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Whitmer kidnap plotter also wanted to hang Trump, other politicians, FBI says

FBI agent. (FBI/Released)

A Delaware man accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also threatened to hang President Donald Trump and posted a hit list on Facebook targeting other elected leaders, including former President Barack Obama, according to an unsealed search warrant affidavit obtained by The Detroit News.

The affidavit provides new details about how the FBI thwarted the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat, and kill police officers by enlisting the help of confidential informants. One of the informants was a militia member who met a group of men accused in the kidnapping plot and became so concerned that the individual agreed to become an FBI confidential informant, according to the court filing.

The affidavit gave federal agents permission to search a Facebook account belonging to Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware, who was one of six men charged in federal court with conspiracy to kidnap. Evidence collected by FBI agents portrays his Facebook account as a virtual bulletin board filled with violent imagery, including a noose and a list of grievances in which he mulled killing Democrats and Republicans including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Muslims and liberals.

“I say we hang everything currently governing us, they’re all guilty!!!,” Croft wrote in May on his Facebook page, which also included an image of Trump. “Wanna hang this mf’er too…”

The affidavit helps trace the roots of an investigation that drew national attention earlier this month when FBI agents said they thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Whitmer. The conspiracy included surveillance visits to the governor’s home in northern Michigan and training with firearms and explosive devices.

The FBI started investigating in March after an unidentified police department learned about members of the militia group who were trying to obtain the home addresses of local police officers, according to court filings.

“At the time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group’s plans to target and kill police officers, and that person agreed to become a (confidential human source),” FBI Special Agent Kristopher Long wrote.

Defense lawyers have portrayed their clients as tough talkers who were exercising their First Amendment rights who never carried out any kidnapping plot.

In all, 14 people have been charged with crimes in state and federal courts, including members and associates of an obscure militia called the Wolverine Watchmen.

The other five men charged in federal court with conspiracy to kidnap are:

— Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville, known as “Alpha F— You”

— Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford, known as “Red Hot.”

— Ty Garbin, 25, of Hartland Township, known as “Gunney”

— Daniel Harris, 23, known as “Beaker”

— Brandon Caserta, 32, known as “Debased Tyrant”

The 40-page filing gave FBI agents permission to search a Facebook account belonging to Croft.

In late June, Croft posted a photo of a noose and a caption that listed people and groups that should “hang.” The list included references to Obama; former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; as well as Democrats, liberals, Muslims and “all anti-Americans.”

On May 8, the FBI obtained a federal search warrant to go through Croft’s Facebook account. The review found messages “plotting potential acts of violence.” On May 3, Croft messaged another user “he may be first.” The user responded, “SC.” The FBI contends that the individual referenced was McMaster, the Republican governor of South Carolina.

“Yup. I’m going. With Sword,” Croft replied.

The following day, Croft wrote “I’ll die in defense of the constitution” and “I’ll be in Columbia, SC, on Friday. They say they want their governor in custody.”

“I want to grab them all and hold trial,” he added.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes declined comment, citing a practice of not commenting about the governor’s security issues.

McMaster is the third governor linked to the alleged conspirators. During a bond hearing earlier this month in federal court, an FBI agent testified that plotters discussed “taking out” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.

Croft’s social media posts could be viewed as constitutionally protected free speech but likely would raise concerns within the law enforcement community, said Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

“It certainly looks like what you would expect from a typical anti-government extremist ideology where, to them, anyone who represents the government is inherently a bad actor and someone acting in bad faith,” Lewis said.

On May 17, Croft targeted 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in a Facebook post, saying her noose “for war crimes against humanity awaits.”

“Please, don’t get me twisted, I want to hang them all, not 1 or a picked 10, all of them. They all victimize God’s people.”

On May 25, he posted, “Which governor is going to end up dragged off and hung for treason first? It’s really a spin the bottle match at this point, and I’m sure a few mayors are in the running.”

The post included the image of a noose, according to the FBI.

On or about June 24, Croft posted, “I’m for hanging Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians.”

Croft often expressed on social media the desire to hang Trump, Obama, the Clintons and anyone else serving in government, according to the FBI.

He wanted to “go to war against the government of North Carolina,” while also discussing making a citizen’s arrest of McMaster, according to the search warrant affidavit.

“There is not one —— serving in this bull— government that I don’t want to take, stick to a ——- tree, and dangle…,” Croft said in a Facebook video on May 28, according to the FBI.

The Delaware suspect first came to the attention of the FBI in October 2019, when he “attempted to provide support to Kevin Massey, who had been convicted of firearms offenses following his involvement in a ‘militia patrol’ on the border of Texas and Mexico,” according to the affidavit.

“Massey’s status as a fugitive became a symbol of government oppression for individuals, like Croft, who harbored anti-government and anti-federal law enforcement views,” the FBI agent wrote.

Croft and Massey conversed several times on Facebook after Massey failed to appear for a supervised release hearing and became a fugitive, the FBI agent wrote.

“In those messages, Croft stated ‘They will have to pay for what they have done’ and ‘I don’t care if we destroy this whole planet in the fight that is coming, but a reckoning is necessary.”

In an exchange with someone identified by the government as “Facebook User #2,” Croft further expressed disdain for Trump. He also said a “total offensive” was planned for April 25.

Facebook closed Croft’s account for violating its “policy prohibiting certain speech or actions” in late April, according to the affidavit.

Croft opened a new account and continued posting anti-government rhetoric, the FBI said.


(c) 2020 The Detroit News

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