Prosecutors say the men were furious with the governor for shutting down the state during the Covid-19 pandemic and vowed to try her for treason.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — Five men charged with conspiring to kidnap Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were hit with more charges Wednesday that could put them in prison for life, after a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment that added firearms violations and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The defendants are Adam Fox, 40, of Wyoming, Michigan; Barry Croft Jr., 45, of Bear, Delaware; Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion, Michigan, Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township, Michigan; and Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford, Michigan.
Fox is accused of spearheading an effort to obtain explosive devices and allegedly ordered $4,000 worth of materials from an undercover FBI agent in September 2020. Fox also traveled with Croft Jr. to explore highway overpasses where bombs could be placed, according to the indictment.
The indictment also states Harris boasted in internet communications about his vast experience with explosives since he was a Marine Corps infantry veteran and promised to “make things go boom” if he had the right elements.
Both Harris and Croft are accused of assembling and successfully detonating bombs filled with shrapnel for test runs in September using human silhouette targets to gage the amount of damage they could cause. They also face firearms charges for illegal possession of a short-barreled semi-automatic assault rifle.
In the original indictment from December, prosecutors said Caserta sent a message to the other men saying they should give law enforcement one chance to retreat from any confrontation and then kill the officers if they refused.
Fox was described as a driving force behind the alleged kidnapping plot in an initial affidavit. Prosecutors claimed he sought to assemble more than “200 men” to storm the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing to take hostages, including Whitmer. Fox allegedly said they would try the Democratic governor for treason in a trial that would occur before the November 2020 election.
After Whitmer locked down the state last spring to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists, including some carrying assault rifles, descended on the Michigan Capitol to protest her stay-at-home order in a scene that presaged the attempted U.S. Capitol siege on Jan. 6. The governor continues to be a target of criticism by Republican officials over her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Former President Donald Trump was a particularly vocal critic of Whitmer.
In meetings last summer, Fox allegedly determined the best way to kidnap Whitmer would be at her private vacation residence or the governor’s official summer home.
“Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over,” Fox told co-conspirators, according to the FBI affidavit.
The men planned to transport Whitmer to Wisconsin for their version of a trial, prosecutors said. Harris was allegedly recorded advocating for the assassination of the governor in the secret meetings.
“Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her… Fuck it,” he allegedly said. “I mean…fuck, catch her walking into the building and act like a passers-by and fixing dome her then yourself, whoever does it.”
In January, Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, became the first defendant to plead guilty in the case. Garbin said he would cooperate fully with prosecutors, according to a plea agreement filed in Western Michigan federal court. He admitted his guilt at a change of plea hearing in Grand Rapids before Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee. His sentencing is scheduled for July 8, and he faces up to life in prison.
Fox, Croft Jr., Franks, Harris and Caserta each face up to life in prison if convicted of the kidnapping conspiracy. Fox, Croft, and Harris could also get life if convicted of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft and Harris each face up to 10 years in prison if they’re found guilty of possession of an unregistered destructive device. Harris could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted of possession of the unregistered short barrel rifle.
Christopher M. Gibbons of Dunn and Gibbons, who is listed as lead attorney for Fox, and Joshua A. Blanchard, who represents Croft, did not respond to email requests for a comment by press time.