By JOEY CAPPELLETTI Associated Press/Report for America
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A Delaware trucker described as a co-leader of the conspiracy to kidnap Michigan’s governor was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison Wednesday, a day after an accomplice received 16 years behind bars.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Barry Croft Jr., 47, who was the fourth and final federal defendant to learn his fate. Judge Robert J. Jonker described him as “the idea guy” behind the plot and called him “a very convincing communicator” for people who were open to his views.
Croft and Adam Fox were convicted in August of conspiracy charges in Grand Rapids. Croft also was found guilty of possessing an unregistered explosive.
They were accused of hatching a stunning plot to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home just before the 2020 presidential election. The conspirators were furious over tough COVID-19 restrictions that Whitmer and officials in other states had put in place during the early months of the pandemic, as well as perceived threats to gun ownership.
Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI was secretly embedded in the group and made 14 arrests.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler called Croft the “spiritual leader” of the group of conspirators, comparing his role to that of “some sheik in ISIS.”
“He essentially was putting himself as a role of a prophet … there are people who believe this sort of rhetoric, and he used it,” Kessler told the judge.
Croft regularly wore a tri-cornered hat common during the American Revolution and had tattoos on his arms symbolizing resistance — “Expect Us” — as he traveled to Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to meet with like-minded extremists.
A different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a verdict on the pair at the first trial last spring but acquitted two other men.
The abduction was meant to be the beginning of a “reign of terror,” Kessler said in court documents. Croft’s plan called for riots, “torching” government officials in their sleep and setting off violence across the country.
A key piece of evidence: Croft, Fox and others traveled to see Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, with undercover agents and informants inside the cabal.
At one point, Croft told allies: “I don’t like seeing anybody get killed either. But you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you know what I mean?”
Croft’s attorney tried to soften his client’s role. In a court filing, Joshua Blanchard said the Bear, Delaware, man didn’t actually have authority over others and often frustrated them because he “just kept talking.”
“Simply put, to the extent that the jury determined he was a participant, as they necessarily did, he was a participant to a lesser degree than others,” Blanchard insisted.
Two men who pleaded guilty and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.
In state court, three men recently were given lengthy sentences for assisting Fox earlier in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.
When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”
Associated Press Writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story. Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.