Man Receives Nearly 20 Years in Prison for Plot to Kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A man who prosecutors said had planned to travel from Delaware to Michigan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home and possibly assassinate her was sentenced on Wednesday to 19 years and seven months in prison, less than the life term that prosecutors requested.
The man, Barry Croft, a truck driver who had spoken of wanting to foment civil war and had traveled repeatedly to the Midwest for training and planning sessions in the months before his arrest, was the last of the men convicted in federal court to learn his prison term. Judge Robert J. Jonker of the Federal District Court in Western Michigan delivered his sentence just four days before Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, was scheduled to be sworn in for a second term as governor.
In court on Wednesday, Nils Kessler, a federal prosecutor, told the judge that Mr. Croft provided the ideological impetus for the plot, and that his conduct was similar in many ways to the actions of foreign terrorists.
“He’s the spiritual leader of this group, this movement, the same way some sheikh in ISIS might be,” Mr. Kessler said. Later, he added that “what ISIS or Al Qaeda calls a mujahedeen, he calls a patriot.”
Barring a successful appeal, Mr. Croft’s sentencing brings an end to one of the most closely watched federal domestic terror prosecutions in recent history, though some men accused of related crimes in state court are still awaiting trial.
Since Mr. Croft and his co-defendants were arrested more than two years ago, during the tense run-up to the 2020 presidential election, the case has been seen by many as an example of the rising threat of right-wing domestic terrorism. Those concerns became more tangible a few months after the arrests, when supporters of Donald J. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol and tried to block the certification of that election.
When Mr. Croft was convicted this August of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, Ms. Whitmer released a statement calling for “a hard look at the status of our politics.”
“Plots against public officials and threats to the F.B.I. are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation,” she said at the time, “threatening the very foundation of our republic.”
Undercover agents and informants recorded Mr. Croft speaking about a desire to overthrow the government and harm elected officials, and they accompanied him on a nighttime scouting mission to the governor’s vacation cottage in northern Michigan. Mr. Croft also attended training sessions with high-powered rifles and, prosecutors said, planned to blow up a bridge to prevent police officers from reaching the scene of the abduction.
Mr. Croft “wanted to do more than kidnap the governor of Michigan, or even kill her,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo. “He said, ‘I can’t wait for war to come to this land,’ and meant it. Only a life sentence can adequately address Croft’s crimes and deter him and others from pursuing such apocalyptic visions for our country.”
Mr. Croft’s lawyer, Joshua Blanchard, asked Judge Jonker for a shorter sentence. In his sentencing memo, Mr. Blanchard said his client was a devoted father with a history of mental illness and drug use. He also stressed that Mr. Croft, 47, did not attend some training sessions and was not involved in some of the chat groups through which others discussed attack plans.
“Mr. Croft’s life shows that he is not a lost cause and, if equipped with the right tools, can return to live a productive, law-abiding life,” Mr. Blanchard wrote.
The Justice Department vowed this week to continue prosecuting domestic terror cases, and Judge Jonker said he believed that federal law enforcement should be praised for how agents had investigated the plot against the governor.
Still, the government faced repeated setbacks in the Michigan case. One F.B.I. agent on the case was fired last year after being charged with domestic violence, and another agent, who supervised a key informant, tried to build a private security consulting firm based in part on some of his work for the F.B.I., according to BuzzFeed News. During an initial trial this year, jurors acquitted two men and failed to reach a verdict for Mr. Croft and another defendant, Adam Fox.
Both Mr. Croft and Mr. Fox were convicted at a second trial. Mr. Fox was sentenced on Tuesday to 16 years in prison, far below the life term prosecutors wanted. Two other men, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy and testified against Mr. Fox and Mr. Croft. Mr. Garbin was sentenced to 30 months in prison, and Mr. Franks was sentenced to four years.
In October, three others connected to the plot were convicted in state court of providing support for terrorist acts. They received sentences that could keep them in prison for at least seven years and up to 20. Five more men charged in state court are awaiting trial.