‘I always disagreed,’ defendant says, before alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer goes to jury

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – In a recorded jailhouse phone call, Daniel Harris, one of four suspected men in an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, put the blame on a co-defendant, Adam Fox.

He told his father that he saw Fox in jail soon after their Oct. 7, 2020, arrests. They did not make eye contact.

“That’s probably best,” his father said.

Harris said: “He’s the reason I’m here, so… .”

Shortly before a federal prosecutor played that recording in court, Harris testified that government informant Dan Chppel instigated the alleged plot.

A US District Court jury in Grand Rapids on Friday, April 1, could begin deciding the case against Harris and the others after prosecutors and defense attorneys rested Thursday afternoon.

Harris, 24, of Lake Orion, Fox, 38, of Wyoming, Brandon Michael-Ray Caserta, 33, of Canton, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, of Bear, Delaware, are accused of conspiring in 2020 to kidnap the governor.

Whitmer’s shutdown orders after COVID-19 broke out that spring led to protests and anger, testimony showed.

Defense attorneys alleged that undercover FBI agents and a dozen informants directed their clients to take part.

FILE – Top row from left, Barry Croft Jr. and Brandon Caserta; and bottom row from left, Adam Dean Fox and Daniel Harris; are pictured this collage of images provided by the Kent County Sheriff and the Delaware Department of Justice. They are facing trial on federal charges accusing them in a plot to abduct Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. (Images provided by Kent County Sheriff, Delaware Department of Justice)

Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler, while reviewing jury instructions, told the judge there was no evidence – other than the claim by Harris – that they were induced by the government or an informant.

He said there was “overwhelming evidence here of predisposition” by the defendants.

Chief US District Judge Robert Jonker determined that jurors would receive instructions on entrapment. He did not note a lot of direct evidence the defendants were entrapped but said there were “certain inferences a jury can draw.”

He said it is difficult because the defendants are saying they did not commit a crime, but if they did, they were entrapped

The judge will read the instructions to jurors on Friday before the attorneys make closing arguments.

Defense attorneys called only a handful of witnesses but subpoenaed several, including informants, who refused to testify, citing Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

Croft’s attorney, Josh Blanchard, called FBI special agent Jayson Chambers to testify. Blanchard introduced text messages from Chambers that showed he believed the case to be domestic terrorism almost from the start of the investigation.

The defendants claim they spent too much time drinking and smoking marijuana and would not have carried out a kidnapping.

The government said the defendants planned to kidnap Whitmer from her Elk Rapids summer home then put her on a boat in Lake Michigan without a motor. Some called for her to be put on trial but any plans ended Oct. 7, 2020, when the of 14 men were arrested on state and federal charges.

Harris was the only defendant to testify at the federal trial, now in its fourth week.

“Morning, Miss Julia,” he said to his attorney, Julia Kelly, from the witness stand.

She said she poured him a cup of water.

“I saw that, thanks.”

Harris, who signed up for the US Marine Corps at 17, said he comes from a military family. His grandfather, his best friend growing up, was in law enforcement.

Harris and to Southeast Asia in June 2015 became a rifleman. He did not face combat. When he came back after four years, it was a difficult transition. He had lived on his own but to his parents, he was just out of high school.

He said he was working for DK Security with an eye on another company, hoping to work security in Kabul, Afghanistan. He said he had reached a high level of training in the Marines and did not want to lose that.

He was scanning Facebook when he connected with others in the Wolverine Watchmen militia.

He attended his first field-training exercise on May 17 in Munith, north of Jackson. He wasn’t impressed.

“Really, really basic things, like I could’ve done with my eyes closed,” he said. There, he met Dan Chappel, the informant. Chappel, a truck driver and former US Army sergeant, joined Wolverine Watchmen because of his interest in firearms and military background. A week in, he contacted law enforcement after he heard talk of kidnapping the governor.

Harris was impressed by Chappel. He had superior equipment, too.

In late May 2020, Harris said, he attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Lake Orion after a Black man, George Floyd, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. Two months later, he attended a Second Amendment rally at the State Capitol.

“America was on fire,” he recalled.

Around that time, he met Kaleb Franks. Then he met Ty Garbin. They became friends.

Eventually, Franks, 27, of Waterford, and Garbin, 26, of Livingston County, admitted involvement and pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy. They turned against their former co-defendants and testified at trial that Harris and the others conspired to kidnap the governor.

“No, I always disagreed,” Harris said.

Asked by his attorney if he planned to kidnap the governor, Harris said: “Absolutely not.”

Witnesses have testedified about multiple training exercises, some described as family events, in 2020, in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Harris downplayed his encounters with Croft and Fox, the suspected leaders, and said he wasn’t interested in plots against the government. He said Croft was always high on marijuana and Fox was not welcome at his house.

Harris had talked about someone he knew with expertise in explosives but said he made mention only in the event of societal collapse. He acknowledged setting off explosives with Croft but said they were essentially fireworks that didn’t even go off every time.

Harris explained a potentially damaging text message that appeared to advocate for killing the governor.

The text read: “Laying in bed, craziest idea. Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her…. at this point. F— it.”

He was saying, in effect, “Stop talking about it,” he told jurors. He wasn’t happy with the job Whitmer was doing but had no interest in harming her, he said.

Kessler, the prosecutor, said Harris made multiple statements that showed his involvement in a conspiracy. He said Harris had more trouble answering the prosecutor’s questions than his attorney’s.

Harris denied that Caserta, the co-defendant, had threatened harm before the prosecutor played a recording in which Caserta allegedly talked about shooting others.

“Sure, I didn’t remember that conversation,” Harris said.

He said Fox talked about the kidnapping – “not a lot, but a few times, yes.”

Harris and others were arrested in Ypsilanti. They were told they could get free tactical gear then have lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, his favorite restaurant.

“I’ve been craving it ever since,” he told his attorney.

Related:

Man in alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer denies involvement, tells jurors informant pushed the idea

FBI informant, others fear charges and refuse to testify in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot trial

Girlfriend of key figure in alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer describes his ‘anti-government’ views

Alleged leader of Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot: ‘Dominoes will start falling’ with a governor’s hanging

Alleged leaders of plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen excited by bomb video, undercover FBI agent says

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