A Delaware trucker described as a co-leader of the conspiracy to kidnap Michigan’s governor was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison Wednesday, a day after an accomplice received 16 years behind bars.
Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Barry Croft Jr., 47, who was the fourth and final federal defendant to learn his fate. Croft and Adam Fox were convicted in August of conspiracy charges in Grand Rapids. Croft also was found guilty of possessing an unregistered explosive.
They were accused of hatching a stunning plot to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from her vacation home just before the 2020 presidential election. The conspirators were furious over tough COVID-19 restrictions that Whitmer and officials in other states had put in place during the early months of the pandemic, as well as perceived threats to gun ownership.
Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI was secretly embedded in the group and made 14 arrests.
Croft regularly wore a tri-cornered hat common during the American Revolution and had tattoos on his arms symbolizing resistance — “Expect Us” — as he traveled to Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to meet with like-minded extremists.
“Although he may not have had hierarchical control over all the other participants, he coordinated and pushed the implementation of the conspiracy from its inception to its final stages,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing.
“The only remaining step was for the governor to appear at her cottage so they could launch their plan, but fortunately she was still beyond their control,” the prosecutor said.
A different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a verdict on the pair at the first trial last spring but acquitted two other men.
“The abduction of the governor was only meant to be the beginning of Croft’s reign of terror,” Kessler said. “He called for riots, ‘torching’ government officials in their sleep and setting off a ‘domino’ effect of violence across the country.”
A key piece of evidence: Croft, Fox and others traveled to see Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan, with undercover agents and informants inside the cabal.
At one point, Croft told allies: “I don’t like seeing anybody get killed either. But you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you know what I mean?”
Croft’s attorney tried to soften his client’s role. In a court filing, Joshua Blanchard said the Bear, Delaware, man didn’t actually have authority over others and often frustrated them because he “just kept talking.”
“Simply put, to the extent that the jury determined he was a participant, as they necessarily did, he was a participant to a lesser degree than others,” Blanchard insisted.
Two men who pleaded guilty and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.
In state court, three men recently were given lengthy sentences for assisting Fox earlier in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.
When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”
Associated Press Writer Ed White in Detroit contributed to this story. Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.