmen.

The six charged in federal court are:

  • Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville, known as "Alpha F--- You"
  • Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, known as "Gunney"
  • Kaleb Franks, 26, known as "Red Hot"
  • Daniel Harris, 23, known as "Beaker"
  • Brandon Caserta, 32, known as "Debased Tyrant"
  • Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware

Prosecutors requested a 40-day extension, until Dec. 16, to seek an indictment against the men, who face up to life in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge. The request is unopposed by defense lawyers, according to the court filing.

Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as men of inaction, tough talkers who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.

The allegations outlined in the criminal case represent what would be considered an act of domestic terrorism, said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

Federal law “does not currently have a domestic terrorism statute, which often inhibits the prosecution of acts of terrorism in the homeland that lack a foreign analogue or connection to/inspiration from a designated foreign terrorist organization,” he wrote in an email to The Detroit News. “However, in this case, certain alleged acts within the complaint may unlock a wider range of federal charges or potential sentencing enhancements.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens said there was sufficient evidence to support the conspiracy charge, pointing to allegations the alleged co-conspirators conducted nighttime surveillance of Whitmer's vacation home in northern Michigan.

The public got a look at some of the evidence during bond hearings earlier this month. The evidence included undercover video shot by an FBI informant and selfie videos and photos shot by members of the alleged conspiracy.

There were no additional details about what bomb components were recovered, or where or when.

In the criminal case unsealed earlier this month, an FBI agent described how Croft brought components for an improvised explosive device to the group’s training camp in Luther in northern Michigan in September.

According to an FBI informant, “Croft constructed an IED by removing the cap from a commercial firework, adding additional black powder, and wrapping the device in pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel,” FBI Special Agent Richard Trask wrote in the complaint.

“During the exercise, the group set the device in a clearing surrounded by human silhouette targets, and Croft detonated it to test its anti-personnel effectiveness."

During another training exercise in July in Wisconsin, Croft and an unidentified person tried to build an IED “using black powder, balloons, a fuse, and BBs for shrapnel,” according to the criminal complaint

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @RobertSnellnews