(AP/WOOD) — An FBI agent who was working undercover told jurors Thursday how a bridge played a role in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Timothy Bates was one of the last witnesses to testify for the government as prosecutors rested their case against two men charged with conspiracy. Bates. simply known as “Red” in 2020, said he encouraged Adam Fox to take a picture of the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home after they got out of a pickup truck.
The government says blowing up the structure as well as utility poles was part of a scheme to get Whitmer.
“They wanted to slow down law enforcement response,” Bates testified. “The vacation home of the governor and where that kidnapping was going to take place, or allegedly taking place, was north of the city.”
No kidnapping occurred in Elk Rapids, Michigan. About a month later, Fox, Barry Croft Jr. and four others were arrested and accused of being domestic terrorists.
Fox and Croft are on trial for a second time on conspiracy charges. A jury in April couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict but acquitted two other men.
Bates said he posed as someone who could get explosives. By fall 2020, he said there was talk in the group about buying bomb components, and the FBI wanted to stay on top of it. Another agent as well as informants already were inside the group.
The government played recordings from Bates’ wire in which Fox can be heard asking about the possible use of C4 explosives and how they would be detonated.
Bates said Fox also talked about destroying a second bridge in the Elk Rapids area, though the government didn’t offer evidence of it on secretly recorded conversations. Defense attorneys pounced.
“You were wearing a recorder the entire trip, correct? And the recorder functioned, true?” Fox lawyer Christopher Gibbons asked.
“I can’t speak to how all of them functioned,” Bates said, “but I believe a recorder was on the entire time.”
The defense argues that Fox and Croft were entrapped by government operatives who fed their wild views. Prosecutors say the group wanted to trigger a national revolt and was especially furious over COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Whitmer during the early stages of the pandemic.
Defense lawyers have tried to make their case by sharply cross-examining the government’s witnesses. Like Gibbons, Croft attorney Joshua Blanchard picked at the lack of a recording about Fox talking about destroying a second bridge.
“We should be able to hear that, right?” Blanchard said.
Several FBI agents also took the stand for the prosecution to testify about some of the evidence seized after the group was arrested in Ypsilanti on Oct. 7, 2020.
The day after the arrest, Special Agent Thomas Szymanski collected evidence from Croft’s home, including a shotgun, several rounds of ammunition, a device to increase the accuracy and firepower of a shotgun, fireworks, a detonator cord and a package of steel BBs.
There were also Facebook posts extracted from Croft’s phone, advocating for the overthrow of the government. One of those post’s by Croft read, “Start Putting these tyrant’s addressed out there for rioters.” Thirteen people liked the post, including Fox.
Bates said the group talked about raising $4,000 for explosives to attack the bridge but no money was paid.
“No one shook your hand on this deal, correct?” Gibbons asked.
“No one shook my hand,” Bates said.
Croft, 46, is from Bear, Delaware. Fox, 39, was living in the basement of a vacuum shop in the Grand Rapids area.
Croft attorney Joshua Blanchard presented two witnesses before testimony ended for the day. He tried to soften the government’s portrayal of a training session in Cambria, Wisconsin, in July 2020, where a “shoot house” was constructed by FBI informant Steve Robeson.
Colleen Kuester of Baraboo, Wisconsin, recalled how Robeson pitched the event to her as a “family fun” day with a picnic and target shooting, something that appealed to her teen son.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler played a recording of Croft telling his daughter to stay away while he was making an explosive. Kuester said it was possible she didn’t know all that was going on that day.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal.”