Three men have been acquitted on charges related to the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D). Eric Molitor and brothers Michael and William Null had been accused of providing material support for terrorist acts, a crime that carries a 20-year penalty, as well as firearm charges.
The trio were the last of 14 men charged in connection with the 2020 plot, which was reportedly fueled by Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions. The restrictions had resulted in a significant portion of the state’s economy being shut down. The men were alleged to have participated in military training drills and surveillance of Whitmer’s vacation home prior to the plot being thwarted in October 2020 by federal and state authorities.
Despite the acquittals, some convictions were secured in relation to the plot. Alleged ringleaders Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, with Croft also facing an additional explosives charge.
However, defense attorneys argued that those not considered ringleaders were skeptical about the kidnapping plot, claiming that FBI informants had influenced the operation to the point of leading the military training exercises. They pointed to out-of-court statements which suggested that FBI Agent Jason Chambers had instructed an informant that the mission was to specifically target the governor.
The prosecution’s case was marred by several missteps. Former lead FBI Agent Richard Trask was convicted on domestic violence charges and subsequently dismissed from his role. Additionally, an informant-turned-double agent was convicted after he violated FBI rules by illegally purchasing a firearm, offering to use a drone for domestic terrorism, and allegedly tipping off one of the accused plotters prior to an arrest.
Defense lawyers maintained that the government had effectively funded the plot, with the FBI reportedly paying over $80,000 for confidential information. Attorney Nicholas Somberg, who represented defendant Joe Morrison, claimed that the FBI had manipulated Fox into believing he was leading an army, and accused the agency of providing all the training, ammunition, money, guns, transportation, and lodging.
Despite the not guilty verdicts, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel stated that the government’s work on this case had “undoubtedly saved lives.” She added, “While today’s verdicts are not what we hoped for, the successes we have achieved throughout these cases, in both state and federal courts, sends a clear message that acts of domestic terrorism will not be tolerated in our state.”
Those found guilty or who pleaded guilty in relation to the plot include Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar, Pete Musico, Brian Higgins, Shawn Fix, Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., and Kaleb Franks.