Attorneys representing five men indicted in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have accused the federal government of entrapment in a Christmas Day 2021 filing seeking dismissal of the case.
A federal grand jury on Dec. 16, 2020, indicted Michigan residents Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, and Brandon Caserta, and Delaware resident Barry Croft, on allegations of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer.
Garbin pleaded guilty in January 2021, and was given six years in prison, a light sentence for his cooperation with federal authorities in providing evidence against the other defendants.
The court filing made on Christmas alleges that FBI agents and the informants they handled were the ones who initiated and orchestrated the plot to kidnap Whitmer, using influence and emotional manipulation to gradually convince the defendants to take part in the plot, even when they didn't initially show interest in doing so.
Federal agents and informants "concocted, hatched, and pushed this 'kidnapping plan' from the beginning, doing so against defendants who explicitly repudiated the plan," according to the filing, jointly signed by defense attorneys representing Fox, Franks, Harris, Caserta, and Croft.
The case represents "egregious overreaching" by federal agents who sought to turn "general discontent with Governor Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions into a crime that could be prosecuted," defense attorneys Christopher Gibbons, Scott Graham, Joshua Blanchard, Julia Kelly, and Michael Hills wrote in the filing.
The defense lawyers argued that federal agents went as far as to coordinate and finance elements of the plot, including organizing "trainings" and meetings at which "government actors would attempt to radicalize" participants. It was at one of these meetings that an informant "first raised the specter of kidnapping," per the filing.
We reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking comment on the filing, but didn't get a response in time for publication.
The indictment against the men alleges that in the summer of 2020, Fox met with members of an anti-government extremist group called the Wolverine Watchmen to participate in combat training and plan the kidnapping of Whitmer. The indictment alleges that it was Fox who initially proposed the kidnapping idea to the other defendants in August 2020.
The indictment alleges that the men established a group chat using an encrypted platform to hide their plans, and conducted surveillance on a vacation home owned by Whitmer. It also alleges they purchased $4,000 worth of explosives from an undercover FBI agent and discussed "taking down" a highway bridge near the home to hinder first responder access, even inspecting the bridge for a place to mount the explosives.
When the indictment against the men came down it caused an online sensation. It came amid heightened partisanship over COVID-19 pandemic measures, which included government-mandated lockdowns in multiple states, including Michigan, and also heightened rhetoric about right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism.
The case against the men faces numerous challenges in addition to the Christmas filing seeking to dismiss the indictment.
An August 2021 BuzzFeed News investigation uncovered evidence that one of the agents on the case, Jayson Chambers, had a private business, an "internet intelligence" company with a troll Twitter account that tweeted information about the case before it became public, leading defense attorneys to question whether he had an improper financial stake in it.
After the story was published, BuzzFeed reported, federal prosecutors announced Chambers would no longer serve as a witness in the trial, currently set for March 2022.
Other agents and an informant involved in the investigation also will not testify as witnesses after news reports pointing to various legal problems. One agent was fired by the FBI after being charged with domestic violence, while another was accused in a separate case of perjury. An informant was sentenced in September 2021 to two years probation on a gun charge after agreeing to a plea deal.