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After hearing, judge to decide if men accused in alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer will go to trial

A training exercise involving the men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer
courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan
A training exercise involving the men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer

A preliminary hearing wrapped up Thursday in a northern Michigan courtroom for five men accused of helping with the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The judge in the case says he will now decide in the coming weeks whether there’s enough evidence against the men for the case to continue on to a jury trial.

Antrim County case

Last week, a federal jury found two men guilty, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, for their roles in the plot. This is a different, but related case in a state court in Antrim County.

Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, brothers Michael and William Null, and Brian Higgins, who's from Wisconsin. They're accused of taking part in this alleged plot. And specifically, they're accused of going along on a nighttime surveillance at Whitmer's vacation home in Elk Rapids. The prosecutors are arguing that constitutes material support for a terrorist act, the terrorist act, in this case, being planning to kidnap the governor.

Same facts, different defendants

A lot of the facts of the case have already been laid out in the two federal trials. But prosecutors have to lay out the facts each time against each defendant in each courtroom. So we heard again about private messages that these men were communicating on. We heard some of the recordings between Adam Fox and Barry Croft, who were the alleged ringleaders. The messages they were sending, the videos that they were posting and things they were talking about, about what they wanted to do to the governor. And prosecutors were focusing on saying, look, these five men who now are facing this preliminary hearing up north, they provided support, they did different things, and they outlined each of the things that these men did to sort of help move that plot along.

Multiple trials in different locations

This case is in Antrim County, but there's another state trial still pending in Jackson County. In part that's because there's so many people involved. The government, both federal and state, has charged 14 men for taking part in this alleged plot. There were many more people who were just sort of around these men. At one militia training that these men went to, prosecutors said there were up to 35 people at one of these trainings. Only 14 have been charged, but some people were there for certain events and some people were not there for certain events.

So the up north charges are mainly focused on the people who went to the governor's house in Elk Rapids. The Jackson County charges are focused on these leaders of a militia called the Wolverine Watchmen. And in Jackson County, they're also charged with being members of a gang. So there was just so many people who were sort of circling around and having different conversations, different parts of this. And so the charges have just been spread out among different courtrooms.

Jackson County case

They've already been through a preliminary hearing, and they're scheduled to go to a jury trial on October 3. And there are three defendants in that case: Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico. Those men are members of the Wolverine Watchmen who were not accused of going to the governor's house in Elk Rapids. But they were participating in a lot of conversations about potentially kidnaping, according to prosecutors.

Next steps in Antrim County case

The next thing is for the judge to decide whether enough evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing for these cases to go to trial. It's been close to two years now since these men were originally arrested. The five defendants in the case in Antrim County have all been out on bond wearing GPS tethers. The judge is set to decide whether they continue to need to wear those GPS tethers and whether there's going to be an actual jury trial against these five defendants.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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