Attorneys for Barry G. Croft Jr said the FBI targeted him because he was critical of the agency on Facebook. File Photo courtesy of Kent County Sheriff's Office | License Photo
March 9 (UPI) -- Attorneys for four men standing trial for an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the group were high on marijuana and set up and entrapped by FBI informants.
Defense attorney Joshua Blanchard, representing 46-year-old Barry Croft of Delaware, said he and the other men got so high they proposed plots such as tying Whitmer to a kite and flying her over a lake, which the FBI should have recognized as absurd.
"Maybe we should go hide in the woods and go bark and the governor -- she'll know the animals were against her," Blanchard said the men discussed on one occasion, adding that "The FBI knew this was stoned crazy talk."
Croft, 38-year-old Adam Fox of Wyoming and two Michigan men, Daniel Harris, 24 and Brandon Caserta, 33, each face charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Croft, Fox and Harris were also charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction while Harris also faces charges of possessing an unregistered destructive device and possession of an unregistered short-barrel rifle.
Government prosecutors said the suspects formulated the plot for six months beginning in April 2020 in secret chat rooms, meetings and military training sessions in which they built a house that looked like Whitmer's and practiced shooting human silhouettes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Roth said the men were followers of the so-called "Boogaloo" movement, which the FBI has identified as a far-right, domestic-terrorism movement associated with ideas of a second civil war in the United States and were associated with the Michigan-based Wolverine Watchmen militia.
Roth said Croft talked about "crushing" Whitmer's skull and that he and Fox expressed they were ordained by God to kill. Caserta and Harris discussed "walking away from their lives, afterward, if they lived, if they weren't caught."
He asserted that the men were willing participants in the plot and added that other members of the militia walked away because their plans were so extreme.
"This was not just talk," Roth said.
Blanchard said the FBI targeted Croft, who is accused of leading the plot, since 2017 after he criticized the agency on Facebook because he believed the FBI had one of his friends killed. Croft was investigated but nothing came of it, he added.
"The FBI is supposed to protect us. They're supposed to have thick skin. They don't punish people for saying mean things about them," Blanchard said. "There was no plan. There was no agreement and there was no kidnapping."
Blanchard also said that one FBI agent, who was ultimately removed from the case, disobeyed the FBI's directives, smoked marijuana with the group and accused him of "selecting things that he thought sounded bad" such as the marijuana-induced conversations to build a case against the men.
An FBI special agent was the first witness to testify, saying Croft's Facebook remarks would not lead to an FBI investigation and that he was placed on the agency's radar after a man concerned about the group's online discussions reached out to the FBI.
The agent also told the jury the FBI required a reason -- such as evidence of force, violence or ideology -- to investigate the group.
Discussing the informants, the agent said undercover sources must be truthful with the FBI and can't commit crimes while they are working but noted they are often paid for their work and may have checkered pasts.
Defense attorney Julia Kelly, who represented Harris, said he didn't go along with the "wild ideas" the informants shared and only associated with the others because they enjoyed firearms, tactical training and partying.
Fox's attorney, Christopher Gibbons, described him as a "misfit" who was easily influenced and enjoyed the attention from the informants, who Gibbons alleged led the discussion of the plot and drove the defendants out of state to meetings and training sessions.
"Kidnapping Gov. Whitmer is really not something my client really wanted to do. Or anyone else involved," Gibbons said.
The government described Fox as a violent, angry militia member who feared losing his gun rights and could be heard on recordings saying he was "fed up" and that the only way "we take back our country" was through physical violence.
"The defendants were ... eager if not already preparing to commit these crimes long before law enforcement got involved," Roth said.
Roth added that driving someone to an event did not constitute entrapment and encouraged jurors to pay close attention to the testimony of defendants Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty in the case.
Testimony is set to resume on Thursday morning with the trial expected to span 4-6 weeks.