Two alleged militia members convicted of conspiracy to kidnap Michigan governor

Aug 23 (Reuters) – A jury on Tuesday convicted two men accused of conspiring to spark “a second American Revolution” by kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, giving the U.S. government a victory in its second bid to prosecute the affair.

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 at the first trial.

The two men, who the government says were members of the Three Percenters militia, were also convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction – an explosive device that prosecutors say was intended to hinder the law enforcement response to the planned abduction. Croft was found guilty of an additional charge of possession of an explosive device.

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The men risk life in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been announced.

The plot was intended to force the end of the Democratic governor’s terms to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic, prosecutors argued.

By kidnapping the governor and putting her “on trial”, they said, the men hoped to push the country into open conflict ahead of a contentious presidential election in November 2020.

“They wanted to start a second American Civil War and a second American Revolution,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler told jurors during closing arguments Monday.

“They didn’t just want to kidnap her,” Kessler said, referring to Whitmer. “They wanted to execute him.”

After the verdicts, Whitmer, who is up for re-election in November, warned of the dangers of “radicalized domestic terrorism”.

“I can’t — I don’t want — to let extremists get in the way of the work we do,” she said in a statement released by her office. “They will never shatter my unshakable faith in the goodness and decency of our people.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in a statement on Tuesday that the threat against Whitmer also puts bystanders at risk and that no elected official should be targeted in this way.

“Today’s verdict confirms that this plot was very real and very dangerous,” Birge said. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate violent extremist plots of this nature aimed at undermining our democracy.”

The 12-member jury deliberated for about eight hours over two days, according to the Detroit News.

At the retrial, prosecutors again used testimony from FBI informants and two key witnesses who pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy charges.

While planning the kidnapping, Fox compiled a list of tools the conspirators would need, including handcuffs and a balaclava to cover Whitmer’s head, the Detroit News reported during the trial. A makeshift home was built to simulate the break-in to the governor’s vacation home in northern Michigan and his kidnapping, they alleged.

In closing arguments, attorneys for Croft and Fox told jurors the government case was a trap. They said their clients had committed no crime and criticized the use of FBI informants in the case, the Detroit News reported.

“The FBI shouldn’t exist to make people look like terrorists when they’re not,” Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s attorney, 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 face charges in state court.

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Reporting by Tyler Clifford in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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