Accused Whitmer kidnap plotter says God gave permission to kill
An accused bombmaker identified as a ringleader of a plot to kidnap and harm Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claimed he had permission from God to commit murder and was the national leader of a militia group that rioted at the U.S. Capitol last week, an FBI agent said Wednesday.
The new details emerged as the accused ringleader, Barry Croft, 45, of Bear, Delaware, pleaded not guilty and was denied bond during a hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids. The hearing marked Croft’s first appearance in a Michigan courtroom since being charged alongside five others in October in a case that has focused national attention on violent extremism in Michigan.
Croft is the national leader of the 3 Percenters, a small militia that participated in the Jan. 6 insurgence at the U.S. Capitol, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask said during the hearing, which featured undercover audio and video recorded by FBI informants. At one point Wednesday, Croft was asked to stand and display the 3 Percenters tattoo on his hand.
Prosecutors used those ties while arguing Croft was dangerous, a flight risk and should remain jailed amid warnings from the FBI about potential armed protests by violent extremists at all 50 state capitols ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has asked Whitmer to activate the National Guard.
Prosecutors say Croft is a violent extremist who served as the bombmaker of a group that plotted to overthrow the government and targeted several other politicians, including President Donald Trump, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster.
“This is probably the most committed violent extremist of the entire group,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told the magistrate judge. “There is no question this is a person committed to violent extremism and he is the one who brought the bomb.”
Croft's lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, objected to the government mentioning the 3 Percenters role in the Capitol riot and said Croft and others accused in the kidnapping plot were simply "airing grievances" and lacked a plan.
"I don't think that's enough," Blanchard told U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens.
The judge, however, cited Croft's criminal record and violent rhetoric captured on secretly recorded FBI recordings in ordering the Delaware man jailed indefinitely.
“Just because one plot was uncovered does not mean there aren’t other aims that Croft could direct his attention and his explosive tradecraft," Berens said.
Croft, who is being held at the Newaygo County Jail, faced steep odds of being released from custody while awaiting trial on a charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. All five co-defendants charged in federal court are being held without bond though some of the eight accused plotters facing charges in state court have been released on bond.
His arrival in Michigan had been delayed since October as prison officials minimized inmate transfers in hopes of stemming the spread of COVID-19. He was arrested in early October when the FBI said agents had thwarted a plot involving at least 14 men, including Croft, angered by state restrictions on travel and business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Croft cited the pandemic as one reason he should be released, saying he fears contracting the virus while in jail. He also complained about the long delay in being brought to federal court in Michigan.
Prosecutors, however, labeled Croft a violent extremist and said releasing him would be dangerous and unreasonable.
On Wednesday, they played multiple recordings that included Croft.
“Croft was saying he was granted permission from God to commit murder, correct,” Kessler asked the FBI agent.
“Correct,” Trask said.
Prosecutors portray Croft as a ringleader. "He was the prime mover behind the group’s construction, testing and detonation of weapons of mass destruction," Kessler wrote in a court filing. The prosecutor also cited evidence revealed during bond hearings in October.
"Evidence adduced at those hearings established that Croft conspired with the other defendants to kidnap the governor ... brought materials for an improvised explosive device to a training exercise ... participated in the nighttime surveillance of the governor’s home ... stopped to inspect a bridge along the way that he planned to bomb ... and detonated a second test bomb with shrapnel for use in the plot," Kessler wrote.
Croft, who FBI agents say posted a hit list on Facebook targeting Muslims and politicians, including former President Barack Obama, complained about the delay in a court filing.
"The unreasonable delay of more than two months in bringing Mr. Croft to this district is frustrating Mr. Croft’s ability to defend these charges," Croft's lawyer wrote in another filing.
Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.