GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who prosecutors said provided the ideological base for a conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will spend nearly 20 years in a federal prison, the longest sentence so far in the case.
Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Bear, Delaware, was sentenced to 19 years, seven months for kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, a concurrent 10 years for possession of an unregistered destruction device, five years supervised release and $3,500 in fines. Croft was also ordered to participate in a substance abuse program.
“Yesterday, (the federal prosecutor) said that Mr. Croft functioned as the ‘ideas guy,’ and I think that’s true,” Judge Robert Jonker said the Wednesday morning sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids.
Investigators say Croft, Adam Fox and other militia members wanted to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home near Elk Rapids and blow up bridges to slow down the police chasing them. Investigators say the men held training exercises and tried to buy explosives from undercover FBI agents. Croft and Fox were convicted in August at the conclusion of their second trial after the jury deadlocked the first time around.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said that while Fox seemed to be the person pushing plans forward, Croft offered a “different kind of leadership” that was “of a higher order.” He called Croft the “spiritual leader” of the group, comparing him to the top leaders of al-Qaida or the Islamic State militant group. Kessler said Croft used religious justifications to get other people, including Fox, excited about participating. He also said that Croft connected Fox with other militia members to enable the plot.
In urging a life sentence, federal prosecutors said that the men’s goal was to start a revolution or “second Civil War” and that a long sentence would serve as a deterrent. They also pointed to the men’s plan to blow up bridges and noted that the victim was a government official.
But defense attorneys say there’s no way the men would actually have been able to pull of the kidnapping and that investigators overblew their intent.
Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard argued that because the group never actually attempted to blow up a bridge, a life sentence was not appropriate. He added that Croft was “not the leader Mr. Fox was.”
Blanchard acknowledged Croft had been radicalized in the years leading up to the pandemic and found others with similar thinking after it began, but also said Croft has a history of mental health problems and substance abuse. The attorney argued that the arrest and the process of going through the trial seemed to have shaken Croft out of the depths of the conspiracy “rabbit hole.”
“The government has painted a picture, perhaps fairly, of Mr. Croft as a radical leading up to the summer of 2020,” Blanchard said, but went on to say that Croft, now sober, has been “shocked” to hear some of the things he previously said.
“Mr. Croft in 2020 said lot of scary things. But I can tell you that he’s been humble, polite and appropriate” in his dealings with Blanchard, the attorney said.
Coft was stoic as the sentence was read. Asked if he would like to speak, he thanked the judge but said his attorney had advised against it.
The prosecutor argued Croft has not taken responsibility for his actions and has not demonstrated remorse.
“After inciting everything … he blames everyone and everything else,” Kessler said.
He said that when Croft was first questioned by the FBI after his arrest in October 2020, he blamed the big ideas of the conspiracy on the defendants from Michigan — but secret recordings of the group’s meetings showed otherwise.
Kessler said Croft still feels the same as he felt when the plot was being formed. Appearing from jail in a video posted to YouTube Tuesday night, Kessler said, Croft criticized public servants for “stealing valor.”
“This man is thoroughly radicalized…” Kessler said. “…He’s not admitting the ideas were wrong because he still holds them.”
Jonker said the plot threatened the government and the people who serve in it — specifically the governor but also public servants who may have to live with the fear of similar threats.
“…The conduct here is incredibly serious and the harm and risk to the public is, too,” Jonker said.
Sentencing guidelines called for life in prison. The judge said he went under those guidelines in part because “I think there’s always hope for people.”
He said a life sentence was not warranted to serve as a deterrent, also acknowledging that the group did not carry out the kidnapping and would not have been able to do so because of the early intervention of the FBI. The judge agreed with Kessler he has not seen “meaningful change” in Croft or his ideologies, but said a life sentence would not give him the chance to ever effect that change.
Fox, of metro Grand Rapids, was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison. Of the 14 arrested in the case, seven (including Croft and Fox) have been sentenced to prison, two were acquitted and five are awaiting trial in Antrim County. Whitmer has not attended any of the court proceedings, nor did she send statements to be read aloud during the sentencing hearings this week.
After Croft’s sentencing, Blanchard said his client will appeal the conviction. He said Croft was not the ideas man and that the jury heard only parts of what Croft said during undercover recordings.
“If you take his ideas seriously, you should listen to the rest of the stuff where he talks about walking across the ceiling and multiplying the power of Zoltron by 7,” Blanchard said. “I don’t know what that means, but I don’t think he’s an ideas guy.”