In another blow to the FBI’s concocted plot to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, a jury in Antrim County today acquitted three men indicted on state charges for their alleged role in the scheme.
Michael and William Null, twin brothers, and Eric Molitor were found not guilty of providing material support for an act of terrorism and unlawful possession of firearms. Jurors began deliberations Thursday afternoon following a 14-day trial before Judge Charles Hamlyn.
The verdicts represent the second time a jury has acquitted individuals charged in the FBI-orchestrated plot. In April 2022, a Grand Rapids jury acquitted Daniel Harris, Jr. and Brandon Caserta on federal kidnapping and weapons charges. The jury hung on the remaining defendants, Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr.; both were convicted after a second trial in August 2022. (Two co-defendants pleaded guilty and testified for the government at both trials.)
During the course of the federal proceedings, defense attorneys uncovered an elaborate entrapment scheme that involved dozens of FBI informants, supervising agents, and undercover employees. “In this Case, the undisputed evidence…establishes that government agents and informants concocted, hatched, and pushed this ‘kidnapping plan’ from the beginning, doing so against defendants who explicitly repudiated the plan,” defense attorneys wrote in the December 25, 2021 motion. “When the government was faced with evidence showing that the defendants had no interest in a kidnapping plot, it refused to accept failure and continued to push its plan. The government’s exploitation of its virtually unlimited resources, poured into its investigation, further underscores entrapment as a matter of law.”
FBI agents and informants organized meetings and excursions including “reconnaissance” trips to Whitmer’s summer cottage, the scene of the fabricated crime; purchased food and alcohol for their targets; invented a “militia” group led by a longtime FBI informant; created encrypted group chats to fuel conversations about the kidnapping plot; and recorded their targets under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. “Collectively, the first three informants were directly involved in every aspect of this case, every meeting, every [field training exercise] and every significant event from the day the investigation commenced in March of 2020 until the Defendant’s arrests [sic] on October 7, 2020,” a defense attorney wrote in a February 2022 motion.
A man named Dan Chappel, a truck driver for the U.S. Postal Service, was hired by the FBI as an informant in the spring of 2020 to stitch the group together. Scouring social media for targets, Chappel focused on luring Fox into the scheme as the mastermind. At the time, Fox, 33, lived in the basement of a vacuum repair shop in a Grand Rapids strip mall without running water or a toilet. Chappel ingratiated himself with Fox, sending thousands of texts over a five-month period and offering him a pre-paid credit card in the amount of $5,000 on numerous occasions.
“The government focused on a band of individuals with unstable personal histories (that left them extraordinarily susceptible to persuasion) and injected into the mix the kind of father-figure, military-hero role models the men craved in their lives,” defense attorneys wrote in a 2021 motion. (Chappel is an Iraq War veteran.)
For his services, the FBI paid Chappel at least $60,000 in cash and personal items including new tires and a laptop computer. Other informants received thousands of dollars in cash for their participation.
When the targets started to part ways in the summer of 2020, the FBI accelerated their efforts to keep the plot alive. An undercover FBI agent posed as an explosives expert and met with the targets in September 2020 at another FBI organized gathering. The agent showed the group a video of an exploding SUV to prove his skills; the video had been produced by the FBI.
Absurd details of the plan emerged during trial: the band of kidnappers, led by Fox, would travel to Whitmer’s upstate Michigan lake house, blow up a bridge to block law enforcement access, kill her security guards, abduct Whitmer from her home, and bring her to a nearby boat launch where she would be taken to the middle of Lake Michigan and abandoned or taken across the lake to Wisconsin to face trial. (Whitmer knew of the operation for months, even allowing the FBI to install pole cameras at her properties.)
The FBI arrested 14 men, including the Null brothers and Molitor, in early October 2020. Whitmer and Joe Biden leveraged the news in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign, accusing Trump of inspiring right-wing “militia” men to kidnap and kill one of his top political foes.
Whitmer played the victim.
During a campaign stop in Michigan on October 16, 2020, Biden compared the alleged kidnappers to ISIS.
That same week, Steven D’Antuono, head of the Detroit FBI field office responsible for Chappel, the undercover agents, and primary supervising agents, was promoted to assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office by FBI Director Christopher Wray. D’Antuono led the investigation into the events of January 6, including the still unsolved pipe bomb threat, until he retired last November.
In the Null/ Molitor trial, the government, represented by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, asked Judge Hamlyn to prohibit defense attorneys from raising an entrapment argument or allowing the jury to consider entrapment; Hamlyn consented. (In a statement released in response to the outcome, Nessel nonetheless bragged that “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.”)
Before the jury began deliberations on Thursday, Hamlyn warned jurors accordingly. “At various times during this trial, one of more of the defense attorneys has advanced a theory of entrapment by the government and its agents. Entrapment is a legal theory and is a matter of law for the court to decide. In other words, it is for a judge, not a jury, to decide whether entrapment is present in this case. [Entrapment] is not a question for you to decide.”
Perhaps jurors did not take kindly to Hamlyn’s arrogant preachifying. Or perhaps jurors simply recognized there was no evidence outside of the conduct of FBI agents and informants to support the charges. Or perhaps the jury, like the majority of Americans, no longer trusts the FBI—two agents testified during the trial—and refused to reward the agency’s bad behavior.
In a text to me this afternoon, Brandon Caserta, one of two men acquitted on federal charges last year, cheered the verdicts. “The acquittals solidify the truth that this was an FBI set up. Out of all the people charged, half were found innocent by law. And that’s a big deal. It proves that the FBI is targeting innocent people to frame them for political and career advancement. It also goes to show that my and Daniel’s acquittal wasn’t just a fluke. Adam Fox and Barry Croft need to be released.”
Attorneys representing Fox and Croft filed appeal briefs last month. “[The FBI assets] were behind every key event––including all four attended by Croft, as well as both drive-bys and the ‘WMD’ nonsense with [FBI undercover agent Tim] Bates’ video––and they incited the men at every opportunity. It was the FBI’s ‘conspiracy’ to ‘kidnap’ and use ‘WMD,’ not Croft’s,” his defense attorney wrote. DOJ has until November to respond. It is expected to be a lengthy process.
In the meantime, those on the side of truth and justice can celebrate another humiliating loss for the government and a darkening black eye on the FBI.
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