Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Delaware, was described by prosecutors in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Mich., as the “spiritual leader” and “mastermind” of the plot, which was eventually dropped after a sting involving informants and undercover FBI agents who infiltrated the group of men , brought together by their association with the armed right-wing group Wolverine Watchmen.
Croft and his co-conspirator, Adam Fox, 39, of Michigan, were convicted by a federal jury of two counts of conspiracy after a second trial in August, while Croft was also found guilty of an additional weapons charge. Prosecutors portrayed the two men as angry at the Covid-19 lockdown and the perceived “tyranny” of elected officials, and said they channeled their anger into a violent conspiracy they wanted to see in a bloody “revolution”.
The case has highlighted the growing threat of extremist violence, particularly from the far right, in a country deeply divided politically. Federal prosecutors said the seriousness of the conspiracy made a life sentence appropriate for the defendants. Croft’s defense argued that he was less involved than Fox and was not considered a true leader among the band members.
After trials at the statehouses last year, the far-right’s violent tactics flared up in the Capitol.
Fox was sentenced to 16 years in prison on Tuesday, 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 their federal trial in April.
Fourteen people were eventually arrested by state and federal authorities in the October 2020 sting after investigators discovered the men had assembled weapons, trained and planned to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan and blow up a bridge to disrupt her security detail and law enforcement. answer before the 2020 elections.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Croft’s defense attorney, Joshua Blanchard, acknowledged the impact of the case on Whitmer, the community and elected officials, but said Croft’s role did not warrant a life sentence. He described his client as an isolated truck driver who lived in an echo chamber and went down a “conspiracy rabbit hole”.
“The government may have fairly created a picture of Mr. Croft as a radical in the run up to the summer of 2020. He has said some horrible, horrible things. But I can tell the court that these things are difficult for a sane Mr. Croft to listen to,” Blanchard said.
Federal prosecutor Neil Kessler argued that even more than his co-defendant, Croft subscribed to a “poisonous” ideology that he remains unrepentant of, highlighted by the fact that Croft has continued to give interviews from prison. one called the government “illegitimate” on Tuesday night.
“He could at least admit that the ideas are wrong, but not because he still owns them,” Kessler said.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, explaining why he should not be sentenced to life in prison, said no one was ultimately injured and no infrastructure was destroyed.
“Thank God the end of the plot was never realized. And it never materialized because law enforcement would never let it get that far,” Jonker said, referring to the embedded agents.
But the judge also noted that Croft “was in a different part” than his co-defendants and had been involved in anti-government activities for a longer period of time.
“I’m not sure what we’ve seen is a significant change from Mr Croft,” Jonker said.
In court Wednesday, Croft declined to speak at the suggestion of his attorneys.
While Croft’s verdict ended the federal indictment of the six defendants, several more alleged co-conspirators are still facing state trials. In October, three men were convicted in Jackson County Circuit Court of violating Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws enacted after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Pete Musico, 45; Joseph Morrison, 28; and Paul Bellar, 24, were sentenced to 12 years, 10 years and seven years respectively for helping to carry out the plan.
Five other men are awaiting trial on state charges in Antrim County, a county in northern Michigan where Whitmer has a vacation home.