Judge releases video, photos the Whitmer kidnap plot defense didn't want public to see

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Video and photos released Wednesday show a Delaware man charged in a kidnapping plot of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer carrying a "boogaloo" flag and training with a semiautomatic assault rifle at a Wisconsin field training exercise. 

Barry Croft of Delaware holds a tactical shotgun in a photo used during his Jan. 13, 2021 bond hearing for his alleged involvement in the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Editor's note: The below link contains conversations with strong language. 

A separate screenshot shows electronic messages exchanged between Delaware defendant Barry Croft and an individual that featured a photo of a highway bridge near Whitmer's vacation home that Croft and others allegedly planned to blow up.  

The images and video were released to The Detroit News Wednesday after the newspaper and several other outlets petitioned Western District Magistrate Judge Sally Berens to give the media access to the images, which were used during Croft's Jan. 13 detention hearing. 

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Croft's attorney, Joshua Blanchard, noted in a statement Wednesday that the detention hearing during which the images and audio were introduced took place months ago, "before we had an opportunity to investigate the government's claims. "

"We are looking forward to presenting all of the facts to a jury this fall," Blanchard said.

Blanchard had opposed releasing the evidence on the premise that it would taint a jury pool at his October trial. With the trial just months out, there was no compelling reason to release the items prior to trial, he told Berens. 

"Because of the high-profile nature of the proceeding and significant media attention it has received, releasing the exhibits before their admission at trial poses a risk of tainting the jury pool," Blanchard wrote earlier in opposition to the release.

Andrew Pauwels, representing The News at June hearing on the matter, said the actual audio and video paint a more complete picture of the factors influencing Croft's actions and the court's bond denial.

"For most of these items, a description already exists in the public domain," Pauwels said. "But many of these things are not easily susceptible to accurate description.”

Berens granted access to the photos and video in a July 13 ruling but denied the release of audio linked to the case. 

Barry Croft of Delaware holds a boogaloo flag in a photo used during his Jan. 13, 2021 bond hearing for his alleged involvement in the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

"...The incremental risk to Defendant Croft's ability to secure a fair and impartial jury outweighs the modest burden to the common law right of public access in delaying the recordings' release until the trial of this matter," Berens ruled in response to the request from The News; Buzzfeed; Scripps Media Inc., owner of WXYZ-TV (Channel 7); and the New York Times.

The media outlets had argued that the public has the right to review the photos, video and audio to understand why Croft was ordered held without bond pending trial. 

The audio recordings, which Berens said were "more inflammatory, included one of Croft at a field training exercise in Wisconsin and another of Croft at a militia group meeting in Ohio.

The kidnap conspiracy against Whitmer has drawn international attention as one of the highest-profile cases in the nation involving individuals angered by the state-ordered restrictions on business and travel during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A photograph of Barry Croft’s modified semiautomatic assault rifle used at his Jan. 13, 2021 bond hearing. Croft is accused of attempting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Croft, 45, of Bear, Delaware, is one of five people awaiting trial on a kidnapping conspiracy charge that could send them to federal prison for life. He is believed by authorities to be one of two ringleaders in the case. 

A sixth man, Hartland Township resident Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government. 

The term Boogaloo refers to a violent uprising or impending civil war and is sometimes used by militia extremists and racially motivated violent extremists, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.