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Co-conspirator in Whitmer kidnap plot sentenced to over 19 years in prison

Defense attorneys tried to paint Barry Croft Jr. as a tortured soul with substance abuse problems who followed other plotters, but prosecutors described him as motivated by simmering anger and a desire to jumpstart a second American revolution.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — The second of two convicted militia members who spearheaded a plan to kidnap Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced Wednesday to more than 19 years behind bars for his role in the foiled scheme.  

Barry Croft Jr. of Bear, Delaware, will spend the next 235 months in prison and was fined $3,800 for his role in the kidnapping plot. When he completes the sentence, Croft will also have five years of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee, acknowledged that Croft possessed more intellectual sophistication than co-leader Adam Fox and was a driving force behind the plan, but noted the punishment should reflect that it never came to fruition.

“Life sentences are very unusual medicine because you are not giving people a chance to come back,” the judge surmised.  

His co-conspirator, Fox, of Potterville, Michigan, was sentenced Tuesday. He will spend 16 years in prison then be subject to five years of supervised release and fined $2,500 for his role in the busted scheme to capture the Michigan governor and execute her for treason over restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler made a point to remind the court Wednesday morning that Croft had violent tendencies and was eager to start a revolution. Kessler bristled at the defense team's suggestion that Croft was brought to the planning meetings as a bystander and said he still believes in the concept.

“These meetings were his idea,” Kessler said. “This whole thing was Mr. Croft’s idea.”

Croft asked Judge Jonker to consider his past substance abuse and his need to learn a new trade to be a productive member of society in a sentencing memorandum filed by his lawyer Joshua Blanchard.

“Both of Croft’s…parents appear to suffer from significant mental illness…Croft was twice hospitalized as a child. Counsel suspects Croft was self-medicating with marijuana to address other concerns,” Blanchard wrote.

He added, “Croft will be held accountable…he has already been incarcerated for over two years, he faces a significant prison term and a lengthy period of supervised release…[life in prison] is simply longer than necessary to effect specific or general deterrence.”

Jonker said he believed that Croft was the idea guy in the plan and that he spread his hateful messages as much as he could.

“Mr. Croft can be a very convincing communicator,” the judge said.

In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors argued no one should feel sorry for Croft and suggested he was spineless.

“Croft was the prime mover behind the plot, but when he was caught, he blamed his followers and disowned them. These characteristics of the defendant have remained constant across half a lifetime and argue against whatever leniency he will no doubt request," the memo states.

Prosecutors added Croft "wanted to do more than kidnap the Governor of Michigan, or even kill her. He said, 'I can’t wait for war to come to this land' and meant it. Only a life sentence can adequately address Croft’s crimes and deter him and others from pursuing such apocalyptic visions for our country.”

At the sentencing hearing, Blanchard’s voice cracked as he described Croft’s tortured background with a bi-polar mother and a “cold, detached” father who would put aluminum foil on his bedroom ceiling to protect against aliens.

Blanchard said despite Croft saying some “awful things,” he was “humble, polite and appropriate” during the trial and respects the jury’s verdict even though he disagrees with it.

Croft declined an opportunity to speak at the hearing, citing advice from counsel.

In August, Fox and Croft were found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction by a jury that deliberated less than a day, following a mistrial in April when the jury deliberated for a week but could not come to a consensus.

In October, another jury in Jackson County, Michigan, found three other men guilty of aiding the kidnapping plot. Pete Morrison, his father-in-law Joe Musico and their fellow militiaman Paul Bellar were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a group of so-called “boogaloo bois” who fantasized about an impending civil war and provided training to Fox.

Right-wing activists seized on Governor Whitmer’s Covid-19 restrictions in April 2020 and descended at the Michigan Capitol soon after to protest her stay-at-home order in a scene that presaged the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

Fox was accused of spearheading the kidnapping plot. Prosecutors claimed he sought to assemble more than 200 men to storm the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to take hostages, including Whitmer.

FBI agent Timothy Bates, who was known as “Red” while undercover, testified about his contact with the accused and how he convinced them he had access to bomb-making materials.

Ty Garbin, a plotter who pleaded guilty in January 2021, also testified and told the jurors what the “boogaloo” group represented. 

“The boogaloo is a movement … the foundation of it is basically we need a second Civil War, another revolution,” Garbin explained.

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