Two men accused of concocting a plan to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 and spark a national uprising face a second trial this week, months after a jury failed to rule on the couple while acquitting two others.
The April result was a blow to federal prosecutors, who had wanted to show that extremists were determined to seize 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 broadcast of secretly recorded conversations, text messages and hair-raising social media posts. It also comes at a time of intense coverage of the US House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riots by Trump supporters in the Capitol.
Jurors will see how undercover FBI agents and informants had infiltrated the Michigan group. In response, defense attorneys will again argue that Fox and Croft were shielded by the First Amendment when they expressed malicious opinions about the government and were imprisoned every step of the way.
“More is at stake because the government has doubled down,” Matthew Schneider, a former US attorney in Detroit, said of the second trial. “They are going to try all this again, and the government is of the opinion, ‘We are going to prevail.’”
Also in the background: Whitmer’s reelection campaign for a second term is heating up. Jury selection begins Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“This is another deja vu,” said U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.
The government alleges that Fox, who lived under a Grand Rapids-area vacuum store, and Croft, a truck driver from Bear, Delaware, wanted to attack Whitmer and other officials because of their strict restrictions during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A handmade “shooting house” was set up for target practice on weekends. Evidence suggests that Croft, Fox and undercover officers took an overnight drive to northern Michigan to check Whitmer’s second home and discuss how to place an explosive device under a bridge. Two men who have pleaded guilty will testify again before prosecutors.
“I’m going to strike soon,” Croft was heard to say at a June 2020 rally of anti-government activists in Ohio. ‘I’m going to terrorize people. The right people. The people who terrorize my people.”
Fox and Croft are charged with conspiracy. The first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict against them. However, the jury acquitted Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.
Caserta’s attorney, Michael Hills, said the second trial will be “shorter and more focused” with two people instead of four.
“Defending a second time is always difficult for the defense,” Hills said. “They have everything against them, the power of the government.”
The judge said he will not mention the outcome of the first trial during the jury selection. But if prospective jurors say they are aware of it, Jonker will ask if it would affect their ability to be fair and impartial.
The “jury really needs to understand that its decision should be based on the evidence in this case, not what happened in another case,” Jonker told the lawyers.
Whitmer, a Democrat, said little in public after the first trial, but opened up during a recent interview for The Washington Post.
“Does anyone think these kidnappers wanted to keep me or ransom me?” said Whitmer. “No. They would try me and then execute me. It was a murder plot, but nobody talks about it like that. Even the way people talk about it has dampened the seriousness of it.”
White reported from Detroit. Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed to this story.
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Find AP’s full coverage of Whitmer’s kidnapping trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial