Two Men Convicted in Second Whitmer Fednapping Trial

A federal jury today convicted two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020; the verdict is a much-needed win for the regime in a case the Justice Department considers one of its most important domestic terror investigations in decades.

Earlier this year, a jury failed to reach a verdict on Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. and the government immediately announced prosecutors would seek another trial. Both were found guilty of federal kidnapping and weapons of mass destruction charges and Croft was found guilty of unlawful firearms possession. 

Jurors heard testimony from several FBI experts and investigators during the eight-day trial at the Gerald R. Ford Federal Courthouse in Grand Rapids. Croft, Fox and four others were arrested in October 2020 for their alleged participation in the shocking plot, resulting in national news coverage just a few weeks before election day. In April, a jury acquitted two men, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris, on all charges after their attorneys successfully argued the men had been framed by the FBI. Two other defendants, Kaleb Franks and Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty and testified for the government at both trials.

Controversy shrouded the second trial. Mark Totten, the newly-appointed U.S. attorney for the western district of Michigan, the office prosecuting the case, recused himself in July without explanation. Totten served as Whitmer’s general counsel for almost three years before Joe Biden nominated him to the new post.

Legal observers bristled at the one-day jury selection process handled almost exclusively by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, who also presided over the first trial. On the first day of testimony, defense attorneys informed the court that one juror was potentially compromised for telling co-workers that he “had already decided the case and intended to ensure a particular result at the conclusion of the trial.” Jonker met privately with the juror and refused to allow either prosecutors or defense counsel from participating in the meeting; he ordered all related filings to remain under seal.

Jonker repeatedly scolded Gibbons and Blanchard for what he viewed as wasting the jury’s time on “crap” lines of questioning. Before the testimony of government witnesses last Wednesday, Jonker took the unprecedented step of limiting the amount of time for cross examination. Blanchard accused Jonker of openly favoring prosecutors while frequently interjecting and interrupting defense counsel. “Limiting us is unfair and it’s unconstitutional, and it doesn’t aid the jury in the search for the truth,” Blanchard told Jonker on August 17 after the jury had been dismissed for the day. “It’s creating a perception of how this case ends.”

The Justice Department also sought a narrower definition of entrapment, essentially asking Jonker to make it harder for the jury to conclude the defendants were set up by the FBI.

The case largely centered on accusations of a wide-ranging FBI entrapment operation involving the use of numerous FBI handlers, undercover agents, and informants over a seven-month period. It appears the jury was not convinced this time that the FBI played an instrumental role.

“Let [the government] know this is not what a fair trial looks like in America,” Christopher Gibbons, attorney for Fox, told the jury during closing arguments on Monday morning. “Do not endorse or reward this type of behavior. It is time to end this debacle and it is time to restore Adam’s freedom.”

Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s public defender, noted the government collected 1,000 hours of recorded conversations between FBI assets and defendants but played less than two hours of clips for the jury; one clip was only four seconds long. “The FBI doesn’t exist, it should not exist, to make people look like terrorists when they aren’t,” Blanchard said during his closing. “This whole thing has been a big FBI charade. This isn’t Russia, this isn’t how our country works.”

The defense condemned what they described as untruthful testimony by FBI agents and the key informant, Dan Chappel, an Iraq war veteran and mail hauler for the U.S. Postal Service who was hired by the FBI in March 2020 to infiltrate an online group of Second Amendment advocates also opposed to Michigan’s lockdown policies. Chappel, partnering with at least a dozen FBI informants and undercover agents, coordinated field training and surveillance excursions to lure the targets into the trap. Encrypted group chats created by Chappel fed information directly to his FBI handlers working out of the Detroit FBI Field office at the time.

Known as “Big Dan” to the government’s targets, Chappel gradually stitched the group together and specifically solicited Fox, at the time living in the dilapidated cellar of a vacuum repair shop in a Grand Rapids strip mall. During two days of testimony last week, Chappel admitted he offered Fox a credit card with a $5,000 limit at least four times and suggested Fox could use the card to purchase weaponry to execute the kidnapping scheme. (Fox refused to accept the cards.) Fox and Chappel communicated daily for nearly four months, sometimes several times a day.

The government compensated Chappel roughly $60,000 in cash and reimbursements for personal items including a laptop computer, smart watch, and new tires for his vehicle. In December 2020, two months after the caper ended, the FBI gave Chappel an envelope containing $23,540. Blanchard accused the FBI of allowing Chappel to violate FBI rules by advancing the alleged conspiracy and taking an oath as the commanding officer in an FBI-created militia.

Five FBI informants were tasked with surveilling Croft, who has been on the FBI’s radar since 2019 for “anti-government” comments on social media. During an event in Wisconsin, Jenny Plunk, the primary FBI informant assigned to Croft, shared a hotel room with her target. When the group began to splinter in late summer amid concerns over Croft’s wild talk, Plunk’s FBI handler urged her to remind the others of Croft’s value. ”Show them they were brought together by Croft and he has good ideas. Keep working to solve the differences in the group,” FBI special agent Christopher Long texted Plunk on August 10, 2020. For her services, Plunk was paid at least $8,000.

With no proposal to kidnap and assassinate Whitmer by that point, the FBI accelerated its operation by introducing another undercover FBI agent to act as an explosives expert and convince the group to purchase materials to build a bomb. Agent Timothy Bates, known as “Red,” met with the government’s targets in Michigan on September 12, 2020 where he showed a video of a vehicle blown up by an explosive device. The video was produced by the FBI.

Bates admitted during testimony last week the “case team” of FBI assets met the night before to map out plans to drive the targets to Whitmer’s remote vacation cottage on Birch Lake, the purported scene of the crime. Bates brought night vision equipment and two-way radios to hand out as props—all supplied by the FBI.

It is unclear at this point whether Gibbons and Blanchard will appeal. Their clients face life in prison.

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