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Second ringleader in Whitmer kidnap plot sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison

Dec. 28, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 28, 2022 at 6:48 p.m.

Barry Croft.    (Kent County Sheriff's Office/TNS/TNS)
Barry Croft.   (Kent County Sheriff's Office/TNS/TNS)
By Kara Berg The Detroit News The Detroit News

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The second of two ringleaders in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to 19.6 years in prison and five years of supervised release.

Delaware truck driver Barry Croft, 47, appeared in front of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker for sentencing Wednesday, four months after he and codefendant Adam Fox were convicted of conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction after their first trial ended in a hung jury and the acquittals of two other codefendants. Croft also was convicted of possessing an unregistered destructive device.

Croft had no visible reaction to the sentence.

Fox was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison and five years of supervision.

Jonker rejected the prosecution’s request for a life sentence for Croft, but did apply the terrorism enhancement provision to Croft’s sentence. The judge rejected the provision in Fox’s sentencing yesterday but said Croft was more dangerous than Fox and the others, and had held anti-government views for longer.

“I do think Mr. Croft is a more culpable and risky individual,” Jonker said.

Croft’s attorney Josh Blanchard objected to the sentence after the judge gave it, saying it was procedurally unreasonable and too long.

Fox and Croft’s case is the largest domestic terrorism case in a generation, and their cases could set a benchmark for how federal political extremism cases are handled in the future. They were arrested in early October 2020 and accused of hatching the plot to kidnap Whitmer due to distrust of the government and anger over pandemic restrictions.

When federal prosecutors asked Jonker for a life sentence for Croft, they portrayed him as a “stoned crazy pirate,” a bombmaker and an extremist bent on inciting the second Civil War. Prosecutors said Croft was the plot’s bombmaker and national leader of the Three Percenters, a far-right, anti-government militia group. They said he wanted to do more than kidnap or kill Whitmer; he was excited for war to come to the U.S., Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in a pre-sentence memo.

“Croft was a leader or organizer of the criminal activity because he conceived the plan, recruited Fox, helped Fox recruit others,” Kessler wrote. “The eventual plan was comprised of elements Croft laid out, including targeting a state governor, and using improvised explosives to hinder law enforcement.

“Only a life sentence can adequately address Croft’s crimes and deter him and others from pursuing such apocalyptic visions for our country.”

Fox and Croft did reconnaissance of Whitmer’s northern Michigan cottage, drew maps and knew where Whitmer’s home was in relation to police stations, Kessler said, and they assembled and tried to detonate improvised explosive devices.

Testimony demonstrated the plan was to abduct Whitmer from her cottage and leave her in a boat on Lake Michigan. When they were arrested, Fox and Croft were heavily armed and equipped with body armor, a Taser and silencers.

But Blanchard wrote in a court filing there was no actual plan to kidnap Whitmer and Croft did not attempt to blow up a bridge with explosives. He also did not supply funding or training to the group or recruit members, nor was he involved in most of the field training exercises, Blanchard wrote.

Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s attorney, speaks to the media following a verdict in the Whitmer kidnapping trial at the Federal Building and Courthouse on August 23, 2022 in Grand Rapids, MI.

He said Croft is a father of three girls who has suffered from significant substance abuse issues, likely self-medication from an untreated mental health issue, and has engaged in poor decision making. His parents both had mental health issues, Blanchard said. He described Croft’s father as an “odd duck” who put aluminum foil on the bedroom ceiling so aliens couldn’t access his brain waves and said his mother was prone to conspiracy theories.

Croft had a heroin addiction as a teenager after being admitted to a psychiatric hospital and running away from home, Blanchard wrote. He was convicted of several crimes through the mid-1990s, including possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, assault and burglary, and was pardoned by the Delaware governor in 2019.

Blanchard wrote that Croft did not have “the appropriate tools to be productive,” but was not a lost cause and could return to live a productive, law-abiding life if he is equipped with the right tools.

He loves his daughters and worked hard to be involved with their lives and give them the love his father was incapable of providing to him, Blanchard wrote.

Defense attorneys have criticized FBI agent misconduct and have claimed agents and informants orchestrated the conspiracy and entrapped Fox, Croft and others. Jonker said Tuesday that law enforcement did not do anything that qualified as entrapment.

Both Fox and Croft’s attorneys have requested a third trial, claiming the judge’s biases and improper courtroom behavior led to the convictions. Their first trial ended in a mistrial. Their attorneys claimed Jonker’s refusal to investigate a report of juror misconduct, biased statements in court and time limits on cross-examination of the prosecutor’s witnesses led to an unfair trial for Fox and Croft. Jonker, however, ruled the claims had no merit.

So far, seven people have been convicted on state or federal charges related to the plot while an eighth individual, FBI informant Stephen Robeson, was convicted of a federal gun crime.

After taking plea deals, Kaleb Franks of Waterford Township got four years in prison, while Ty Garbin of Hartford Township got his initial sentence of 75 months behind bars slashed to 30 months after being a star witness during two federal trials. Canton Township resident Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris of Lake Orion, were acquitted during the first federal trial.

Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico were sentenced in Jackson County earlier this month to a minimum of seven, 10 and 12 years in prison, respectively.

Five state cases remain open in Antrim County, as Michael Null, 38; William Null, 38; Eric Molitor, 36; Shawn Fix, 38; and Brian Higgins, 51, await trial for providing material support for terrorist acts.


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