Barry Croft Jr. sentenced to nearly 20 years for ‘leadership’ role in Whitmer kidnapping plot

By: - December 28, 2022 12:22 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives the keynote address at the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference on June 2, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

The second of two defendants convicted on federal charges of planning to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, has been sentenced to serve nearly two decades in prison. 

Calling him “the idea guy” who took a leadership role in the plot, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker on Wednesday ordered that Barry Croft Jr., 46, serve a term of 235 months, or just over 19-and-a-half years.

Croft’s defense attorney, Joshua Blanchard, said he planned to appeal the sentence, which he felt was unnecessarily harsh.

“I object to the sentence as procedurally unreasonable…because the court refused to include full and complete information as I requested in my objections to the presentence report,” he told the judge. 

On Tuesday, Jonker sentenced Adam Fox, 39, to 16 years in prison.

Both men were found guilty in August by a federal court jury in Grand Rapids on conspiracy charges connected to a plot to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan.

Fox and Croft were also found guilty of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction related to their attempt to purchase explosives that could be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home in order to slow police responding to the kidnapping.

A mistrial was declared during an initial trial in April for Croft and Fox after a jury could not reach a verdict against the two, while acquitting two others, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Evidence presented during both trials indicated Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout out the area around Whitmer’s second home with Croft and an undercover agent coming along on one of the trips.

Croft, a trucker from Delaware, was also convicted on an additional explosives charge.

While the scheme was seemingly in retaliation for Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic, authorities say the ultimate goal of the defendants was to create chaos in the leadup to the November 2020 election.

Prosecutors sought Croft to be sentenced under an enhancement of terrorism, which Jonker agreed was appropriate. However, the judge declined to use it to impose a life sentence despite statements Croft made that were introduced as evidence at trial.

“This fight started in heaven, gentlemen,” Croft said in recordings that prosecutors played in court. “There’s been giants at my gate before. Not worried about it. I’m getting ready to go f—k him up, and I’m going to hurt him bad. I’m going to terrorize. You want a terrorist? You’ve labeled me a terrorist. I’m going to go be what I am, I’m going to go be what I am.”

Prior to sentencing, Blanchard argued that his client had a serious substance abuse problem and lifelong mental health issues, and pleaded with Jonker to take that into account when handing down a sentence.

“Mr. Croft was not the leader that Adam Fox was,” Blanchard said, adding that Jonker called the terrorism enhancement a “blunt instrument” when he declined to use it to sentence Fox to a life prison term and said that it shouldn’t apply to Croft.

In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler pointed to statements Croft was recorded making, noting in a pre-sentencing memorandum that the terrorism enhancement applies where the felony “involved, or was intended to promote, a federal crime of terrorism,” and that a crime of terrorism is one that “is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”

In court Wednesday, Kessler then quoted Croft from the recordings.

“Once we get a foothold, one criminal governor in our possession and we’ve captured the flag in that state. We can then start to issue terms,” Croft said in the recordings.

Kessler asked that the sentence serve as a deterrent against future plots, noting that while the FBI infiltrated the group early on, it was because of a “lucky break” that someone came forward as soon as the discussion turned to committing violence. 

“We may not be so lucky next time,” said Kessler.

The defendants, who called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen, came to the attention of federal law enforcement after a member of the group, U.S Army veteran Dan Chappel, agreed to become an informant after discussion among the plotters began to include explicit plans to attack and kill police who would oppose them.

The FBI arrested the plotters in October 2020 after authorities say they discussed raising $4,000 to purchase the explosive to blow up the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home.

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to convince jurors that authorities had entrapped their clients, whom they described as “big talkers” that liked to smoke marijuana and then indulge in heated rhetoric about Whitmer and the government.

Assisting the prosecution was testimony from two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.