A few days after the Capitol protest on January 6, 2021, a tough-talking FBI chief with a Boston accent promised the American people that the bureau would spare no resource in hunting down everyone and anyone involved in the four-hour disturbance that day.
Steven M. D’Antuono, the newly appointed head of the Washington, D.C. FBI field office, gave the public a stern warning. “The FBI will leave no stone unturned. This is a 24/7, full bore, extensive operation,” D’Antuono explained during a January 12, 2021 press conference at the Department of Justice. “As Director Wray says, the FBI does not do easy.”
His agency, D’Antuono bragged, has a “long memory and a broad reach.” Agents from 56 FBI field offices across the country “will be knocking on your door if we find out you were part of the criminal activity at the Capitol.” He urged people to turn in their co-workers, neighbors, and relatives if they had information that could help the FBI in its dragnet.
Turns out, his comments weren’t just Beantown-style braggadocio. More than 850 Americans since then have been investigated, arrested, and charged for mostly nonviolent offenses related to the January 6 protest. Armed FBI agents have conducted early morning raids at homes across the country, using military style vehicles to batter in front doors while traumatizing families, children, and neighbors in the process. It is a crusade of fear and terror meant to reinforce D’Antuono’s threats that those who dared to demonstrate against the fraudulent election of Joe Biden that day will pay a hefty price.
Nearly 20 months later, D’Antuono’s office continues to announce new arrests.
And it’s not just Trump voters who face D’Antuono’s wrath. His agents publicly arrested Peter Navarro, a former Trump White House advisor, at Reagan National Airport in June on contempt of Congress charges. Navarro said FBI agents placed him in handcuffs and leg irons even though he lives next door to FBI Headquarters in Washington. After Steve Bannon, a longtime Trump confidant, was convicted on those same charges in July, D’Antuono boasted in a Justice Department press release how it was a great day for democracy: “The tenets of our government rely upon citizens adhering to the established rules of law. Lawful tools, such as subpoenas and other legal orders, are critical in our system of government. Mr. Bannon was found guilty of contempt by a jury of his peers for his choice to ignore a lawful subpoena.”
D’Antuono’s agents also led the raid of Mar-a-Lago on August 8.
Which is where the intersection of D’Antuono’s conduct at the FBI gets a bit tricky, if not shady as hell.
The day after D’Antuono’s agents traveled from D.C. to Palm Beach to ransack Trump’s residence and abscond with, among other items, the former president’s passports, a federal judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan began jury selection in the retrial of two men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. A jury in April could not reach a verdict in the case against Adam Fox and Barry Croft but jurors acquitted their two co-defendants after defense attorneys successfully argued their clients had been framed by the FBI.
The FBI field office primarily responsible for running the entrapment scheme was located in Detroit—at the time headed by none other than Steven M. D’Antuono. Unlike his public self-praise for the FBI’s role in the January 6 investigation, however, D’Antuono has been uncharacteriscially mum about what the government considers its biggest domestic terror investigation in recent history.
That’s because it wasn’t an investigation; it was a set up. No fewer than a dozen FBI undercover agents and informants worked at the direction of FBI officials in numerous field offices to engineer the scam. Agents with D’Antuono’s office in Detroit hired and handled the lead informant, a man named Dan Chappel, to stitch the group of alleged kidnappers together over a seven month period beginning in early 2020.
Chappel, along with his FBI collaborators, organized meetings and excursions, paid for travel expenses and dining, created a fake militia and Facebook page to lure targets into the trap, and encouraged the targets to discuss violent plans for Whitmer and other politicians. Their targets were often high on marijuana but that didn’t stop the FBI informants and undercover agents from recording at least 1,000 hours of mostly stoned conversations to produce evidence.
For his stint with the FBI, Chappel was paid roughly $60,000, more than he made in one year working as a truck driver for the FBI. Another FBI informant is a convicted felon several times over; a female informant broke FBI protocol by sleeping in the same hotel room with Barry Croft, her target. Both informants were paid nearly $10,000 each.
Two undercover agents out of the Detroit office pretended to be a couple to develop a friendship with Fox and his girlfriend at the time.
When the FBI realized, despite their best efforts, the hodgepodge group still refused to propose anything close to a doable plan to abduct Whitmer and take her by boat to the middle of Lake Michigan, the FBI introduced a new undercover agent from Michigan to act as an explosives expert and offer to sell bomb-making material to the group. Under the nickname “Red,” he showed the group a video made by the FBI of an exploding vehicle to convince the group of his credibility.
Before the arrests were made on October 7, 2020, an FBI investigator working out of the Flint satellite office signed the original criminal complaint in the case.
And a week later, FBI Director Chris Wray promoted D’Antuono to take over the FBI office in Washington, D.C. As Darren Beattie recently asked, why, out of 56 other field office supervisors, did Wray choose D’Antuono? And why was D’Antuono promoted just a few months before January 6, an event bearing many striking similarities—including fake militias and attempts to “storm the Capitol”—to the Whitmer fednapping.
D’Antuono’s fingerprints are all over this scandal. Regardless of whether the jury again returns with a deadlocked verdict or even a conviction, D’Antuono needs to be as forthcoming about his role with what happened as he is with the January 6 investigation. Two innocent men spent 18 months in prison before they were exonerated by a jury; D’ Antuono must be held accountable for that. If Fox and Croft are acquitted, demanding a public reckoning takes on even greater urgency.
The great irony here is that if the jury finds Fox and Croft not guilty, one contributing factor might be how D’Antuono’s raid of Trump’s home further torched the credibility of the FBI, particularly in places like western Michigan where jurors now deliberate their fate. And perhaps D’Antuono’s, too.