A federal courtroom in Grand Rapids this week once again demonstrated how far removed we are from America’s founding principles of free speech, blind justice, commensurate punishment, and due process of law. The two-day performance by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker demonstrated how much closer we are to a totalitarian police state where federal agents spy on and entrap citizens in a successful effort to criminalize political activity and send a warning to other dissidents—all with the solemn imprimatur of the judicial system.
Jonker, who has presided over the federal case against six men accused of conspiring to kidnap and kill Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, didn’t attempt to hide his bias during the sentencing hearings for two defendants, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr., convicted of that crime in August. Both, after all, were found guilty at a retrial in large part due to Jonker’s activism from the bench on behalf of the government. (Fox and Croft received a hung jury in the first trial in April; two co-defendants were acquitted on all charges.)
The U.S. attorney for the western district of Michigan wanted life sentences for Fox and Croft; Jonker, declaring life in prison would be too harsh, nonetheless sentenced Fox to 192 months (16 years) and Croft to 235 months (just over 19 years)—terms usually reserved for murderers and otherwise violent, repeat criminals. All for an alleged crime that never came close to fruition.
But handing down excessive sentences, which included add-ons for “terrorism,” represented just a sliver of Jonker’s shameful conduct. Jonker repeatedly preached, unprompted, that the case was not an FBI entrapment operation and insisted law enforcement acted bravely and appropriately.
“This is what law enforcement is supposed to do,” Jonker said Tuesday morning before announcing Fox’s sentence. “I don’t see anything on the entrapment front.” Jonker praised the FBI for its “careful monitoring” of the alleged kidnappers and claimed if they hadn’t “pulled the plug early,” the governor would have been kidnapped and possibly assassinated. He also lamented the “emotional baggage” Whitmer, who knew of the alleged caper months before the October 2020 arrests, carries to this day.
Jonker, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2007, continued his gratuitous commentary during Croft’s sentencing on Wednesday morning.
“We were never going to experience the worst because law enforcement was in position early,” Jonker said. Dan Chappel, the lead FBI informant compensated roughly $60,000 in cash and personal items for seven months’ work, deserves gratitude for his role. “We would all thank him,” Jonker claimed.
He again defended the FBI’s involvement, insisting no one had been “entrapped” and the agency was merely “trying to ferret out illegitimate activities.”
“That’s something I need to reflect,” Jonker said.
Except Jonker didn’t bother to “reflect” on anything of the sort. Further, the jurors in the first trial might strongly reject Jonker’s delusional reflections, since the government failed to win a single conviction after defense attorneys presented a compelling—and convincing—FBI entrapment defense. Fox, Croft, Brandon Caserta, and Daniel Harris went to trial in April on federal kidnapping charges. (Two other individuals pleaded guilty.)
Following a three-week trial and more than four days of deliberation, a jury acquitted Caserta and Harris on all charges. After jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on Fox and Croft—some news reports indicated a sole holdout—Jonker declared a mistrial.
The outcome was a shocking and rare defeat for the Department of Justice in a case the government considered the biggest domestic terror investigation in recent history. (Prosecutors immediately announced they would seek a retrial.) Not only did the verdicts undermine the credibility of the entire Whitmer kidnapping narrative, but the painstaking work of the defense attorneys also helped further damage the credibility of the FBI by detailing an extensive entrapment operation that even the most talented fiction writers would be hard-pressed to conceive.
At least a dozen FBI informants working with numerous FBI handlers and aided by at least three FBI undercover agents concocted and engineered the scheme. An investigative report by BuzzFeed in July 2021, based on filings by defense attorneys, first introduced the intricate plot to the public.
“Working in secret, [the informants] did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects,” reporters Ken Bensinger and Jessica Garrison wrote. “Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.”
There would not have been, no matter how hard Judge Jonker argues to the contrary. For months before and during the first trial in April, the four public defenders—Christopher Gibbons (Fox), Joshua Blanchard (Croft), Julia Kelly (Harris), and Mike Hills (Caserta)—exposed the scheme. FBI informants had tailed their targets for months and had organized “militia” conferences, field training exercises, family gatherings, and other events to produce incriminating evidence. Most of the defendants were high or drunk, or both, as informants and undercover agents recorded their impaired conversations.
The FBI set up a fake militia to which Chappel was sworn in as a “commanding officer,” in violation of FBI rules. By August, despite the FBI’s best efforts, no kidnapping plan existed, and the group appeared on the verge of splitting up. One handling agent instructed an informant tasked to watch Croft to “solve the differences in the group” and remind them of Croft’s “good ideas.”
Defense attorneys further revealed that the FBI planted another undercover agent, disguised as an explosives expert, in the group in September 2020 to accelerate the scheme. The agent showed the group a video of a bomb blowing up an SUV; the FBI had produced the video.
At the same time, defense attorneys discovered texts between Chappel and his handling agents as the pair attempted to lure another man in Virginia into a similar plot against Governor Ralph Northam. “Mission is to kill the governor specifically,” FBI special agent Jayson Chambers instructed Chappel.
Defense attorneys uncovered hundreds of communications between FBI assets confirming what happened behind the scenes. Jonker refused to allow the jury to see most of the exchanges.
“When I look at what happened in this case, I am ashamed of the behavior of the leading law enforcement agency in the United States,” Blanchard said during his closing arguments in April.
“[The FBI doesn’t] make terrorists so we can arrest them,” Gibbons told the jury.
But of course, that’s exactly what the FBI did. Luckily, a jury saw through the plot and failed to give the government a single conviction in April.
The defense, minus two defendants, wasn’t so fortunate in the retrial. Jonker took an active role in helping the prosecution, often interjecting during defense presentations and lines of inquiry. In an unusual move, Jonker limited the defense’s cross-examination of a key government witness to less than an hour. The judge made no secret of his disdain for the defense’s case in front of the jury.
Fox and Croft were convicted after less than a day of deliberations.
That doesn’t erase, however, the heroic work of the public defenders, now likely preparing an appeal. The Whitmer fednapping scheme is the clearest view yet as to what the FBI is capable of and willing to do to create optics favorable to Democrats and boost the imaginary threat by “domestic violent extremists.”
While Twitter CEO Elon Musk is gradually exposing the depth of collusion between the FBI and Big Tech; the unsung heroes continuing to defend the individuals targeted in the Whitmer caper have done as much, if not more, to show the American people the truth behind this irredeemably corrupt agency.