Two alleged militia members found guilty of plot to abduct Michigan governor
Aug 23 (Reuters) - A jury on Tuesday convicted two men accused of conspiring to trigger "a second American revolution" by kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, handing the U.S. government a victory in its second attempt to prosecute the case.
The verdict against Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, comes about four months after a federal judge in Grand Rapids, Michigan, declared a mistrial in the same case. Two other defendants were found not guilty in the first trial.
The pair, who the government said were members of the Three Percenters militia group, were also found guilty of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction - an explosive device that prosecutors say was intended to hinder law enforcement's response to the planned kidnapping. Croft was found guilty of an additional charge of possession of an explosive device.
The men face the possibility of life in prison. A sentencing date has yet to be announced.
The plot was aimed at forcing an end to the Democratic governor's mandates to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, prosecutors contended.
By kidnapping the governor and putting her "on trial," they said, the men hoped to push the country into open conflict as a contentious presidential election approached in November 2020.
"They wanted to set off a second American Civil War and a second American Revolution," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors during closing arguments on Monday.
"They didn’t want to just kidnap her," Kessler said, referring to Whitmer. "They wanted to execute her."
After the verdicts, Whitmer, who is up for re-election in November, warned about the dangers of "radicalized domestic terrorism."
"I cannot - I will not - let extremists get in the way of the work we do," she said in a statement issued by her office. "They will never break my unwavering faith in the goodness and decency of our people."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement on Tuesday that the threat to Whitmer also put bystanders at risk and that no elected official should be targeted in such a way.
"Today's verdict confirms this plot was very real and very dangerous," Birge said. "The Justice Department will not tolerate violent extremist plots of this nature seeking to undermine our democracy."
The 12-member jury panel deliberated for about eight hours over two days, according to the Detroit News.
In the retrial, prosecutors again used testimony from FBI informants and two key witnesses who pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy charges.
In planning for the kidnapping, Fox compiled a list of tools the conspirators would need, including handcuffs and a hood to cover Whitmer’s head, the Detroit News reported the prosecution as saying during the trial. A makeshift house was built to simulate breaking in to the governor's vacation home in northern Michigan and abducting her, they alleged.
In their closing arguments, attorneys for Croft and Fox told jurors that the government's case was entrapment. They said their clients committed no crimes and they criticized the use of FBI informants in the case, the Detroit News reported.
"The FBI should not exist to make people look like terrorists when they aren't," Joshua Blanchard, an attorney for Croft, told jurors.
The two are among 13 men who were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Seven of them are facing charges in state court.
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