For the first time, jurors on Thursday heard from an undercover FBI agent who spied on the suspects charged with plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and recorded their conversations about how they would use explosives to carry out their plan.
Jurors heard many of the secretly recorded conversations, including one that captured defendant Barry Croft Jr. talking to his 10-year-old daughter, who had interrupted his militia group meeting and asked him if he’d like something to eat.
“Honey, I’m making explosives, can you get away from me please?” Croft is heard telling his daughter shortly before he and another explosive co-defendant tried to detonate a homemade.
But the bomb never went off, the undercover agent testedified, noting the suspects tried to a second time, but failed again.
Prosecutors offered the agent’s testimony and recording to bolster its claim that the suspects plotted to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation house to slow down law after they kidnapped the governor. The jurors also heard the accused ringleader, Adam Fox, talking about possibly sending explosives to Whitmer’s office.
The defendants didn’t just talk about explosives, the prosecution has argued, but tinkered with them and tried to buy them, which is how they got arrested in an FBI sting 17 months ago, when they allegedly tried to make a down payment on explosives only to get handcuffed instead.
The undercover FBI agent on the stand is Mark Schweers, who posed as Mark Woods, a similarly disgruntled individual from the Upper Peninsula who pretended to be fed up with COVID-19 restrictions.
The four defendants all stood stoically as the agent identified them in front of the jury, more than a year and a half after he first made contact with Fox in June 2020.
Schweers testified that the FBI tasked him with connecting with Fox out of concerns he was plotting a violent attack against Michigan’s government. He contacted Fox through an encrypted messaging system before meeting Fox in the basement of the “Vac Shack,” a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop where Fox worked and lived.
Fox appeared “excited,” Schweers testedified.
“Did he tell you that he was planning something?” the prosecutor asked the agent.
“He did,” the agent replied, saying Fox told him, “‘We’re moving. We’re actively planning some missions right now.’ “
One of those missions was to take the state Capitol by force, the agent testedified.
Fox told him he was part of a “very covert” group called the Wolverine Watchmen, and that “they’re not very well liked in this state.”
During their meeting in the vacuum shop basement, Fox also talked about Whitmer, who he referred to as “the oppressor.”
“‘I want her charged, I want her f—— charged,” Fox is heard telling the agent in a recording that was played for the jury.
Jurors also heard for the first time Fox talking about hog-tying the governor — a conversation that also was captured in the vacuum basement.
“We just want the b—-, we want the tyrant b—-,” Fox is heard saying. “I want to have the governor hog-tied, laid out on a table while we all pose around like we just made the world’s biggest goddamn drug bust, bro.”
On cross examination, Fox’s lawyer Chris Gibbons argued that Fox was high during that basement meeting, and that his client smoked marijuana at many of the militia meetings and training exercises he had.
Jurors also heard a recording of Fox identifying three potential places to kidnap the governor: her home in Lansing, her vacation home near Traverse City and the governor’s summer residence on Mackinac Island. On Fox’s request, Schweers said he traveled to the island and took photos of the mansion, earning praise from Fox for his recon work.
Schweers also testified about a “kill house” that the suspects had built, describing it as a series of plyboards that were fashioned to look like a doorway. The “suspects used the “kill house” to carry out so-called “breeching” exercises, which involves taking a door down by force and then moving room to room, looking for targets.
The agent’s such testimony counters the defense claim that the men were merely big talkers, had no real plan to kidnap the governor, nor did they ever agree to a plan.
Earlier Thursday, jurors also heard from FBI Special Agent Christopher Long, who was in charge of monitoring suspect Barry Croft before his arrest.
On cross examination, defense attorney Joshua Blanchard displayed a text message for the jury, where Long asks an undercover informant to keep Croft in the group after others raised the possibility of kicking him out.
Long said the agency did not want to lose access to Croft, who, along with others in the group, had discussed violently targeting law enforcement officers and other government officials. The FBI also feared that Croft could act alone, so he wanted to keep an eye on him, he testified.
“Mr. Croft had a unique ability to distance from people who he didn’t think were on his side,” Long testedified.
When asked why others in the group wanted to kick Croft out, Long said they feared he may act quicker than them: “They were worried he would get them arrested before they could carry out their plan.”
Blanchard also grilled Long about why he and an informant allegedly referred to his client as “Bonehead” in texts and emails.
“I never tried to be arrogant or belittling with him,” Long said.
More: Whitmer kidnap trial opens with wild stories of pot, hog-tying governor, civil war
More: FBI tells Whitmer kidnap jury: Ringleader set himself up on Facebook
On trial are Fox, 38, of Potterville, Daniel Harris, 24, of Lake Orion; Brandon Caserta, 33, of Canton Township, and Croft, 46, of Delaware. All are charged with kidnapping conspiracy; three are charged with weapons of mass destruction.
If convicted, they each face up to life in prison.
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org