Investigators have a trove of evidence — audio recordings of meeting, taped phone calls, group and individual texts and online chats — against the men charged with planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It was gathered by two informants and two undercover FBI employees, according to the criminal complaint.
The investigation began in early 2020, when the FBI learned through social media of a group that was contemplating the “violent overthrow of certain government and law-enforcement components.” That includes Barry Croft and Adam Fox who agreed to partner and recruit others, according to the complaint.
The pair gathered with 13 others June 6 in Dublin, Ohio, where several members spoke about murdering “tyrants” or “taking” a sitting governor. An FBI informant was at the meeting and recorded it. The group decided their next move was to recruit more members and contacted a Michigan militia group, according to the complaint.
The FBI was already monitoring that militia group as of March, when members tried to obtain home addresses of law enforcement officers. At that time, the FBI had interviewed a militia member worried about the group’s plans to “target and kill police officers” and that person became an informant, according to the complaint.
During one of the militia’s field training events on June 14, the militia informant told the FBI that a founder of the group took a call from Fox and invited them to meet at his Grand Rapids business. That same day, the informant taped a phone call with Fox where he said he needed “200 men” to storm the Capitol building and take hostages, including Whitmer. He said he wanted to try her for “treason” before the November election, according to the complaint.
The informant said Fox and Croft met with the militia group several times in June, including at the Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol in Lansing on June 18 with Ty Garbin. That meeting was recorded.
Fox told Garbin and the informant “he planned to attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces,” according to the complaint.
On June 20, Fox, Garbin, the informant and others met in the basement of Fox’s business in Grand Rapids, accessible through a trap door under a rug. Fox took all their cellphones, but the informant was wearing a recording device and taped the meeting.
The participants talked about taking the state Capitol building and thwarting police with “Molotov cocktails” and scheduled tactical training for July, according to the complaint.
A few days later, on June 25, Fox live-streamed a video to a private Facebook group in which he complained about the closing of gyms. He referred to Whitmer as “this tyrant b—-,” and stated, “I don’t know, boys, we gotta do something. You guys link with me on our other location system, give me some ideas of what we can do.”
Tactical training was held June 28 in Munith in Jackson County at a home of a militia member. Attending were Fox, his unnamed girlfriend, Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Brandon Caserta and the FBI informant, according to the complaint.
Croft, Garbin and another militia member tried to create two improvised explosive devices during combat training July 11 in Cambria, Wisc. One included black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel. Neither work. Franks was also at the training and fired a rifle with a silencer. Participants shared videos and photos of the training on Facebook in discussions with the informant, according to the complaint.
Whitmer’s vacation home becomes a target in a discussion July 18 in Ohio, with Garbin suggesting they shoot it up. Earlier that day, Garbin, Fox, Croft, Harris and Franks discuss attacking a Michigan State Police facility. That meeting was recorded by the informant as well.
The FBI said the men often used code words, including Fox during a phone call on July 24 when he said he wondered whether the group just needed to “party it out, make a cake and send it.” The informant believed it was code for sending a bomb to the governor. Fox also suggested the train for the next three months and said: “In all honesty right now .,. I just wanna make the world glow, dude,” according to the complaint.
The plan switched to kidnapping Whitmer at her personal vacation home or the governor’s summer residence in northern Michigan during a meeting between Fox and the informant July 27 in Grand Rapids at Fox’s business. Fox calls it a “snatch and grab, man. Grab the f—in’ governor. Just grab the b—-. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.” According to the complaint, Fox said the plan was to take her to Wisconsin for “trial.” Fox said they need to study the surrounding neighborhood of the personal vacation home and may need plumbers and electricians to help them read blueprints.
A day later, Fox allegedly posted to a private Facebook page: “We about to be busy ladies and gentlemen … This is where the Patriot shows up. Sacrifices his time, money, blood sweat and tears … it starts now so get f—ing prepared!!” according to the complaint.
After more tactical training in Munith on Aug. 9, Fox suggested gathering more information on her official Lansing residence and possibly destroying her boat in a call with a militia member. After that call, the men moved to an encrypted chat where Harris allegedly stated: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her … at this point.”
In another encrypted chat Aug. 18, Franks suggested surveilling the vacation home in a conversation with Fox, Harris, Garbin and the informant.
Fear of being infiltrated by police on Aug. 23 at Harris’ Lake Orion home, all attendees had to bring paperwork to prove their identities and they moved to a different encrypted messaging app. The chat still included the informant. At the meeting, Caserta said: “Go on someone’s property and stuff like that. I would rather not scare them. Especially if it’s a f—in’ political parasite. The world would be better without that person, I’ll say that.” Franks added he recently spent $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles, according to the complaint.
Fox, the informant and another person did surveillance of the vacation home Aug. 29, taking photos and slow-motion video. The unnamed individual also looked up the location of the nearest police department and Michigan State Police post to estimate how long it would take for officers to respond. During the surveillance, Fox allegedly said: “We ain’t gonna let ‘em burn our f—in’ state down. I don’t give a f— if there’s only 20 or 30 of us, dude, we’ll go out there and use deadly force.” A day later, Fox shared the photos in an encrypted chat. Garbin offered to paint his boat black so they could do water surveillance and with emojis suggested demolishing a bridge would slow police response to the vacation home, according to the complaint.
Another explosive device was tested and the men visited the vacation home again the weekend of Sept. 12-13. Fox, Croft, Garbin, Franks, Harris, Caserta, the informant and an undercover FBI staffer gathered at Garbin’s cabin in Luther, in Lake County. Croft created another improvised explosive device, removing the cap from a commercial firework, added black powder, and included pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel. He detonated it in a clearing surrounded by human silhouette targets, according to the complaint.
The men traveled to the vacation home in three separate vehicles the night of Sept. 12 while armed. During the car ride, Croft and Fox suggested explosive devices would distract police and Fox stopped to inspect an M-31 highway bridge overpass as a possible location for an explosive.
While casing the vacation home, Fox said: “She f—ing goddamn loves the power she has right now” and that “she has no checks and balances at all. She has uncontrolled power right now.”
On Sept. 30, Fox called the informant and said he wants to purchase a taser for the kidnapping.
Group chats with Fox, Garbin, Harris and Franks indicated the group planned to meet with the undercover FBI employee Wednesday to buy explosives and exchange tactical gear, according to the complaint.