Kidnap Trial: FBI Agent Testifies On Role As Explosives Expert

An undercover agent who posed as an explosives expert ready to help those involved in the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer testified Monday that he met with the defendants briefly, detailing conversations that showed their intent to obtain explosives.

FBI Special Agent Timothy Bates testified that his role was to help in providing explosives for the building of bombs to take out bridges near the governor’s vacation home, part of the alleged plot intended to slow the response of law enforcement.

“I was tasked with that role because the government felt that the individuals involved in the plot against the governor wanted to purchase explosives,” Mr. Bates said.

He added he was introduced to the group in early September 2020 by a key informant in the case named Dan.

Mr. Bates, despite only just being introduced to those involved in the alleged plot, and amid growing concerns over operational security and possible FBI infiltration, came along with several of the individuals to a September 12, 2020, evening reconnaissance mission of the governor’s vacation home.

Attorneys for the defendants disputed Mr. Bates’ testimony, pushing back on points about the explosives and whether there was a concrete agreement on purchasing explosives or making bombs.

Late last week, the trial featured testimony and cross examination of Kaleb Franks, one of the two co-conspirators in the plot who following her arrests pleaded guilty in the case. Also testifying during the trial was co-conspirator Ty Garbin.

Both men have pleaded guilty conspiracy to kidnap Ms. Whitmer and testified against Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris. The four men are on trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan and face charges of conspiracy to kidnap. A few of the men also face weapons of mass destruction and firearm charges.

On Monday, the prosecution continued making its case with several federal agents and experts testifying, with Mr. Bates being the key witness of the day.

During Mr. Bates’ testimony, prosecutors played multiple audio recordings he had made during his time meeting with the defendants and others while the alleged plot was in the works.

Among the audio recordings from that September 2020 weekend included one in which there was conversation at a meeting the following day about moving forward and the cost for explosives being about $4,000, with each of those involved in the plot going to have to pitch in on covering the costs.

When the defendants at the meeting were asked if they were committed, no one left at that time, Mr. Bates said. The conversation further included talk of obtaining flashbang grenades to be used during the plot, if needed. Flashbang grenades are used to temporarily disorient human targets.

One of the recordings played in court Monday was of Mr. Bates showing some of the those involved in the alleged plot videos of a black SUV being blown up by explosives, to which Mr. Fox and others reacted excitedly.

Later, speaking of the September 12, 2020, evening reconnaissance of the governor’s vacation home in Elk Rapids, Mr. Bates testified how he and Mr. Fox had checked out a bridge near the home and had taken pictures.

The purpose, Mr. Fox told him, was to check out the design of the bridge to determine the best type of explosives to knock out the bridge and slow down police response to the kidnapping. When told of there being a second bridge in the area where law enforcement could have access to the home, Mr. Fox replied that it too would need to be blown up.

There was also talk of knocking out power lines and trees with explosives to slow down law enforcement, Mr. Bates testified.

One recording was of Mr. Croft, in which he made a reference to rigging a propane tank as an explosive device and using napalm to burn down the summer home.

Mr. Bates testified that earlier in the day of the September 12, 2020, Mr. Croft had said the kidnapping might be attempted that night and that he wanted to take a nap beforehand, so that he would have the energy for the act.

Attorneys for the defendants each sought to show that their clients had not been actively involved in any plotting actions, with Mr. Fox’s attorney Christopher Gibbons focusing on the exact wording of the exchange between his client and Mr. Bates, which the agent said detailed the cost of the explosives and the possibility of an IOU being used to cover the cost.

Mr. Gibbons had Mr. Bates admit that no money was ever paid for explosives.

Croft attorney Joshua Blanchard also asked Mr. Bates if any money had exchanged hands and whether a formal deal for explosives had been made, to which Mr. Bates said no.

When asked if he had ever seen Mr. Croft with a propane tank, or building a bomb with a propane tank, or if had any napalm, Mr. Bates said no to each question.

Harris attorney Julia Kelly asked whether Mr. Bates had any conversations with Mr. Harris about explosives, to which the agent said no. He also admitted that Mr. Harris did not ask about the price of explosives, did not make any such purchases, nor did he go with the others on the evening of September 12, 2020.

Caserta attorney Michael Hills pointed out that Mr. Bates could not recall Mr. Caserta speaking, asking questions nor being actively involved in the meetings of the group in September 2020. He also had Mr. Bates admit that Mr. Caserta never offered to pay for explosives.

The defense attorneys for the four men are arguing two theories before the court. The first is that their clients had no real plan, and it was all simply First Amendment-protected “tough talk.” A second theory is that any actual elements of a plan were invented by the federal government for the purposes of entrapment of the defendants.

During the testimony of other FBI agents and officials, attorneys for the defendants continued to attempt to distance their clients from active involvement in a plot.

Testifying first Monday was Brandie Bowman, a tactical specialist with the FBI. Ms. Bowman outlined a roundup by month of messages and group chats from those involved in the alleged plot, including the defendants and informants, like Dan.

Charts presented containing data had Mr. Harris and Mr. Fox among the highest percentage of interactions during the time period of the months leading up to their arrests.

Attorneys for the defendants sought to claim the data was incomplete and unreliable, while some of the attorneys pointed to the statistics showing their clients had little or no activity on the various group chats in the months ahead of being arrested.

Agents also testified to what was obtained when the defendants were arrested.

FBI Special Agent Rebecca Huizinga testified on what was found when she was at the residence of Mr. Harris executing a search warrant.

A total of eight firearms were found at the residence and well over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

ATF Special Agent Mike Jacobs in testimony was asked about various modifications to firearms and the legal minimal length of the barrel for a shoulder-fired firearm.

One of the weapons found in Mr. Harris’ possession, he testified, was not registered to Mr. Harris or anyone following a federal ATF search. The length of the barrel was also several inches shorter than the legal minimum length.

Mr. Blanchard asked Mr. Jacobs whether there are gun laws in the country preventing the possession of large amounts of ammunition or of large magazines of ammunition, to which he said there was not. Mr. Jacobs added that in his experience, seeing individuals with a few thousand rounds of ammunition is unusual.

FBI Special Agent Jeremy Jaskulski was involved with collecting evidence following the October 7, 2020, arrests of multiple defendants.

On Mr. Fox, a taser was found, as was an Apple iPhone and more than $275. On Mr. Harris, a Samsung Galaxy phone, cash totaling $366 and a loaded pistol were found.

A pistol was also found on Mr. Franks when he was arrested.

FBI Special Agent Eli Bowers helped execute a search warrant of a red Mazda at Mr. Garbin’s residence, which belonged to Mr. Harris.

A helmet, bullet-proof vest, magazines of ammunition and a pistol holster were among the items found in Mr. Harris’ vehicle.

In Mr. Garbin’s pickup truck, multiple firearms were found. Some ammunition was found, as was a night vision scope and multiple silencers for firearms.

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