The second of two counts of a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been sentenced to more than 19 years in prison in one of the most high-profile domestic terrorism cases in recent years.
Barry Croft Jr. was spared a life sentence on Wednesday. The decision came after U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker sentenced his co-leader, Adam Fox, to 16 years on Tuesday.
“I think Mr. Croft is guiltier — he gave Mr. Fox something to cling to, a higher purpose,” Jonker said Wednesday.
“I agree with (the prosecutor) that the conduct here is serious…it’s a serious attempt to get at the governor,” Jonker added, “but I don’t think it warrants a life sentence.”
Croft, a Delaware truck driver, planned to kidnap Whitmer from his vacation home in Michigan and facilitate the escape of law enforcement kidnappers by blowing up a bridge, prosecutors argued.
Prosecutors recommended a life sentence, reminding the judge that social media posts and secretly recorded conversations revealed Croft’s desire to start a “reign of terror” in 2020. Croft is expected to serve 235 months – or 19.6 years.
Jonker noted that he did not believe Croft and his co-defendants were framed – as they had long maintained – and praised law enforcement for intervening to ensure the plot never materialized.
Croft, 47, was arrested in New Jersey in October 2020, a day after four other men, including Fox, were arrested in an FBI sting.
What did prosecutors argue?
Pushing for a life sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued that Croft Jr. was no different from other terrorists, alleging that Croft and his co-defendants had a perverse view of the Constitution and sought to use it to trigger a violent uprising.
“It wasn’t about masks or vaccines … or gun policy,” Kessler said. “He’s been wanting to do this for a long time… These kind of charlatans take a sacred document and show it (to others) and say, ‘You can kill people and still be a good guy.'”
Kessler argued that Croft Jr. not only wanted to kidnap Whitmer, and that he didn’t even care about Whitmer, but wanted to start a violent uprising against the government. And ripping off any public figure, Kessler said, would help do that.
Who was convicted in Governor Whitmer’s case?
Croft was the last of the four convicted conspirators in the conspiracy to be sentenced.
In August, a federal jury in Grand Rapids found Croft and Fox guilty of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer out of anger at his handling of the pandemic. Croft was also convicted of possession of an improvised explosive device in the form of a commercial firework display reshaped with shrapnel to serve as a hand grenade.
Two other men, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, were found not guilty at a separate trial in April. An initial trial resulted in hung juries for Fox and Croft.
Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft also served time for the crime: Ty Garbin is free after serving a 2.5-year prison sentence, while Kaleb Franks was sentenced to a four-year sentence.
Three members of a paramilitary group that trained with Fox were convicted in October of providing material support for a terrorist act. Their sentences, handed down earlier this month in state court, ranged from 7 to 12 years.
Five others are awaiting trial in County Antrim, where Whitmer’s holiday home is located.
What did Barry Croft do?
The government said Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was “the driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor, and kill those who stand in their way.”
Their arrest, along with the capture of 12 others, was a stunning coda to months of tumultuous political unrest related to the COVID-19 pandemic leading up to the 2020 presidential election.
“Mr. Fox and his accomplice, Mr. Croft, were found guilty by a jury of orchestrating a conspiracy to kidnap the Governor of Michigan and use weapons of mass destruction against responding law enforcement. Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement.
What did the defendants say?
Defendants have long maintained that this was a case of entrapment – that rogue FBI agents and informants were trying to build their own careers, concocting the idea of kidnapping and then tricking defendants into saying and do things they wouldn’t do otherwise.
Contributor: Associated Press