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Feds file weapon of mass destruction charges against accused Whitmer kidnap plotters

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Federal prosecutors Wednesday filed a charge of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction against three men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and use bombs to carry out the attack.

The new charges against Potterville resident Adam Fox, 38, Delaware resident Barry Croft, 45, and Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion come six months after the FBI said agents thwarted a plot to kidnap and kill Whitmer — a conspiracy that included visits to her home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices. Each man faces one weapon of mass destruction charge.

The superseding indictment alleges plotter Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, suggested demolishing a bridge near the governor's northern Michigan vacation home and that Fox and Croft inspected one potential spot to mount an explosive during a September surveillance run. Garbin has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others.

The destructive devices were intended to harm and hinder the governor's security detail and any responding law enforcement personnel, according to the government.

Along with a kidnapping conspiracy count, the new charge means Fox, Croft and Harris are now facing two charges that could send them to federal prison for the rest of their lives if convicted in a case that has focused national attention on violent extremism in Michigan.

“This may be the kind of thing prosecutors are adding on as pressure in hopes that this, on top of all the other charges, will lead to quicker negotiations in the plea process,” said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

The weapon of mass destruction charge was used in federal court in Detroit a decade ago against nine members of the Hutaree militia. Members were accused of talking about killing law enforcement officers and using weapons of mass destruction to attack the funeral procession. But the charge ended in acquittals, marking one of the landmark losses for federal prosecutors in the eastern district of Michigan in recent history.

These are the men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In the alleged Whitmer plot and related threats of overthrowing the state government, 14 people have been charged in state and federal court.

Croft's lawyer declined comment. Lawyers for Fox and Harris did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The indictment describes a conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction from May-October involving a group motivated by anger over state restrictions on travel and business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris bragged to others about his bombmaking knowledge during an encrypted chat on a mobile app, prosecutors said.

Harris said he was a U.S. Marine Corps infantry veteran who "can make things go boom if you give me what I need," according to the indictment.

The weapon of mass destruction charge covers everything from biological, radioactive and chemical devices to bombs, grenades, missiles and mines, Lewis noted. In the Whitmer case, prosecutors repeatedly refer to homemade, improvised explosive devices.

The law covers the use, threat, attempt or conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.

FBI agents have portrayed Croft as the group's bombmaker and have seized weapons and bomb components in caches scattered across the country.

FBI agents seized more than 70 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition from those charged in the Whitmer case along with key bomb components in two states.

According to the government, weapons and explosives were found by agents probing the Whitmer plot in a remote training camp deep in the forests of northern Michigan and from Croft in Delaware.

Croft and Harris knowingly possessed a destructive device on Sept. 13 in Lake County, according to the indictment. Garbin owns a training camp in Luther where members of the group are accused of training to kidnap Whitmer, prosecutors allege.

On Oct. 8, agents in Delaware seized from Croft a brand of "Dr. Atomic's Exploding Targets," boxes of rifle primers, propane canisters, a box of 6,000 ball bearings and containers of smokeless powder.

"He was the prime mover behind the group’s construction, testing and detonation of weapons of mass destruction," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in an earlier court filing. 

Croft and others were simply airing grievances and lacked a plot, his lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, previously said. Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as men of inaction, tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.

At Garbin's camp near Luther, which prosecutors say the group used for tactical and firearms training, investigators seized explosives, copper disks, metal fragments, metal staples and consumer fireworks labeled "Colorful Willow" and "Commander in Chief." 

Pyrotechnics, fireworks and smokeless powder were among the most common devices used in explosions investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2018. Fireworks were used in 37% of the nearly 300 bombing incidents investigated by the bureau that year.

Croft and Harris face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of possessing an unregistered destructive device.

FBI agents raided this secluded camp near the village of Luther, Michigan on October 7, 2020. The camp was allegedly used by militia members for planning, explosives detonation, and other weapons training in connection with a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Harris also is accused of illegally possessing a semiautomatic assault rifle, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a conviction.

FBI agents say members of the alleged conspiracy built and detonated bombs.

Croft is accused of traveling from his home in Delaware to Wisconsin and Michigan to train, and practice building and detonating improvised explosive devices. He also helped surveil Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, according to the government.

On July 11, Croft, Garbin and Harris, tried to detonate two IEDs during a training exercise in Wisconsin, prosecutors said.

Two months later, prosecutors say Croft, Garbin, Harris, Fox and other members of the alleged conspiracy were at the Luther training camp. They practiced assaulting a building and discussed tactics for attacking Whitmer’s security detail with IEDs, a projectile launcher and other weapons, according to the government.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews