Accused Whitmer kidnap plotters also discussed attacking Ohio governor, feds say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

FBI agents did not entrap five men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer because the defendants were predisposed to commit the crime and attack other politicians, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The DeWine connection to a high-profile federal criminal case involving alleged violent extremism has not been previously disclosed and reveals accused plotters discussed a broader, bipartisan attack on politicians from several states. Prosecutors leveled the new allegation in a court filing Monday while fighting what has emerged as a central defense strategy that involves accusing the FBI of entrapment.

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.

The government was responding four weeks after defense lawyers leveled a broad attack on the government case built with help from at least one dozen informants and undercover FBI agents. 

In a 22-page filing, prosecutors alleged the accused plotters met near Columbus, Ohio, in June 2020 and discussed attacking Whitmer, a Democrat and DeWine, a Republican, along with a second Democrat, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who was linked to the investigation last fall.

The group charged in federal court includes Delaware resident Barry Croft, an alleged bombmaker who brandished an improvised explosive device during the meeting of what prosecutors described as “militia activists” who proposed attacking governors in Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, according to the filing.

"Croft brought and displayed to the group an improvised explosive device he had constructed for the purpose," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote. “Croft referred to himself as a ‘terrorist’ who was going to ‘burn mother------ houses down, blow shit up."

There was no immediate comment from Croft's defense lawyer Monday. Previously, defense lawyer Josh Blanchard said during a 2020 court hearing that there was no plot.

There was no additional context about the allegations involving DeWine. He was asked about the Whitmer case in October after FBI agents arrested more than a dozen people and said he was not notified about any alleged plot against the Michigan governor.

“It’s shocking,” DeWine told a reporter from "All I know is what I’ve read an hour ago from following the story. This is a despicable act. Everyone has to denounce this. If you want to talk about our political process, this is outside our political process.”

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney on Monday declined comment. 

A lawyer for Waterford Township resident Kaleb Franks, 27, wants access to the government's files on the 12 informants, including the informants' qualifications and vetting, details about their performance, communications with agents and "instructions and admonishments they received."

Defense lawyers are not entitled to the vast majority of information involving informants and the undercover FBI agents, prosecutors wrote. Much of the information is irrelevant, some is protected from disclosure and some could be shared with the defense teams at trial in October, depending on which witnesses are called by the government, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said the entrapment defense will fail. An entrapment defense is contingent on a person's predisposition to commit the crime, Kessler wrote.

"Thus, it is helpful to understand, at the outset, that the defendants were predisposed to join the kidnapping and explosives conspiracies, and therefore will not be able to prove entrapment," the prosecutor wrote.

Prosecutors portrayed the alleged attackers as being responsible for inciting the kidnapping plot.

On July 3, 2020, for instance, accused plotter Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville, met for the first time with an undercover FBI agent, according to the filing Monday.

Fox advised the agent of the group’s plans, Kessler wrote.

“We’re, we’re movin’ forward man, we’re actively planning some missions right now,” Fox said, according to a portion of a secretly recorded conversation filed in court.

“OK,” the agent said.

“Um. The consensus is as of right now is takin’ the f-----' capitol. By force,” Fox said. “Like, with extreme heavy f-----’ prejudice toward our f-----’ governing officials. I mean, obviously, we’re not just talkin’ about goin’ to murder a bunch of cops and s---, but they got a choice to make.”

“Yeah,” the agent said.

“They swore an oath just like we all did when we joined the, the militias, you know,” Fox said.

“Right, well that’s to the Constitution, not to the f-----’ Legislature,” the agent said.

“We swore an oath to the Constitution,” Fox said. “So, if they’re going to sit here and stand between us and a f-----' oppressor, a tyrant.”

Fox's lawyer, Christopher Gibbons, declined comment.

A third defendant, Lake Orion resident Daniel Harris, 24, offered his explosive skills to Michigan militia group the Wolverine Watchmen in spring 2020, prosecutors alleged Monday.

“I can make things go boom if you give me what I need,” Harris allegedly wrote in a series of text messages. “… Pretty sure if the founding fathers saw how s--- was being run, they’d be looking at us like ‘wtf, kill them.’”

There was no immediate comment from Harris' lawyer.

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.