Judge says enough evidence for charges against militia members

A federal judge in Michigan said Friday there was enough evidence to support the conspiracy charge against five defendants accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Lawyers for the defendants had argued that the suspects were not plotting a kidnapping but a first amendment activism and “loose talk,” but U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Berens ruled there was enough evidence for it to go to a grand jury.

Berens said the plan seemed to be at its face to kidnap Whitmer and take her elsewhere, and whether unsuccessful or difficult does not have to play into their intent. 

The accused ringleader, Adam Fox, on Friday waived his right to a detention hearing. Bond was denied for another defendant, Ty Garbin. A sixth man, Barry Croft, was arrested in Delaware and has been ordered to Michigan for trial. 

FBI agent Richard Trask testified he believed the plot predated President Trump’s “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” tweet on April 17. Defense attorney Gary Springstead, who represents Ty Garbin, grilled Task if the suspects were “supportive” of Mr. Trump’s tweet, but Task said he was “not aware.” 

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Carole Kabrin

“Discussions of this plot happened prior,” Task said. 

Fox has been accused of saying he wanted to kidnap Whitmer before the November 3 election. Trask testified the suspects discussed the election in the recordings, and “it could have related to the president” and the suspects were also upset about the lockdowns.   

Under questioning, Trask said he was not aware if Fox had any mental health or anxiety issues, but said he was aware Fox smoke marijuana. He did not argue with the idea that Fox had “kind of a big mouth,” saying “he does enjoy talking quite a bit.” 

Trask testified several members of anti-government paramilitary groups from several states had discussed kidnapping Whitmer or Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Virginia was another state Mr. Trump had tweeted needed to be “liberated.” 

Scott Graham, an attorney for defendant Kaleb Franks, argued the comments were “loose talk.” 

“This overriding allegation of a conspiracy is so outlandish, it’s got to be made up of actual facts,” he said. “How do they actually tie in with a agreement.”   

Prosecutors argued that there was enough evidence of an actual plot to kidnap Whitmer even though the defendants had not discussed specifically they would do with her if they had been successful. 

“You’re crossing a pretty serious line when you go in the middle of the night in multiple cars and stage up at a gas station and … you go to the house of the sitting governor of the state to go surveil their house at night,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said.  

Kessler said the defendants “got caught because they are amateurs and they hadn’t thought things through.”   

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