GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The attorney for one of the accused leaders in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told the jury that the government was pulling the strings, not his client.
“It’s the federal government inviting citizens they think who are susceptible to a theater where they are giving false senses of who and what they are,” Adam Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, told the jury in his nearly 90-minute closing argument in the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. “Somebody rattles the keys, somebody beats the drum and gets them all worked up. That’s unacceptable in America. That’s not how it works. We don’t make terrorists so we can arrest them.”
Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor in 2020, angry over her response to COVID-19.
Nearly 40 witnesses were called to testify over the three weeks of the trial. The prosecution and defense attorneys gave their final arguments on Friday.
The case was handed over to the jury Friday afternoon. The jury picked a foreperson Friday and deliberations are expected to begin in earnest on Monday.
Fox’s attorney argued that the kidnapping plans were not Fox’s plans.
“The evidence shows clearly those plans belong to the government,” Gibbons said. “Dan Chappel (FBI informant Big Dan) makes everything happen. The greatest threat to the governor of the state of Michigan was not my client, not Brandon Caserta, it’s (FBI agent) Jayson Chambers and his weapon, Dan Chappel.”
Gibbons argued that it was Chappel who was “manipulating and putting people together,” with Chambers pulling the strings.
“Jayson Chambers wants the disruption of a terror cell. He wants his huge investigation, he wants his success, and he wants it on the back of Adam Fox,” he said.
Gibbons said that Fox was “financially disadvantaged” and living in the basement of the Vac Shack in Wyoming before he met Chappel in 2020.
Fox, he said, got on the government’s radar after he attended an “open carry” rally in Lansing in April 2020.
“He’s a big talker, he never really stops talking. He talks about things about the government he doesn’t like. He talks about storming the capitol. He talks about citizen’s arrests. The talk is just talk. The only people moving and trying to make anything happen here all starts and ends with (FBI agent) Jayson Chambers and Big Dan along with other federal agents,” Gibbons said.
He argued that Chappel communicated with Fox more than 1,000 times from July to early October 2020, that Fox looked up to Chappel, a military veteran.
“He was a friend of Dan Chappel, and he was only a friend of Dan Chappel because the federal government paid Dan Chappel to pretend he was his friend,” he said.
Fox, he said, was smoking marijuana almost all the time.
“I strongly suspect he wakes and bakes,” Gibbons said. “These agents took advantage of Adam’s substance abuse issues.”
Croft’s attorney, Joshua Blanchard, also argued the government created the plan, citing the work of criminal-turned-informant Stephen Robeson, calling him a common thread. He told jurors the feds referred to Croft as “bonehead.”
“The people who say he was the mastermind of one of the largest domestic terrorism cases in country think he’s a bonehead?” he asked.
He called it a case of “smoke and mirrors.”
In his nearly hour-long closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued the four were predisposed to commit the kidnapping.
It’s legal, he told the jury, to criticize the government and protest.
“That’s what makes this country great,” he said. “What we can’t do is kidnap them, kill them or blow them up. That’s what also makes America great or different from other places.”
He reminded jurors of the steps the men took to commit the crime, including the training, and the recon missions to check out the governor’s cottage in Elk Rapids with night-vision goggles, then checking out the nearby boat launch “to launch their water-borne assault.”
“They planned to kidnap a woman from her home in the middle of night at gunpoint,” Kessler said. “That’s what they wanted to do. It wasn’t just talk. It wasn’t just protected speech.”
What held the group together, he said, was the Boogaloo movement, which promotes a second Civil War.
He said suspect Barry Croft Jr., of Bear, Delaware, was in it for “vanity,” that he wanted to be a “refounding father.”
Fox, he said, was part of the group because of his situation — living in the basement of a vacuum cleaner shop.
“He said it was the fault of that tyrant b—-,” Kessler said. “In the world that Adam Fox wanted, the person with the biggest muscles and biggest guns makes the rules.”
Kessler argued that Harris was part of the group because “maybe there’s just something wrong with him.” He reminded jurors that it was Harris who suggested they go to Whitmer’s door and just “put three bullets in her head.”
As for Brandon Caserta, he said: “He wants to live in a world where nobody can tell him what to do,” pointing out the anarchy flag that he had hanging in his apartment.
Kessler defended the use of multiple agents and informants.
“They use however many people are needed to keep everybody safe,” he said.
He also defended the work of Chappel, the former Wolverine Watchmen who notified police in the spring of 2020 after the group started talking about killing cops.
“Thank God for Dan Chappel,” Kessler said. “Dan Chappel realized something really bad was going on and went to the police. He went back in there at great personal risk to himself.”