Shared hotel rooms. Fake militias. Booze and pot. Planted evidence. Phony bomb makers. Criminal FBI informants. Wife-beating wife-swappers.
No, that’s not the latest iteration of the “X Files” but the real-life drama of the FBI-concocted scheme to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. The better-than-television saga is again unfolding in a Grand Rapids courtroom this month as the Department of Justice retries two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer right before the 2020 presidential election.
In April, prosecutors failed to win a single conviction in one of the government’s biggest domestic terror investigations in decades. A jury acquitted two men—Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris—on every count after defense attorneys successfully argued their clients were entrapped by the FBI.
The jury did not reach a verdict for two other men; Adam Fox, the alleged ringleader of the plot, and Barry Croft now face a second trial as prosecutors desperately attempt to save face just as the DOJ’s credibility is cratering. (Two other defendants pleaded guilty and are witnesses for the government.)
Shocking headlines in October 2020 blared the alleged details of the conspiracy: white supremacists tied to local militias loyal to Donald Trump planned to abduct Whitmer from her summer cottage and possibly kill her, the public was told. The day after several men were arrested in an FBI sting, Whitmer claimed her life had been endangered and Trump was to blame. ”When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit,” Whitmer said in a video message on October 8, 2020. “When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris frequently mentioned the kidnapping plot on the stump in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign as evidence as to why the president was unfit for office; news outlets gave the plot wall-to-wall coverage.
Reporting on the kidnapping story fizzled after Election Day. And after BuzzFeed (yes BuzzFeed) published a bombshell investigation exposing the FBI’s deep involvement, including the use of at least a dozen undercover FBI agents and informants, interest in the story among once-enraged politicians and journalists evaporated.
But that didn’t stop defense attorneys representing six men facing federal kidnapping charges from digging into what really happened. And what they uncovered is one of the most egregious cases of FBI entrapment and election interference in the bureau’s history. “The government’s agents actively planned and coordinated its efforts to induce the defendants to engage in incriminating behavior and statements, even going so far as designing the objective and structural components of the conspiracy alleged in the indictment,” defense attorneys wrote.
Anatomy of a Plot
Starting in March 2020, the FBI hired an informant named Dan Chappel, an Iraq war veteran and U.S. Postal Service truck driver reportedly alarmed by social media chatter related to Michigan’s harsh pandemic lockdowns. Working under the nickname “Big Dan,” he stitched the muddled group together over a period of a few months. His primary target was Adam Fox, at the time living in the dilapidated cellar of a vacuum repair shop without running water or a toilet in a Grand Rapids strip mall.
“Big Dan” visited Fox and others at their homes, took them out to eat, and drove them to various excursions in the Midwest while secretly recording every interaction. He talked to Fox, who viewed Chappel as a father figure since he had none, on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. On a few occasions, Chappel offered Fox a credit card with a $5,000 limit to buy firearms, ammunition, or other supplies needed for the kidnapping plot, Chappel testified this week, but Fox declined each time.
At one meeting, Chappel proposed shooting rounds into the official mansions of several governors, including Whitmer. He also suggested firing bullets into Whitmer’s vacation cottage and making it look like a hunting accident.
None of his targets took the bait.
His main FBI handlers, Jayson Chambers and Henrik Impola, working out of the Detroit FBI field office, directed Chappel’s every move. In the summer of 2020, Chambers advised Chappel to lure a man in Virginia to plan a similar operation against Governor Ralph Northam. “Mission is to kill the governor specifically,” Chambers instructed Chappel.
For about seven months’ work, the FBI paid Chappel about $60,000 in cash and prizes including a smart watch, a laptop computer, and new tires for his vehicle. In December 2020, a few months after the men were arrested, the FBI handed Chappel $23,540 in cash as a bonus for a mission accomplished.
Sparing no expense, the FBI deployed numerous assets to assist Chappel. Another FBI informant, a man named Steve Robeson, pretended to head the Wisconsin chapter of the Patriot Three Percenters, a fake militia created by the FBI. Robeson made Fox the head of the Michigan chapter of the imaginary group. (Chappel was later sworn in as commanding officer of the FBI’s bogus militia, which had a corresponding Facebook page also created by the FBI.) “His role within the investigation has ranged from arranging meetings and providing conference rooms to coordinating [field training] for the defendants to attend, and transporting weapons, defendants and explosives across the country,” defense attorneys wrote in March 2022. “Robeson is a, or in most cases the only, direct link that the defendants have to the alleged conspiracy because of his actions, coordination, and planning on behalf of the government.”
The week after nationwide rioting in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Robeson hosted a national “militia” conference in suburban Columbus on June 6, 2020 and invited Fox and Croft to attend; the FBI leveraged rage over the Floyd riots and lockdowns to induce the defendants to make inflammatory comments and threats which were recorded and fed in real time to the FBI. Robeson hosted field training camps in Wisconsin, gatherings in Ohio and Delaware later that summer, and a surveillance trip to Whitmer’s upstate Michigan vacation cottage in September.
Everything was paid for by the FBI.
Robeson had more secrets. Not only was he a longtime FBI informant who worked out of numerous FBI field offices, he’s a convicted felon several times over “with a rap sheet stretching back to the early 1980s that includes fraud, assault, and sex with a minor,” BuzzFeed reported. While working the Whitmer escapade, Robeson committed at least two other crimes, according to the government. Prosecutors earlier this year accused Robeson of acting as a “double agent” and threatened to charge him before the April trial. Robeson did not testify after he announced he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights. (He won’t testify in the new trial, either.)
Robeson and another FBI informant, Jenny Plunk, became close with Barry Croft, who has been on the FBIs radar since 2019 for his “anti-government, anti-law enforcement” social media posts, the government alleges. Plunk pretended to be head of the Tennessee chapter of the FBIs fake militia group.
Robeson and Plunk often smoked pot with Croft while recording the impaired conversations to be used against him. In July 2020, according to testimony by an FBI agent last week, Plunk shared the same hotel room with Croft during a weekend excursion in Wisconsin. Under cross examination by Croft’s public defender, the agent admitted he had never before heard of such an arrangement between informant and target.
And either Plunk or Robeson repackaged a bag of alleged explosive materials that Croft brought to that meeting from his home in Delaware. After a meeting in Michigan, Plunk put the repackaged bag in Croft’s truck, which became part of the evidence seized by agents when Croft was arrested.
By late summer 2020, Plunk was given an important task by the FBI: prevent the group from splintering. Still without any plan to kidnap Whitmer, and facing growing discord between targets including Croft, Plunk was instructed to “keep working to solve the differences in the group,” by her FBI handler. “Show them they were brought together by Croft and he has good ideas. Show them the good ideas Croft brought.”
The FBI introduced three undercover FBI agents into the operation to up the ante, one of whom pretended to be an explosives expert. “Red” met the group in Michigan in September 2020 and brought along a video showing how he could build a bomb that would blow up a large vehicle.
The video was produced by the FBI.
The confected FBI plot involved blowing up a bridge outside of Whitmer’s vacation cottage, killing her security detail, abducting her from the house, putting her on a boat, driving the boat to the middle of Lake Michigan where she would be abandoned or taken across the raging lake in the middle of autumn to Wisconsin. And Adam Fox, the homeless guy with no money or resources or bathroom, was responsible for the plan, the government continues to allege.
The trial—expected to wrap next week after the judge took the rare step of limiting the time for defense counsel to cross examine government witnesses—won’t include testimony from one of the lead FBI investigators in the case. Richard Trask, who helped prepare the FBIs case for trial, was fired last summer after he was arrested for assaulting his wife in a drunken rage following a swingers’ party in Kalamazoo.
But the FBI honcho responsible for engineering and executing the hoax was not fired. In fact, shortly after FBI agents arrested the suspects, Steven D’Antuono, head of the Detroit FBI field office at the time, was promoted by FBI Director Christopher Wray to run the Washington D.C. FBI field office. D’Antuono is leading the criminal investigation into January 6, an event now mired in legitimate suspicion that bad actors working for the feds helped incite what happened that day.
Regardless of the trial’s outcome, the FBI must answer for this entrapment operation. Two innocent men spent 18 months in jail before they were released. Barry Croft and Adam Fox, if acquitted this month, will have spent nearly two years in jail.
The only individuals who deserve to be behind bars are the FBI officials, agents, and informants culpable for this shameful abuse of power that interfered in a presidential election, unfairly smeared Donald Trump and his supporters, wasted millions in federal and state resources, and destroyed the lives and families of innocent men. That’s the only imaginable happy ending to this sad farce.
Story cited here.
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