GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six men were charged in federal court in October 2020 with conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, allegedly angry over the state’s response to COVID-19.
The feds say they talked of kidnapping her and holding a trial in Wisconsin, or leaving her stranded on a boat in Lake Michigan.
After months of delays and failed claims of entrapment, the case is set for trial March 8 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Seven other men face related charges in state court.
In federal court, two of the suspects, Ty Garbin of Livingston County and Kaleb Franks of Waterford have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and agreed to testify. Federal charges of conspiracy to kidnap are pending against the rest: Adam Fox of Grand Rapids; Barry Croft Jr. of Bear, Delaware; Brandon Caserta of Canton Township; and Daniel Harris of Lake Orion.
Fox, Croft and Harris also are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft and Harris also are charged with possession of an unregistered destruction device. Harris also faces a charge of possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle.
If convicted, they face up to life in prison.
The feds say the group started calling itself “The Boys” and used nicknames: Fox was Alpha F— You; Harris was Beaker; Caserta was Debased Tyrant; Garbin was Gunny; Franks was Red Hot. They didn’t list a nickname for Croft.
The following timeline is based on court documents.
JUNE 6, 2020: START OF ALLEGED CONSPIRACY
Croft, Fox and about 13 others from several states gather in Dublin, Ohio, in a Three Percenters meeting, discuss murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor, according to criminal complaint. The superseding indictment says Fox and Croft “discuss anti-government actions, including the kidnapping of state governors” and recruiting others to their cause. One attendee cautions, “We have to behave in this room as though we have either police here in flesh, or by other means. Do not be foolish at any time… So everything we discuss is in the realm of ‘if’ and ‘hypothetical.'” Defense attorneys say FBI informant Stephen Robeson hosted the meeting and suggested a kidnapping.
JUNE 18, 2020: LANSING RALLY
Fox and Wolverine Watchmen militia group leaders, including Garbin, and informant “Big Dan” meet at 2nd Amendment rally Lansing. A superseding indictment says Fox invites Garbin and others in the militia group to meet him in Grand Rapids “with the intent to recruit them into the conspiracy to kidnap the Governor.”
JUNE 20, 2020: MEETING IN GRAND RAPIDS
Fox, Garbin and several others, including informant “Big Dan,” meet at Fox’s place in the basement of vacuum cleaner shop in Grand Rapids. “Big Dan,” wearing recording device, captures talk of plans to assault the state capital, records show.
JUNE 25, 2020: FOX SPEAKS AGAINST GOVERNOR
Fox livestreams video to private Facebook group that included “Big Dan,” court records show. He complains about judicial system and the state’s closure of gyms. Fox refers to Whitmer as “This tyrant (expletive).” “I don’t know boys, we gotta do something,” Fox writes.
JUNE 28, 2020: TRAINING IN MUNITH
Tactical training exercise is held at the home of a Wolverine Watchmen member in Munith, northeast of Jackson.
JULY 10 to July 12, 2020: TRAINING IN WISCONSIN
Fox, Croft, Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Brandon Caserta, Harris, “Big Dan” and others attend field training in Cambria, Wisconsin. The feds say Croft and Harris construct and attempt to detonate two improvised explosive devices make of black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs. “Croft told an informant that they could use bombs to destroy police cars and take down communication towers, then use sniper rifles to kill Governor Whitmer’s protective detail and abduct her,” the feds allege. Defense attorneys say informant Stephen Robeson hosted the training.
JULY 18, 2020: MEETING IN OHIO
Garbin, Fox, Croft, Harris, Franks, “Big Dan” and others meet in Peebles, Ohio, and talk of attacking Michigan State Police post, the feds say. Garbin suggests shooting up the governor’s vacation home. Defense attorneys say informant Robeson hosted the meeting.
JULY 27, 2020: TALK OF ‘SNATCH AND GRAB’
Informant “Big Dan” meets Fox at Fox’s home in basement of a vacuum cleaner shop in Grand Rapids. Fox talks of a “snatch and grab” of the governor: “Just grab the (expletive)” and take her to Wisconsin for trial, he says, the feds allege. Fox tells an informant they need a realtor in the Traverse City area to get information on governor’s cottage and a “mole” to give them inside information about her travel routes, schedule and security.
JULY 27, 2020: MENTION OF KIDNAPPING
In an encrypted chat that includes Garbin, Harris, Franks and informant “Big Dan,” Fox asks how they feel about kidnapping, the feds say. No response.
JULY 28, 2020: REFERENCE TO VACATION HOME
Fox tells “Big Dan” by phone that he narrowed his attack targets to the governor’s vacation home and summer residence, the feds say. The call was not recorded.
AUG. 9, 2020: TRAINING IN MUNITH
Fox, Garbin, Harris, Franks and “Big Dan” take part in tactical training in Munith and talk of plans to kidnap the governor, the feds say. But defense attorneys say Harris speaks against kidnapping: “No snatch and grab. I swear to (expletive) God.” Garbin seconds that, they say. “Kidnapping is just as bad as going to the capital.” They also quote Fox as saying the group is “definitely divided” over its plans.
AUG. 10, 2020: THREATS REGARDING VACCINES
Feds say that Caserta posts in conspirators’ group chat: “I think some medical fascists are going to need a vibe check real (expletive) soon. How about we find out who is shipping the vaccines and then accost them and destroy the shipment. Doctors who advocate mandated vaccines? Bullet to the face right in their own home. Buildings manufacturing vaccines? Blow them up.” Harris suggests just shooting the governor, although it would mean getting caught or killed: “Either way if yall wanna go after her, just do it that way.” Fox replies, “Well who’s got a suicide mission?”
AUG. 23, 2020: MEETING IN LAKE ORION
Garbin, Harris, Franks, Caserta, “Big Dan” and others meet at Harris’s home in Lake Orion and discuss surveilling the governor’s vacation home. The government’s superseding indictment says they examined each other’s IDs to verify that none were undercover cops or informants.
AUG. 23, 2020: ANGER OVER MASKS AND VACCINES
According to the feds, Caserta says in a recorded conversation that the “mask thing” was making him most angry, along with mandated vaccines. Harris responds: “I’m just a trigger now… I’d love for it not to happen but I’m pretty sure the day’s coming so now I’m just getting ready and waiting. Said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t plan on living past 30.”
AUG. 23, 2020: NEW ENCRYPTED CHAT
Harris sets up new encrypted chat application to conceal discussions from law enforcement, the feds allege. “Nice thing with this app is with the click of a button you can empty everything out and if feds try and see what you or anyone said they can’t find anything,” Harris writes.
AUG. 29, 2020: WATCHING VACATION HOME
Fox, “Big Dan” and another person conduct surveillance of governor’s cottage near Elk Rapids, according to the feds. Fox drives to within yards of her cottage, takes photos and videos, draws a map of the location and notes distances to local police responders, feds say.
AUG. 30, 2020: DISCUSSION OF DESTROYING BRIDGE
In an encrypted message, Garbin suggests taking down a highway bridge near the governor’s vacation home and offers to paint his boat black for night surveillance, the feds allege.
SEPT. 4, 2020: DISCUSSION OF ATTACKING WHITMER
In an encrypted chat with Fox, Caserta questions going after “Mrs. Whitty” and calls her a puppet who is easily replaceable by the puppet master. “I don’t think we should waste time chasing puppets bro. although they are morally culpable for their actions and it would be totally justified….Find out who her handlers are and go after them instead…But Whitty? Lots of media coverage will be a part of her scenario. Would it be justified to do something with her yes. But I’m thinking we can do more.” Fox responds: “Making people disappear is instilling Fear.” Caserta: “I definitely agree. I’m not saying I don’t support that choice. I’m just interested in possibly going a little higher up. I want Zionist banker blood.” The same day, Fox writes: “Felonies against Whitmer… gives us not only the moral high ground, but technically justifies us in ending her tyrannical reign.” Garbin replies: “Let’s see where it goes.” Fox responds: “Well we can but doesn’t prevent us from moving forward.”
SEPT. 12, 2020: TRAINING IN LUTHER
Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, “Big Dan” and informant Stephen Robeson, along with two undercover FBI agents and others, attend field training exercises at Garbin’s property in Luther. According to the superseding indictment: “They practiced assaulting a building in teams, and discussed tactics for fighting the governor’s security detail with improvised explosive devices, a projectile launcher and other weapons.” Croft and Harris “detonated an improvised explosive device containing shrapnel near human silhouette targets hung by the conspirators to assess its effectiveness,” the feds allege.
SEPT. 12, 2020: WATCHING COTTAGE
Most of those gathered in Luther drive in three vehicles to governor’s cottage near Elk Rapids for night surveillance. They record the trip with a digital dashcam. Among them were “Big Dan,” informant Stephen Robeson and an undercover FBI agent they knew as “Red,” who had been introduced to the group by an informant as the “explosives or demo guy.” They stop at M-31 highway bridge, where Fox and “Red” inspect the underside, looking for places to set explosive device.
SEPT. 13, 2020: TALK OF BUYING EXPLOSIVES
The feds say that Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, “Big Dan,” informant Stephen Robeson, two undercover FBI agents and others gather back at Garbin’s place in Luther. They talk of the kidnapping. FBI undercover agent “Red” tells Fox it will cost about $4,000 for explosives to blow up bridge. They talk of a final training exercise in October.
SEPT. 16, 2020: SUSPECTS AVOID RALLY
Fox, Harris, Caserta, Franks and Garbin decide against being part of First Amendment protests in Lansing, the feds say. “There needs to be zero and I mean zero public interaction if we want to continue with our plans,” Harris writes. “When the time comes, there will be no need to try and strike fear through presence. The fear will be manifested through bullets,” Caserta responds. Fox responds: “Copy that boys, loud and clear.”
SEPT. 26, 2020: INFORMANT BUYS GUN
Stephen Robeson, while still working as an FBI informant, illegally buys and sells a sniper rifle in Wisconsin, a 10-year felony. “On that day, he had authorization from the FBI to otherwise engage in illegal conduct,” his attorney wrote. Robeson later pleads guilty in federal court and is sentenced to probation.
OCT. 2, 2020: TASER
Feds say that Fox in chat message tells “Big Dan” he had bought an 800,000-volt Taser.
OCT. 6, 2020: CRIMINAL COMPLAINT
A criminal complaint is filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids against Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta, alleging conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
OCT. 7, 2020: BUST
FBI agents arrest Fox, Franks, Harris and Garbin in Ypsilanti, where they had driven to pick up free gear from “Red,” the undercover FBI agent. The feds arrest Caserta at work and Croft in his home state of Delaware. The FBI says its investigation cut short because of a “potential compromise to the (informant) at the time.”
OCT. 28, 2020: ROBESON ACCUSED OF FRAUD
A woman complains to police in Wisconsin that Stephen Robeson (one of the FBI informants) had defrauded her. Charges are filed more than a year later; the case is still pending.
DEC. 16, 2020: INDICTMENT
A federal grand jury indicts the six suspects on charges of kidnapping conspiracy.
JAN. 27, 2021: GUILTY PLEA
Ty Garbin pleads guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and agrees to testify against others. He is later sentenced to 75 months in federal prison.
APRIL 28, 2021: CONSPIRACY TO KIDNAP
A superseding indictment accuses Fox, Croft, Franks, Harris and Caserta of conspiracy to kidnap. Fox, Croft and Harris also charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. Croft and Harris also charged with possession of an unregistered destruction device. Harris charged with possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle.
JAN. 6, 2022: DOUBLE AGENT
The feds reveal informant Stephen Robeson acted as a double agent, tipping off a suspect about pending arrests and telling another to get rid of evidence, not knowing that man was also an informant.
JAN. 25, 2022: JUDGE DOESN’T DISMISS CHARGES
U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker denies a defense request to dismiss all charges based on entrapment. “Defendants say the charges against them are the result of ‘egregious overreaching’ by the government and its agents constituting entrapment as a matter of law,” Jonker writes. The key question: “Whether law enforcement planted a criminal design in the mind of an otherwise law-abiding citizen or whether the government merely provided an opportunity to commit a crime to one who was already predisposed to do so… At this pretrial stage, the court concludes that the defense has not demonstrated as a matter of law that defendants’ wills were overcome by the actions of the government… Simply setting up a ruse — even an extended one — or running a confidential source, or even proposing a criminal act is not enough. “
FEB. 9, 2022: GUILTY PLEA
Kaleb Franks pleads guilty as charged, agrees to testify that he and his co-conspirators were not entrapped or induced to commit the crime.