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Delaware last year pardoned man charged in Whitmer kidnapping plot

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Delaware last year pardoned one of the men charged in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Delaware Gov. John Carney last year signed off on the pardon for Barry Gordon Croft Jr., 44, of Bear, Delaware, who was arrested and then charged Wednesday in federal court in Michigan with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer. 

Barry G. Croft Jr., 44, of Bear, Delaware, was charged this week in connection with the foiled plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Croft was pardoned for charges dating to the mid-1990s, including possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, assault and burglary, according to a copy of the pardon papers. The Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal first reported the news. 

Croft was also convicted on charges of conspiracy, receiving stolen property and disorderly conduct, according to the pardon document.

Croft remained in federal custody Friday in Delaware, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. His next court hearing, regarding his removal to Michigan, is set for Tuesday.

The Delaware Board of Pardons had recommended that Croft receive a pardon after he appeared before the board in December 2018. Carney, a Democrat and former congressman, signed the pardon papers on April 4, 2019.

Further information on Croft's appearance before the Board of Pardons was not immediately available because the board does not keep transcripts of its meetings and, under state law, is exempt from having to publish minutes, a staffer said Friday.

Carney's office on Friday noted the charges in question were from 1994-97 and the pardon was not opposed by the Delaware Department of Justice. 

"The charges brought in Michigan are disturbing, and everyone charged in this plot should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said. 

"This is also another warning sign about the growing threat of violence and radicalization in our politics."

Delaware Gov. John Carney

A prior administration did not oppose Croft's pardon application because his criminal history was more than 20 years old, "and it appeared to everyone involved that his offenses were in his past and that he had gotten himself on the right track," said Mat Marshall, spokesman for the Delaware Department of Justice. 

"Needless to say, nobody — neither the DOJ nor the bipartisan Board of Pardons — would have endorsed a pardon had they known what the future held," Marshall said.

"Croft’s actions are horrific and another reminder about the rising tide of political violence by so-called 'militias,' the boogaloo boys, the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. We hope and expect that Croft and his conspirators will be prosecuted fully.”

Croftwas among six men charged by federal officials, who allege he was part of a thwarted plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Whitmer. 

Federal documents filed in court Thursday allege the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer's personal vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election.

Earlier this year, Croft and Adam Fox, who was also charged in the kidnapping plot, were identified by federal authorities as individuals who allegedly agreed to unite with others in their cause to take "violent action" against multiple state governments that they believed are violating the U.S. Constitution.

The pair met with others in Dublin, Ohio, on June 6 and talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights, according to the federal affidavit. 

Croft and Fox allegedly discussed detonating explosive devices to divert police from the area of Whitmer's vacation home. 

As part of training for the operation, Croft built an improvised explosive device wrapped in shrapnel, which they set off in a clearing surrounded by "human silhouette targets" to test its capabilities, the affidavit says.

If convicted, Croft faces up to life in prison on the conspiracy to kidnap charges related to Whitmer, prosecutors said.

Separate from the federal charges, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Thursday charged seven men linked to the militia group Wolverine Watchmen with terrorism and other felony charges. 

They are alleged to have targeted law enforcement officers at their homes; made threats of violence to instigate a civil war leading to societal collapse; and engaged in the planning and training for an operation to attack the state Capitol building and kidnap government officials, including Whitmer, according to Nessel's office. 

The individuals include Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford; Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville; Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac; Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell; William Null, 38, of Shelbyville; Pete Musico, 42; and Joseph Morrison, 26, who live together in Munith. 

Six of the seven men had been arraigned as of Friday, and the seventh, Bellar, awaits extradition to Michigan from Columbia, South Carolina, where he was arrested Wednesday. 

Nessel's office is working to extradite Bellar to Michigan for arraignment on charges in Jackson County, but no court dates have yet been set.

mburke@detroitnews.com