Two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and spark a national riot face a second trial this week, months after a jury failed to reach a verdict for the pair while acquitting two others.
The result in April was a blow to federal prosecutors, who had aimed to show that extremists were committed to seizing Whitmer and wreak havoc near the election between Joe Biden and then-President Donald Trump.
The trial of Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. means another public display of secretly recorded conversations, text messages and chilling social media posts. It also comes at a time of intense news coverage of the US House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 riot by Trump supporters on Capitol Hill.
Jurors will see how undercover FBI agents and informants infiltrated the Michigan team. In response, defense attorneys will again argue that Fox and Croft were shielded by the First Amendment when they expressed malicious views about the government and were entrapped at every turn.
“The stakes are higher because the government has doubled down,” Matthew Snyder, a former U.S. attorney in Detroit, said of the second trial. “They’re going to try it all over again and the government’s view is, ‘We’re going to prevail’.”
Also in the background: Whitmer’s re-election campaign for a second term is heating up. Jury selection begins Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“It’s like deja vu all over again,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.
The government alleges that Fox, who lived in a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area, and Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, wanted to target Whitmer and other public officials for their harsh restrictions in the early months. of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A handmade ‘shooting house’ was erected for gun practice at the weekend. There is evidence that Croft, Fox and undercover agents took a nighttime drive to northern Michigan to check on Whitmer’s second home and discuss planting an explosive under a bridge. Two men who pleaded guilty will testify again before the prosecutor.
“I’m going to strike soon,” Croft was heard saying during a June 2020 rally of anti-government activists in Ohio. “I will terrify people. The right people. The people who terrorized my people.”
Fox and Croft are charged with conspiracy. The first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict against them. The jury, however, acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
Caserta’s lawyer, Michael Hills, said the second trial would be “shorter and more focused” with two people instead of four.
“Defensive second down is always tough for the defense,” Hills said. “They have everything against them, the power of the government.”
The judge said he would not mention the outcome of the first trial during jury selection. But if prospective jurors say they know, Jonker will ask if that will affect their ability to be fair and impartial.
“The jury really needs to understand that their verdict has to be based on the evidence in this case, not what happened in some other case,” Jonker told the lawyers.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has said little publicly since the first trial, but spoke to The Washington Post during a recent interview.
“Does anyone think these kidnappers wanted to keep me or loose me?” Whitmer said. “No. I was going to be tried and then executed. It was an assassination plot, but nobody talks about it that way. Even the way people talk about it has lessened its seriousness.”
White reported from Detroit. Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, an Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative staff member, contributed to this story.
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Find complete AP coverage of the Whitmer kidnapping plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial