The FBI reportedly raided a suburban Detroit home in connection to alleged threats to the federal judge and defense attorneys in the Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy trial.
The Detroit News reported that FBI agents raided the home in Hazel Park, south of Detroit, on Friday in connection to an investigation about alleged threats targeting Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker and defense lawyers Josh Blanchard and Christopher Gibbons. Blanchard is representing defendant 46-year-old Barry Croft, and Gibbons is representing defendant 38-year-old Adam Fox.
No arrests have yet resulted from the raid, which happened while the federal trial in Grand Rapids for Croft, Fox and two additional defendants, Daniel Harris, 24, and Brandon Caserta, 33, was ongoing.
“FBI Detroit will work closely with other FBI field offices and with our law enforcement partners across the country to identify the source of any threat made to anyone involved with the ongoing prosecution in Grand Rapids,” an FBI spokeswoman told Detroit News. “Individuals found responsible for making threats in violation of state and/or federal law will be referred for prosecution in the appropriate jurisdiction.”
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Federal prosecutors, poised to finish their case Wednesday, are trying to prove that the four men motivated by their hatred for the governor and her COVID-19-related lockdown measures discussed kidnapping Whitmer and took actions to set their plan in motion before being engaging with undercover FBI agents and federal informants during a sting operation that resulted in their arrests in October 2020.
But defense attorneys have painted their clients as big-talking, marijuana-smoking weekend warriors, susceptible to manipulation by FBI operatives who encouraged them to speak while how Blanchard described it “absolutely out-of-your-mind stoned” about far-fetched, ominous schemes.
The trial centers on the core question of whether the FBI engaged in entrapment, the prohibited practice of cajoling or tricking individuals into committing certain criminal offenses. Defense attorneys are pushing to have FBI informant Stephen Robeson testify, arguing he entrapped their clients, but he is expected to evoke the Fifth Amendment and ask the judge Wednesday to keep him off the stand.
Jonker ruled Tuesday after jurors left the courtroom that two key witnesses subpoenaed by the defense won’t have to testify because they invoked the Fifth Amendment. One was Harris’ longtime friend, who participated in training for the militia group Wolverine Watchmen but says he wasn’t involved with conducting nightly recognizance on Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, WOOD-TV reported.
Prosecutors also detailed some of the weapons they say were found in the Delaware home of Croft, accused of being the ringleader of the kidnapping plot. Those weapons included smokeless gun powder, exploding targets, a shotgun with “choke tubes” and a micro-conversion kit. A firearm laser, flashlights used for firearms and five zip lock mags of ammunition were also allegedly recovered.
Facebook posts from the defendants were also showed to jurors by prosecution Tuesday. According to FBI testimony, Croft first was on their radar for regularly venting on Facebook about government and public officials in 2020 when governors were issuing stay-home orders, requiring masks and making other rules during the early leg of the pandemic.
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“Which governor is going to end up dragged off and hung for treason first?” Croft wrote on Memorial Day 2020. “It’s really a spin-the-bottle match at this point and I’m sure a few mayors are in the running!!! God bless the constitutional republic!!!”
A few days later, as riots broke out across the country in response to George Floyd’s death, Croft posted about seizing state Capitols and “putting these tyrants’ addresses out here for rioters.”
The FBI said that message was “liked” on Facebook by Fox.
Facebook posts from Caserta called Whitmer a “psychopath” and said the purpose of the Second Amendment is the “ability to kill agents of the government when they become tyrannical.”
“I may kill dozens of agents but eventually die in the process,” Caserta wrote separately in May 2020. “I will not be chipped and I will not be vaccinated even if that means losing everything I have.”
Three months later, Caserta said he would shoot “tyrants” after beating them with his hands and feet, letting them “beg ‘til they couldn’t beg any more because their mouth is so full of blood.”
“There is no remorse for immoral cowards,” Caserta said. “Empathy is only reserved for the good.”
Defense attorney Michael Hills noted that none of the messages referred to kidnapping Whitmer.
On Monday, the jury heard testimony from FBI agent Timothy Bates, who told the court that he infiltrated the group as a “bomb maker.”
After showing videos of high-grade explosives to the defendants during a training weekend, Bates said Fox was “excited about what he saw” and asked if he would “take an IOU” while he gathered $4,000. According to Bates, the group’s plan was to kidnap Whitmer at her vacation home and blow up several bridges in the area to thwart law enforcement, according to the BBC.
The report about the recent raid comes at a time when threats against federal judges nationwide are on the rise and the FBI says it’s become increasingly concerned about a rise in domestic extremism. The defendants have been tied to the Three Percenters and Boogaloo movements, which each call for armed resistance to government or another civil war.
At the onset of the trial, Jonker, who’s been on the federal bench since 2007 after being appointed by President George W. Bush, took steps to shield the names of jurors from the public to protect their privacy but denied the government’s request that FBI agents testify under pseudonyms.
Blanchard argued that allowing FBI agents to testify under false names would erode the presumption of innocence and communicate to the jury that “the defendants are so dangerous that even experienced FBI agents have a judicially recognized and justified reason to fear them.” The judge sided with defense and said having the agents testify under their true identify would ensure trust in the judicial process.
Before the trial began on March 8, prosecutors said they were concerned about jury influence and specifically the supporters of Croft after he appeared via jailhouse phone call as a guest on a podcast.
“My thinking was to have the militia at the courthouse, and do a big recruitment, and do it right there at the courthouse,” the host of the podcast said, according to the filing by federal prosecutors. “For the juries. Jury nullification! Jury nullification! Jury nullification!”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Fox News