In what should serve as a major blow to the credibility of federal law enforcement agents, a district court jury acquitted two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The jury deadlocked on the charges against two other defendants, and it’s not clear whether prosecutors will seek to retry them, according to The New York Times.
Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were acquitted on all charges they faced. Adam Fox and Barry Croft will be eligible for retrial.
This is an embarrassing outcome for both the FBI—which had relied on a vast network of informants that were extensively involved in planning and even encouraging the plot—as well as Whitmer herself, who treated the plot with utter seriousness and connected it to former President Donald Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric.
In reality, Whitmer was never in actual danger; “Big Dan,” the ringleader of the alleged plot, contacted law enforcement early on, and the FBI paid him $54,000 to conduct six months of surveillance on a loose network of militia members who were upset with Whitmer’s aggressive COVID-19 lockdown policies. When the group staked out Whitmer’s house, it was Big Dan leading the effort—with the FBI’s foreknowledge and encouragement.
At the same time, Big Dan’s FBI handler, a man named Jayson Chambers, was attempting to start a side business as a security consultant; he thus had every incentive to construct a major domestic terrorism bust that he could take credit for foiling. As The Times reported:
No attack ever took place and no final date for an abduction was set, testimony showed, and the details of the alleged plan sometimes differed from witness to witness. The F.B.I. informant, Dan Chappel, said he believed the group planned to kill Ms. Whitmer, whose handling of the Covid-19 pandemic had infuriated the men. Ty Garbin, the man who earlier pleaded guilty in the case, said he thought the group of men might abandon the governor in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan. Another man who pleaded guilty, Kaleb Franks, said he had hoped to die in a shootout with the governor’s security detail.
“There was no plan to kidnap the governor, and there was no agreement between these four men,” Joshua Blanchard, a lawyer for Mr. Croft, said in closing arguments. He said the government tried to conjure up a conspiracy by using a network of informants and undercover agents, and that “without a plan, the snitches needed to make it look like” there was movement toward a plan.
The FBI, of course, has a long history of engaging in entrapment: i.e., inducing people to plan crimes that they had no intention of carrying out. The victims of these prosecutions have often been Muslims, though right-wing groups are also a common target of overzealous law enforcement. It appears that the jury possessed reasonable and well-justified doubt that the there was ever any actual plot to kidnap Whitmer, despite the FBI’s attempts to manufacture one.