Two anti-government extremists sought to spark a “second American revolution” by kidnapping Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, as the government tried for a second time to get convictions in an alleged plot to shock the country into chaos before the 2020 election.
Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. are on trial again, four months after a jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict while acquitting two other men.
The jury will hear competing themes. Prosecutors will present secretly recorded conversations and video, text messages and social media posts to show that a band of rebels was serious about snatching the Democratic governor.
Defense attorneys insist there was no actual conspiracy. They will attack the motivations of undercover FBI agents and informants who infiltrated the group and built the investigation.
Fox, 39, lived under a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area, and Croft, 46, is from Bear, Delaware. They regularly communicated with other extremists who were angry with Whitmer and various public officials over COVID-19 restrictions.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O’Connor said the seeds were planted well ahead of the pandemic.
Before Fox and Croft “planned and trained to kidnap the governor of Michigan, they called for a second American revolution,” O’Connor told jurors. “They wanted to violently overthrow elected government officials because they believed those officials were tyrants who were constantly violating their rights.
“Barry Croft believed all it would take to start that revolution was to hang a governor,” the prosecutor said. “That was a call to action in early 2020. … His promise to elected government officials, the tyrants: expect us.”
Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, repeatedly told jurors that the government had charged “big talkers.”
“Adam Fox is an American citizen. He may not be the best of us. I don’t think he’s the worst of us,” Gibbons said. “But like all of us, he has a right to have an opinion. He has a right to be homeless and poor in the Vac Shack in the middle of the pandemic, to be angry and frustrated. … It’s ugly but it’s not a crime.”
Fox and Croft are charged with two counts of conspiracy. Croft faces a third weapons-related charge.
The plot to kidnap Whitmer followed training in Wisconsin and Michigan, and two trips to scout her second home in northern Michigan.
In remarks to the jury, defence attorney Joshua Blanchard repeated an argument that he vigorously made in the first trial, accusing the FBI of targeting Croft and pulling him in because he had encouraged violence and protest.
Blanchard played an audio clip of an agent telling an informant: “A saying we have in my office is, `Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.’ Right?”
He didn’t offer jurors any context to the sound bite.
“Because they weren’t willing to let the facts get in the way of a good story they wanted to tell, Barry has been sitting in jail for the last 672 days waiting for you to tell the FBI that the facts do matter. … The way you do this is you return a verdict of not guilty,” Blanchard said.
Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were found not guilty in April. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty and will testify again for prosecutors.
Whitmer has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot. Democrat Joe Biden sought to tie Trump to the plot as well, pointing to the president’s tweet in earlier in 2020 to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.