(Reuters) — A federal jury resumed deliberations on Tuesday in the trial of four men charged with a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, weighing whether they are guilty of domestic terrorism or victims of entrapment and prosecutorial overreach.
In closing arguments on Friday, a government prosecutor described the defendants as «paranoid» and bent on sparking a civil war by abducting Whitmer and holding her accountable for placing restrictions on social and business activities due to COVID-19.
Defense attorneys said their clients were coerced into discussing the plot by FBI informants and never made concrete plans on their own.
The case has cast a spotlight on two of the militant right-wing organizations that have emerged in the years since former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. It also highlights the extent to which the pandemic and government efforts to control it have become a wedge issue in U.S. politics, pushing some people to extremes.
All four of the defendants — Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris — have been charged with kidnapping conspiracy. Fox, Croft and Harris were also charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
If convicted the men could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
On Monday, the 12-person jury ended the first day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.
At about 3 p.m., jurors asked U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, «What’s a weapon?» — an apparent reference to the weapon of mass destruction charge.
Jonker answered that a weapon is anything that can be used to «destroy, injure or kill someone or something, as opposed to something you would use for fun,» the Detroit Free Press newspaper reported.
Two other men who were initially charged — Ty Garbin and Kalen Franks — struck plea deals and served as star witnesses for the prosecution during the trial. Garbin is currently serving a six-year sentence, while Franks awaits sentencing.
The four men on trial, plus Garbin and Franks, are among 13 who were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Seven of them are facing charges in state court.
The FBI said it had begun tracking the group’s movements after seeing online discussions that included posts about the violent overthrow of some state governments. The group’s goal was to end curbs on social and business activities imposed during the coronavirus pandemic. Prosecutors have also accused them of wanting to start a second American civil war.
Harris, Caserta and an undercover informant who testified at the trial were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group, prosecutors say. Croft and Fox were members of the «Three Percenters,» a similar far-right organization.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter)