In a victory for political rights, prosecutors failed to convict any of four men who were entrapped and framed up by undercover FBI provocateurs, accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to try and stop her pandemic mask policy and related charges.
Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were found not guilty by a Grand Rapids jury April 8. Jury members were unable to reach a verdict on charges against Adam Fox and Barry Croft, who remain jailed pending prosecutors’ decision on holding a retrial.
Each of the four were affiliated with the Wolverine Watchmen, which government authorities called an “anti-government, anti-law enforcement” militia. They were arrested Oct. 8, 2020, just weeks before the presidential election. Democrats used the charges and trial to further efforts to pillory supporters of former President Donald Trump as “domestic terrorists,” an effort that continues through their never-ending probe into the Jan. 6, 2021, incursion into the Capitol Building.
The FBI’s effort to entrap the four men in Michigan was the central issue in the trial. The judge told the jury this was an acceptable defense for those indicted. The acquittal of Harris and Caserta pushes back efforts to legitimize future frame-up operations against working-class militants, as the class struggle deepens and deals a blow to the rulers’ attacks on political rights.
The trial heard recordings of the four men secretly taped by the FBI, testimony from the FBI informers involved and from two men who pled guilty to involvement in the alleged conspiracy in hopes of avoiding threatened draconian prison sentences. If convicted each of the accused faced life in prison.
Liberal media made much of the testimony of Ty Garbin, one of those who pled guilty and was sentenced to six years in jail. Garbin said he hoped kidnapping Whitmer would lead to a civil war that would stop the election of Joseph Biden.
To try to make the charges stick, prosecutors introduced comments from the Facebook pages of the defendants. They discuss kidnapping and killing Whitmer and other officials who impose mask and vaccine mandates. Prosecutors insisted that because the defendants had discussed going after Whitmer before the FBI got their provocateurs rolling, that meant they were already guilty of “conspiracy,” and the FBI’s entrapment efforts were irrelevant to the trial.
But they had no plan. “If I don’t like the governor and it’s rough talk, I can do that in our country,” said Michael Hills, a lawyer for Caserta, after the verdict. It’s called free speech.
No attack ever took place, no date was set for Whitmer to be abducted and details of various alleged plans differed from one government witness to another.
“Without a plan,” said Joshua Blanchard, Croft’s attorney, “the snitches needed to make it look like” there was one. Defense attorneys showed that FBI provocateurs tried everything they could to push forward the organization of the “kidnapping.”
Militia member Dan Chappel agreed to spy on the group for the FBI, becoming the outfit’s second-in-command. At one point he told his FBI handlers he was wasting his time as the group had no serious plan. His handlers texted him to start “bugging” Fox into carrying out a reconnaissance mission, the court heard. So Chappel drove Fox to Whitmer’s vacation home for “surveillance.”
Chappel suggested the group threaten Whitmer by firing a shot through the window of her empty home and mailing her the bullet casing. He admitted on the stand that he made suggestions about how they could get hold of a helicopter. At another point, after they smoked some pot, the group discussed tying Whitmer to a kite and flying her away.
Chappel offered Fox a credit card with $5,000 on it to spend on anything he wanted, defense attorney Christopher Gibbons told the jury. Fox rejected the offer. Chappel was paid $54,000 by the FBI for his part in trying to set up the group.
Undeterred by the clear evidence of FBI entrapment, Whitmer’s office issued a statement after the unanimous jury verdict was announced condemning its finding. She claimed it would mean “extremists will be emboldened.”
Frame-ups like the one revealed in this trial have been standard practice in government disruption operations targeting the working-class movement. FBI informers spied on and carried out disruption operations against fighters for Black rights, anti-war activists, militant unionists and the Socialist Workers Party for decades.
At the height of the imperialist slaughter in World War II, the Democratic Party administration of President Franklin Roosevelt placed nearly 24,000 informers and provocateurs in almost 4,000 workplaces to report on and disrupt union and political activity in 1942 alone. Leaders of the SWP and the fighting Teamsters union in Minneapolis were framed up and imprisoned for their opposition to the imperialist war.
A political campaign and lawsuit launched by the Socialist Workers Party in 1973 exposed decades of FBI spying on the party and others. In 1986 Judge Thomas Griesa ruled the FBI’s use of undercover informers against the SWP violated the constitutional rights of the party, its members and supporters.