Barry Croft Jr. convicted in conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer


A man convicted of being one of the key orchestrators in a 2020 scheme to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and blow up a bridge in hopes of inciting civil war was sentenced Wednesday to 19 1/2 years in prison, the longest sentence of the four men convicted on federal charges in the most closely watched domestic terrorism case in recent years.

Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Delaware, was described by prosecutors in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday as the “spiritual leader” and “ideas” of the plot, which was eventually called off after a sting that involved informants and undercover FBI agents who infiltrated the group of men drawn from their association with the militant right-wing group Wolverine Watchmen.

Croft and his co-conspirator, Adam Fox, 39, of Michigan, were convicted by a federal jury after a second trial in August on two counts of conspiracy, while Croft was also found guilty of an additional weapons charge. Prosecutors presented the two men as furious about the covid-19 lockdown and alleged “tyranny” by elected officials and said they had vented their anger in a violent plot they were eager to see grow into a bloody “revolution.”

The case has highlighted the escalating threat of extremist violence, particularly from the far right, at a time of deep political division in the country. Federal prosecutors said the seriousness of the conspiracy made life sentences for the defendants appropriate. Croft’s defense argued that he was less involved than Fox and was not considered a true leader among the group members.

After trials at statehouses last year, the far-right’s violent tactics erupted at the Capitol

Fox was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison, while two other defendants pleaded guilty in 2021 and early 2022 and agreed to testify against Croft and Fox. Two other defendants were acquitted at the federal trial in April.

Fourteen people were eventually arrested by state and federal authorities in an October 2020 operation after investigators determined the men had collected weapons, trained and planned to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan and blow up a bridge to thwart her security and law enforcement response before the 2020 elections.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge detailed the indictments of six people accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. (Video: The Washington Post)

At Wednesday’s hearing, Croft’s defense attorney, Joshua Blanchard, acknowledged the case’s effect on Whitmer, the public and elected officials, but said Croft’s role did not warrant a life sentence. He describes his client as an isolated truck driver who lives in an echo chamber and descends a “conspiracy rabbit hole.”

“The Government painted a picture, perhaps fairly, of Mr Croft as a radical in the run-up to the summer of 2020. He said some terrible, terrible things. But I can tell the court that a sober Mr. Croft finds these things hard to listen to,” Blanchard said.

Nils Kessler, a federal prosecutor, argued that even more than his co-defendant, Croft embraced a “toxic” ideology for which he has yet to show remorse, highlighted by the fact that Croft continued to give interviews from prison and at one on Tuesday evening called the government “illegitimate”.

“He could at least admit that the ideas are wrong, but he doesn’t because he still holds them,” Kessler said.

In explaining why he would not impose a life sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Yonker said in the end, no one was injured and no infrastructure was destroyed.

“The end of the plot was never realized, thank God. And it would never have been implemented because law enforcement would never have allowed it to get that far,” Yonker said of the embedded agents.

But the judge also noted that Croft “was in a different tranche” to his co-defendants and had been involved in anti-government activities for a longer period of time.

“I’m not convinced that what we’ve seen is yet a meaningful change from Mr. Croft,” Yonker said.

In court Wednesday, Croft declined to speak on the advice of his attorneys.

While Croft’s conviction ended the federal indictment of six defendants, several other alleged associates still face state trials. In October, three men were sentenced in Jackson County Circuit Court for violating Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws passed after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Pete Musico, 45; Joseph Morrison, 28; and Paul Bellar, 24, were sentenced to a minimum of 12 years, 10 years and seven years respectively for aiding the scheme.

There are five other men awaiting trial on state charges in Antrim County, northern Michigan, where Whitmer has a vacation home.

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