The attorneys of four men charged with attempting to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer say that FBI agents and sources used drugs and “parlor tricks” in an illegal attempt to entrap their clients.
Federal prosecutors and the defense attorneys of Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr., Adam Fox, and Daniel Harris delivered opening statements on Wednesday in the domestic terrorism case over a 2020 plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer over her handling of COVID-19. Two men have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the case, but attorneys for Caserta, Croft, Fox, and Harris argued in court that their clients were entangled in a case of federal entrapment.
“[The FBI] had decided,” Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard said, “they were going to work this as a [Terrorism Enterprise Investigation] whether … they got the facts or not.”
None of the attorneys denied that their clients made mean, outrageous, or offensive statements about the governor and others during the summer of 2020. They all denied, however, that any of their clients knowingly agreed to and took concrete steps to carry out a proposed plan to kidnap Whitmer. The defense attorneys made repeated mentions to the number of FBI agents and informants involved in the undercover work and claimed that many aspects of the plot, from training sessions to recon missions to scope out the governor’s residence, were led and underwritten by the FBI.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth pushed back on the claims in his opening statement, pointing out that giving someone the opportunity to commit a crime does not make an entrapment case. Roth also said that the amount of FBI resources devoted to the case is a reflection of the seriousness of the crime, and the number of agents and informants used is not evidence of entrapment.
The plot involved multiple firearms and bombs, and in such cases, the FBI needs “more investigators to control that because lives are at risk,” Roth told the court. The evidence would show, Roth said, that the defendants were “willing, eager, if not already preparing” to kidnap the governor.
Roth claimed that the defendants sought to create a “warzone,” kidnapping the governor and blowing up a bridge to block police pursuit.
Attorney Julia Kelly suggested that her client, Harris, a Marine veteran who was 23 at the time of his arrest in October 2020, was led astray and taken advantage of by the FBI informant who served as his superior in the militia group with which the four defendants were involved, the Wolverine Watchmen.
Michael Hills, representing Caserta, said that his client and the others witnessed the “fabric of our country … being stretched, if not torn” in the summer of 2020 amid COVID-19 lockdowns and riots over the murder of George Floyd. Caserta, who Hill said could be described as a “prepper,” was looking for a community of support to stave off “societal breakdown” when he joined with the Wolverine Watchmen.
Blanchard said that while his client, Croft, made outrageous and indefensible statements about Whitmer, Croft had a lengthy history of making conspiratorial claims in what Blanchard described as “stoned crazy talk.” Blanchard said that in addition to statements concerning the kidnapping plot, Croft also suggested that the men “go into the woods and bark at the governor’s house so that she knows the animals have turned against her.”
Blanchard also said that Croft has made wild statements about the Egyptian pyramids and suggested that Canadian space lasers have sparked wildfires in the United States. Croft has come up with schemes using Hollywood “electromagnetic pulse devices” and floated carrying Whitmer via “kite.”
Blanchard said that one FBI informant routinely plied men with marijuana before switching on his recording device and “selectively recording” the men after getting them “worked up.”
Attorney Christopher Gibbons described his client, Adam Fox, as a “misfit” whose behavior is “understandable why it would raise suspicions.” But, Gibbons insisted, Fox did not agree to any conspiracy and, instead, he was used by an FBI informant who was receiving “envelopes of cash” to keep the investigation into the defendants going.
Fox was duped by federal “parlor tricks,” Gibbons said.