‘Spiritual leader’ of Whitmer kidnapping plot gets nearly 20 years in prison


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who prosecutors said provided the ideological base for a conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will spend nearly 20 years in a federal prison.

Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Bear, Delaware, was sentenced to 19 years and seven months behind bars for kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, as well as a concurrent 10 years for possession of an unregistered destruction device, five years supervised release and $3,500 in fines. Croft was also ordered to participate in a substance abuse program.

“Yesterday, (the federal prosecutor) said that Mr. Croft functioned as the ‘ideas guy,’ and I think that’s true,” Judge Robert Jonker said Wednesday morning’s sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids.

Investigators say Croft, Adam Fox and other militia members wanted to snatch Whitmer from her vacation home near Elk Rapids and blow up bridges to slow down any police pursuing them. Investigators say the men held training exercises and tried to buy explosives from undercover FBI agents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said that while Fox seemed to be the person pushing plans forward, Croft offered a “different kind of leadership” that was “of a higher order.” He called Croft the “spiritual leader” of the group, comparing him to the top leaders of al-Qaida or the Islamic State militant group. Kessler said Croft used religious justification to get other people, including Fox, excited about participating. He also said that Croft connected Fox with other militia members to enable the plot.

In seeking a life sentence, federal prosecutors said that the men’s goal was to start a revolution or “second Civil War” and that a long sentence would serve as a deterrent. They also pointed to their plan to blow up bridges and noted that the victim was a government official.

But defense attorneys say there’s no way the men would actually have been able to pull of the kidnapping and that investigators overblew their intent.

In court Wednesday, Croft’s attorney Joshua Blanchard argued that because the group never actually attempted to blow up a bridge, a life sentence was not appropriate. He added that Croft was “not the leader Mr. Fox was.”

Blanchard acknowledged Croft had been radicalized in the years leading up to the pandemic and found others with similar thinking after it began, but also said Croft has a history of mental health problems and substance abuse. The attorney argued that the arrest and the process of going through the trial seemed to have shaken Croft out of the depths of the conspiracy “rabbit hole.”

“The government has painted a picture, perhaps fairly, of Mr. Croft as a radical leading up to the summer of 2020,” Blanchard said, but went on to say that Croft, now sober, has been “shocked” to hear some of the things he previously said.

“Mr. Croft in 2020 said lot of scary things. But I can tell you that he’s been humble, polite and appropriate” in his dealings with Blanchard, the attorney said.

Asked if he would like to speak, Croft thanked the judge but said his attorney had advised against it.

The prosecutor argued Croft has not taken responsibility for his actions and has not demonstrated remorse.

“After inciting everything … he blames everyone and everything else,” Kessler said.

He said that when Croft was first questioned by the FBI after his arrest in October 2020, he blamed the big ideas of the conspiracy on the defendants from Michigan — but secret recordings of the group’s meetings showed otherwise.

Kessler said Croft still feels the same as he felt when the plot was being formed. Appearing from jail in a video posted to YouTube Tuesday night, Kessler said, Croft criticized public servants for “stealing valor.”

“This man is thoroughly radicalized,” Kessler said. “… He’s not admitting the ideas were wrong because he still holds them.”

Croft and Fox were convicted in August of this year at the conclusion of their second trial. The jury had deadlocked the first time around. Fox, of metro Grand Rapids, was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison.

Jonker said Wednesday that the plot threatened the government and the people who serve in it — specifically the governor but also public servants who may have to live with the fear of similar threats.

“The conduct here is incredibly serious and the harm and risk to the public is, too,” Jonker said.

But he said a life sentence was not warranted to serve as a deterrent, also acknowledging that the group did not carry out the kidnapping and would not have been able to do so because of the early intervention of the FBI. The judge agreed with Kessler that he has not seen “meaningful change” in Croft or his ideologies, but said a life sentence would not give him the chance to ever effect that change.

Whitmer did not attend either sentencing hearing.

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