Two ringleaders convicted in Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot

GRAND RAPIDS — Two men who plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 over her COVID-19 pandemic policies are guilty of the conspiracy, jurors decided in a verdict Tuesday after a weeks-long retrial of the high-profile domestic terrorism case.

Adam Fox, 38, of Potterville, Michigan, and Barry Croft, 46, of Delaware, face up to life in prison for leading a plot to grab and hang governors they called “tyrants” in anti-government social media posts and which they hoped, prosecutors said, would touch off a second civil war.

Adam Fox of Potterville, Michigan and Barry Croft of Delaware face up to a life sentence after being convicted Tuesday of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Photos courtesy of the Kent County Sheriff’s Office)

The jury on Tuesday unanimously found Fox and Croft guilty of conspiracies to kidnap and use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft was also found guilty of possession of an unregistered destructive device.

In a statement afterward, Whitmer deemed the verdict proof that “violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable.”

“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,” Whitmer said.

“I cannot — I will not — let extremists get in the way of the work we do. They will never break my unwavering faith in the goodness and decency of our people.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel also applauded the verdict, calling it a “victory for the rule of law and a significant defeat for domestic terrorism.”

“If domestic terrorists are allowed to get away with acts of violence against the people’s representatives, they may soon turn that violence on our communities and residents,” she said in a statement. “I have a zero-tolerance for such acts and look forward to pursuing the state’s cases in court.”

The defendants’ attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The convictions are a win for the Justice Department’s prosecution of domestic terrorism, and for the embattled FBI, as threats against elected officials and federal law enforcement are on the rise, highlighted by the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The retrial took place amid intensifying public scrutiny of the FBI over its search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, noted Matthew Schneider, former U.S. for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“The jurors were able to separate that out and come to their conclusion based only on what we presume is what they saw in this courtroom,” Schneider told Bridge in an interview. “That is the way it is supposed to be.”

The verdicts come four months after an earlier jury in Grand Rapids federal court deadlocked on the men’s fate in April. In that trial, an all-white jury acquitted two other defendants, Daniel Harris of Lake Orion and Brandon Caserta of Canton Township, but could not reach a consensus on Fox and Croft, who prosecutors say planned to trigger another civil war, or a “boogaloo,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler.

Democrats expressed concern following the first verdict, demanding accountability for serious threats made against public officials, with one lawmaker fearing the threats would not be taken seriously “until someone dies,” the Associated Press reported.

Schneider, however, said those who were concerned “overreacted” in viewing a hung jury as a sign that domestic terrorism would go unpunished.

“We know now that was completely wrong,” he said of the sentiment. “What happened is, the Justice Department really sharpened its swords and decided, ‘We are going to take a different approach to this case.’”

The second jury was more diverse. Ten women and eight men heard evidence, including one Hispanic man and two Black women.

At the retrial, which kicked off Aug. 10, U.S. Assistant Attorney Christopher O’Connor told the jury Fox and Croft discussed starting a revolution by kidnapping governors, and FBI informants were later embedded in their militias to gather evidence against them.

Recordings, texts and videos presented by prosecutors showed Fox and Croft encouraging people to “take our country back” and expressing desires to “hang all those motherf—–s.”

In closing arguments, Kessler said the defendants’ actions went beyond loud mouthed venting: They scoped out Whitmer’s northern Michigan vacation home, built explosives with fireworks, BBs and pennies and looked for a potential location to place a bomb.

Defense attorneys, though, described their clients as hotheads who were entrapped and incited by undercover FBI agents and would have never committed to action if not for the FBI. Christopher Gibbons, attorney for Fox, previously told jurors Fox’s militia was “not real” and that “engaging in heated rhetoric is not a crime.”

“This isn’t Russia. This isn’t how our country works. You don’t get to lock them away for things they didn’t actually do,” Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s attorney, said during the retrial.

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