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Thursday August 11th, 2022 2:40PM

Defense: Alleged leader incapable of pulling off kidnapping

By The Associated Press
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A defense attorney says any plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was led by FBI agents and a key government informant, not a hapless man living in the basement of a vacuum shop.

Jurors are hearing closing arguments Friday on the 15th day of trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Attorney Christopher Gibbons spoke on behalf of Adam Fox, who is described as a leader of a conspiracy to abduct Whitmer from her vacation home in 2020. Gibbons says Fox was a “big talker” but wasn't capable pulling off what's alleged.

“The talk is just talk. The only people trying to make anything happen starts and ends” with the FBI and an informant who spent months with Fox, Gibbons said.

Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with conspiracy. Three of the men also face additional charges involving weapons.

Earlier, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors that the men were “filled with rage” at the government and Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

A prosecutor urged jurors Friday to convict four men in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying they were antigovernment extremists “filled with rage” and intent on igniting a civil war.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler summed up the evidence on the 15th day of trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The case was built with informants, undercover agents, secret recordings and two star witnesses who pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with conspiracy. Three of the men also face additional charges involving weapons.

“They were filled with rage,” Kessler told jurors. “They were paranoid because they knew what they were doing was wrong and they feared they could be caught.”

The four men deny any scheme to get Whitmer at her vacation home, though they were livid with the government as well as restrictions the governor imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kessler highlighted the testimony of Ty Garbin, who was arrested with the group but quickly agreed to cooperate and pleaded guilty.

“The boogaloo is this whole idea of kicking off a second civil war in the United States. That's what bound these defendants together,” the prosecutor said.

The men were arrested in October 2020 amid talk of raising $4,000 for an explosive that could blow up a bridge and stymie police after a kidnapping, according to trial evidence. Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout the area.

Only one defendant, Harris, chose to testify in his own defense. But his denial of any crime Thursday was met by an aggressive cross-examination in which prosecutors used his own words to show his contempt for Whitmer and even suggestions about how to kill her.

Defense attorneys insist they were under the spell of informants and agents who got them to say and do violent, provocative things.

Harris repeatedly answered “absolutely not” when asked by his lawyer if he was part of a plot. His testimony was perilous because he exposed himself to numerous challenges by prosecutors who had been offering evidence against the group for days.

Harris and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth sometimes talked over each other. At one point, Harris snapped, “Next question.”

“Everyone can take it down a notch,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker said later.

Roth confronted Harris with his own chat messages about posing as a pizza deliveryman and killing Whitmer at her door. He reminded Harris, a former Marine, that he worked with explosives while training with the group, especially in Luther, Michigan, in September 2020, about a month before their arrest.

Roth played a conversation of Croft talking about militias overthrowing governments in various states and “breaking a few eggs” if necessary.

“When this man talks to you at a diner about killing people, you don’t stand up and walk out, do you sir?” Roth asked. “You don’t say, ‘This group is not for me,’ do you sir?”

“No,” Harris answered.

A “shoot house” that was intended to resemble Whitmer's second home was a key part of the Luther training weekend, according to the government. Harris admitted that he brought materials but said he didn’t build it with her house in mind.

He didn't participate in an evening ride to Elk Rapids, Michigan, to scout Whitmer’s home and a bridge during that same weekend. Harris said he had purchased $200 of cheap beer and cigarettes so he could return to the camp and “get wasted” with others.

Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty and cooperated with investigators. Garbin last week said the group acted willingly and hoped to strike before the election, cause national chaos and prevent Joe Biden from winning the presidency.

Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the kidnapping plot, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seemed like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.

She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial

___

White reported from Detroit.

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