A second insider in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told jurors Thursday that the group was prepared to use a grenade launcher and machine gun to fight security officers at her vacation home.
Kaleb Franks, who pleaded guilty in February, backed up many points offered a day earlier by Ty Garbin, another man who admitted a role in a wild scheme to abduct Whitmer and somehow take her by boat out to Lake Michigan.
Franks, 27, said an alleged leader, Adam Fox, believed Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions were “tyrannical” and that the U.S. Constitution gave the men a right to strike back. He said no one was forced to stick with the plan and many people had dropped away by late summer 2020.
“I was going to be an operator,” Franks replied when asked by a prosecutor to describe his role in a kidnapping. “I would be one of the people on the front line, so to speak, using my gun.”
He said Fox talked about snatching the governor “every time I saw him.”
Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are on trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with Franks and Garbin, the four were arrested in October 2020, a month before the national election.
Garbin, 26, testified Wednesday that Whitmer’s kidnapping could serve as the “ignition” for a U.S. civil war involving antigovernment groups and possibly prevent the election of Joe Biden.
Authorities said the men were armed extremists who, after weeks of training, were trying to come up with $4,000 for an explosive. They practiced that summer by dashing in and out of crude structures built to resemble a house or office.
Traveling at night, they scouted Whitmer's second home in Elk Rapids in September 2020 and inspected a bridge that could be blown up to frustrate any police response, according to trial testimony and conversations that were secretly recorded.
Croft “discussed attacking her security detail,” Franks told the jury. “He said he would use the grenade launcher that he had, and he was discussing mounting a machine gun on top of the truck.”
Franks, a drug rehabilitation coach, said he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to work on his gun skills. He eventually met Fox and Croft, who were not members of the militia, and found himself in the middle of a conspiracy.
Franks said he stuck with the group because he hoped he would be killed in a shootout with police during the kidnapping but kept it from others.
“I no longer wanted to live,” he said, moments after settling into the witness chair. “A large portion of my family had died. I was struggling financially. Just wasn't happy."
Defense attorneys are trying to show the jury that there was no credible plot, just a lot of profane, violent and crazy talk about Whitmer and other politicians trampling their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also claim informants and undercover agents who infiltrated the group entrapped the men.
During questioning by the defense, Garbin said there was discussion about taking Whitmer by boat to Lake Michigan after kidnapping her, then dumping the motor into the water and leaving her to drift.
But Garbin also acknowledged that the group didn’t have a boat lined up, and he wasn’t certain how they would get back to shore while the governor floated solo.
“The purpose of this was to be a massive inconvenience, right? Because she would just get picked up on the lake,” said Croft defense attorney Joshua Blanchard, referring to a rescue.
“At some point, yes,” Garbin replied.
Garbin, an airplane mechanic, began cooperating with prosecutors soon after the group was arrested. He was rewarded with a relatively light six-year prison sentence, a term that could be reduced after the trial. Franks hasn't been sentenced yet but is also hoping for a break.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seem like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.
She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Find AP’s full coverage of the Whitmer kidnap plot trial at: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial
White reported from Detroit.