A US jury has convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, a swift victory for prosecutors in a foiled plot that was described as a rallying cry for a United States civil war by anti-government ideologues.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr were also found guilty on Tuesday of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction, namely a bomb to blow up a bridge and stymie police if the kidnapping could be pulled off at Whitmer’s vacation home.
Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, was also convicted of another explosives charge. The jury deliberated for roughly eight hours over two days.
It was the second trial for the pair after a jury in April could not reach a unanimous verdict after five days. Two other men were acquitted and two more pleaded guilty and testified for prosecutors.
The result was a big win for the US Department of Justice following the shocking mixed outcome last spring.
“You can’t just strap on an AR-15 and body armour and go snatch the governor,” Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors.
“But that wasn’t the defendants’ ultimate goal,” Kessler added. “They wanted to set off a second American civil war, a second American Revolution, something that they call the boogaloo. And they wanted to do it for a long time before they settled on Governor Whitmer.”
The investigation began when US Army veteran Dan Chappel joined a Michigan paramilitary group and became alarmed when he heard talk about killing police. He agreed to become an FBI informant and spent the summer of 2020 getting close to Fox and others, secretly recording conversations and participating in drills at “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The FBI turned it into a major domestic terrorism case, with two more informants and two undercover agents embedded in the group. Evidence showed the group had many gripes, particularly COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Whitmer early in the pandemic.
Fox, Croft and others, accompanied by the government operatives, travelled to northern Michigan to see Whitmer’s vacation home at night and a bridge that could be destroyed.
Defence attorneys tried to put the FBI on trial, repeatedly emphasising through cross-examination of witnesses and during closing remarks that federal players were present at every crucial event and had entrapped the men.
Fox and Croft, they said, were “big talkers” who liked to smoke marijuana and were guilty of nothing but exercising their right to say vile things about Whitmer and the government.
“This isn’t Russia. This isn’t how our country works,” Croft attorney Joshua Blanchard told jurors. “You don’t get to suspect that someone might commit a crime because you don’t like things that they say, that you don’t like their ideologies.”
Fox attorney Christopher Gibbons said the FBI isn’t supposed to create “domestic terrorists”. He described Fox as poor and living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, which was a site for meetings with Chappel and an agent.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing militias like those charged in the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal”.
On Tuesday, Whitmer, who is set to face off against a Trump-backed candidate in her bid for re-election in November, said the verdicts “prove that violence and threats have no place” in US politics.
“Plots against public officials and threats to the FBI are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation, threatening the very foundation of our republic,” she said in a statement.