Trial begins in alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Whitmer
Jury selection has started in Michigan in the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. (March 8)
DETROIT — An undercover FBI agent who went by “Red” testified in the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnap trial Monday, telling jurors that his role was to make sure that the suspects wouldn’t go out on their own and get explosives.
“Red” is the undercover agent who tricked the defendants by pretending he had access to bomb-making materials, telling the jury accused ringleader Adam Fox placed a $4,000 order with him for explosives and asked him for an IOU because he didn’t have all the money yet.
The trial of four men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer began a few weeks ago and has included testimony from undercover FBI agents who spied on the suspects and recorded their conversations about how they would use explosives to carry out their plan.
One of the 14 men accused of conspiring to kidnap the governor, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty to kidnap conspiracy in U.S. District Court in January, admitting he was part of a group that sought to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home. The men were motivated largely by anger over her lockdown orders during the pandemic.
According to ‘Red,’ the explosives would be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation house to slow down law enforcement following the kidnapping. ‘Red’ said he he was with the group when they discussed this plan, and when Fox stopped along the side of a highway one night to inspect a bridge to see if there were suitable spots for placing explosives.
“We were to look at the bridge to survey it to see what type of explosives would be appropriate,” Red testified. “He said he wanted to take the bridge out to slow police response to the kidnapping.”
Red also told the jury that defendant Barry Croft discussed blowing up telephone poles and utility lines as another way to slow down law enforcement.
According to the agent, Croft mistakenly thought that the group was going to kidnap Whitmer the night of the bridge surveillance. When the prosecutor asked him to explain why he thought that, the agent said:
“He made a statement that he needed to take a nap to make sure he had the energy to do it,” the agent testified, referring to Croft.
‘Red’ discloses his identity
‘Red’ is really Special FBI agent Timothy Bates, who told the jury how he infiltrated the Wolverine Watchmen militia to prevent its members from getting explosives on their own.
“They needed someone to step in and control the timeline,” said Bates, whose bald and lean appearance on the stand was different from the bearded, plaid-wearing bomb expert he pretended to be while embedded in the militia.
According to Bates, he was introduced to the group through an undercover FBI informant known as “Big Dan,” with whom he connected in the summer of 2020. “Big Dan” and “Red” posed as friends, and the two attended numerous exercises and meetings together, including a training exercise in mid-September.
That’s when the group was preparing for its surveillance of Whitmer’s home, he testified. Bates pretended to have access to explosives through an acquaintance who worked in the mining industry, he testified, and provided the group with a video of an SUV being blown up.
It was really an FBI video, Bates told the jury, saying that Fox was excited to see the video.
“Do they come in like, a variety pack?” Fox asked Bates in an audio recording, which was played for the jury.
Fox is also heard asking how much the explosives cost, and telling ‘Red’ that he wanted 20 flash grenades.
Additional recordings were played of Croft talking about making his own explosives out of spark plugs and propane tanks. Croft said he wanted to have additional explosives in case other potential targets were identified to create fear.
“I’m dumb bro, I’ll burn people’s houses down while they’re inside,” Croft is heard saying.
According to the agent, Croft also talked about spraying Whitmer’s vacation home with napalm, though that never happened.
More on the case: Whitmer kidnap suspects don’t want jury to hear comments in video
Bates was part of the three-car road trip on Sept. 12, 2020 — the night the defendants conducted a surveillance of the governor’s vacation home. Bates said that Fox instructed the group to “dress down,” swapping the training uniforms they were wearing during the day for more casual dress, like jeans and a T-shirt, to avoid raising suspicion.
According to Bates, one car was at a boat launch across the lake from Whitmer’s cottage. He was in this car with Croft and Fox, who had a night vision device to spot the house. Across the lake, a car flashed its high beams as it passed the house. Fox told the group the house had been identified and to not drive by.
After surveying Whitmer’s house, Bates said his crew went to look for a spot that had access to Lake Michigan. He said the group’s plan was to kidnap the governor from her house, drive her to Lake Michigan, place her in a boat and take her to the middle of the lake.
The group did not discuss the surveillance trip until the next day, Bates testifed.
Charges filed: 3 Whitmer kidnap plot suspects headed to trial even as 1 charge dismissed
Agent: Order placed for explosives
The day after the surveillance, the group met and Fox told the group the explosives would cost $4,000, Bates testified.
More training followed, including a meeting with Fox asking everyone if they were committed to the plan, telling them the price would be $4,000 and that everyone had to be in.
“Did Mr. Fox place an order with you for explosives?” the prosecutor asked Bates.
“Yes,” Bates answered, adding Fox also wanted to order 20 flash bang grenades — which make a loud noise and produce a flash of light.
“If we’re all good with this, we’re going to move forward,” Fox is heard saying to the group in a recording played for the jury.
According to Bates, the group agreed to meet again in late October with the explosives, though their plan would never materialize.
On October 7, 2020, four of the suspects were arrested in a sting outside a warehouse, where the men allegedly thought they were going to make a down payment on the explosives and pick up other equipment.
On cross examination, defense lawyers grilled Bates about his testimony that the group wanted to make a down payment for explosives.
“Nobody actually gave you money,” defense attorney Joshua Blanchard asked Bates.
“Correct,” the agent answered.
“Nobody actually ever shook your hand and said, ‘We got a deal,’ ” the defense lawyer said.
“Correct,” the agent answered.
The jury also saw items that an FBI agent said were likely used to create an improvised explosive, including a post-blast area, with items spread around in a 2–3 feet radius around the detonation zone. Evidence included a mortar launcher, rubber bands, along with pennies and staples likely intended to be used as shrapnel, the agent testified.
“We had observed something had exploded,” the agent said.
During a brief cross examination, defense attorney Julia Kelly reiterated that the blast radius was just 2-3 feet.