A jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, acquitted two far-right militia members accused of conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a plot they allegedly cooked up in response to the state’s 2020 pandemic lockdowns.
Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were found not guilty on all the charges they faced, including kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use explosives, both of which carry potential life sentences. The jury also deadlocked on similar charges against two other charged co-conspirators, Barry Croft and Adam Fox; it is not yet clear if prosecutors intend to retry them.
Over four weeks of testimony, prosecutors brought forward witnesses who detailed how the group conducted shooting drills and staked out Whitmer’s north Michigan vacation home, where they allegedly intended to kidnap her. Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty for his role in the plot, said their goal was to cause enough havoc to spark a civil war and prevent Joe Biden from becoming president. Kaleb Franks, another man who pleaded guilty, said he wished to die in a shootout with Whitmer’s security.
But prosecutors were unable to convince jurors that the defendants actually intended to go through with their scheme. The defense portrayed the men as big talkers who never came close to action and argued that federal informants were the ones who tried to push the plan along. They pointed out that no date was ever agreed on for the kidnapping, and witnesses presented details about the planning process that didn’t indicate a highly organized effort.
Of the dozen men that staked out Whitmer’s vacation house in September 2020, four were government informants or undercover agents. Before the trial began, attorneys for the defense tried to have the charges thrown out on entrapment grounds, arguing that an FBI informant known as “Big Dan” was the primary instigator in the alleged plot. In his closing arguments, Joshua Blanchard, an attorney for Bryan Croft, said, “There was no plan to kidnap the governor, and there was no agreement between these four men.”