The suspects accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are a baker’s dozen of disaffected men whose anti-government attitudes show up in everything from seat belt violations to forgery.
That’s the result of a wide-ranging Free Press investigation into the 13 men and their backgrounds, finding most of them had troubled pasts and vented their anger both online and in person.
The accused range in age from 21 to 44. They seem to share a military mindset and a fondness for firearms. Some have been publicly vocal in their views, using social media to spread their messages. Others flew under the radar.
Their collective rap sheet, before the kidnapping plot charges, includes things such as drunken driving, malicious destruction, assault and shoplifting, in addition to lesser brushes with the law like traffic offenses. Several of them have been hauled into court for skipping out on rent and other unpaid debts.
They mostly live in small towns, often on dirt roads. At least two of them fly from their porches flags featuring the image of a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow background with the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
They don’t mix much with their neighbors, which is mostly OK with the neighbors, many of whom wouldn’t discuss the men on the record.
They don’t appear to be long-term friends, but rather a makeshift group of like-minded people who met online and at anti-government protest rallies over the past year.
Yet there were other sides to them as well. At least one was described as a kindly neighbor, who was often seen with his mom and polite children. Another is a former volunteer firefighter, whose brother insists he has “a heart of gold.”
On Thursday, their fates collided as federal authorities charged Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris with federal conspiracy charges while state law enforcement leveled related charges against Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison, Michael Null and William Null.
Experts warn that the threat of domestic terrorism is growing and addressing it is not as simple as creating a profile of a would-be terrorist.
“With the 13 people … they do seem to come from a certain socioeconomic sort of background, or demographic,” said Javid Ali, a former FBI counterterrorist analyst who’s now a visiting professor at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. “But I don’t know. You can’t make broadly sweeping general observations about that to describe the overall threat of far-right extremism or domestic terrorism writ large.”
The alleged ringleader
Whitmer is not the first woman with reason to fear what Adam Fox might do.
“Reckless,” “threatening,” and “alcoholic” are just three of the terms Fox’s now ex-wife used to describe him in her 2015 application for a personal protection order.
“He is reckless when drunk, even drives,” she wrote on June 8, 2015. “Threatening me. He owns a gun. He is an alcoholic. He has kicked my door to get in. Punched holes in my wall, and left bruises on me.”
A judge denied her request for a personal protection order, citing the number of years since the alleged incidents took place. Reached by the Free Press, she declined to discuss her ex-husband.
The Free Press is not naming Fox’s ex-wife because she may have been a victim of domestic abuse.
But her 2015 request for a divorce — supported by text messages she said her husband sent her — indicates Fox has harbored violent thoughts for several years.
“I’ll do whatever I want … you can’t stop me from doing s— … but go ahead and push my buttons … I ain’t got s— to lose,” reads one text his wife said he sent her in response to a dispute over property. The undated text, which is included as an exhibit in the divorce file, is part of a string that includes a text she sent Fox that says he “threatened me and my family.”
It is not clear what happened to Fox after the couple split, though his ex-wife says in court papers that he moved to the East Coast.
Court records in Allegan County, where Fox lived during his brief marriage, indicate that Fox’s problems date to at least 2014.
On June 6, 2014, Fox, who was then known as Adam Dean-Vernon Waggoner, filed paperwork to change his name to Adam Dean Fox, saying he wanted “to have mother’s biological name.”
Name change requests require a criminal background check. The file says Michigan State Police found “Adam Dean-Vernon Waggoner … has a criminal record,” though it didn’t provide specifics. The judge in the case ruled that the name change request “is not made with fraudulent intent” and granted Waggoner his new name on Aug. 21, 2014.
On May 8, 2015, divorce papers filed by his ex-wife say, Adam Fox began sending threatening messages.
“Tell your whole family that has never supported us and always tried to stand in the way … that I said f— you too,” reads one text. Another said: “Maybe I should drive back to MI and lose my f—— mind … give them an actual reason to not like me.”
In a motion seeking exclusive use of the home in the farmland just outside Allegan, Fox’s ex-wife says “during their short marriage Defendant spent much of his time drinking. When drunk, he experiences a roller coaster of emotions and will act violent and do things such as: kicking a hole in the front door and punching a hole in the wall of the marital home.”
The federal case against Fox says he directed plans to “take violent action against multiple state governments” from a dark and cluttered basement underneath the Vac Shack, a Grand Rapids vacuum store.
Briant Titus, owner of the Vac Shack, said he has known Fox since he was a kid, helped him graduate high school, and let him live in his shop basement because he had nowhere else to go.
Fox’s attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment. Messages left Friday for people believed to be Fox’s family and friends were not returned.
Titus said he was unaware of what was going on beneath his feet.
“What he did is just uncalled for, (he) just crossed the line. And he put his mom, me and his family all at risk, even his dogs are homeless.”
The unincorporated village of Munith about 100 miles from Grand Rapids includes a property on Dunn Road where authorities say Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison lived — and their alleged domestic terrorism cell trained.
There’s a camper parked right up near the road. A handful of trucks in various degrees of repair sit behind a large Dumpster. A double-wide trailer is to the side of the trucks. Various items are scattered around the yard, including a collection of old tires built up to form a backdrop. Windows on the residence have plywood over them. No one answered a knock on the door.
Early on Friday morning, it was quiet there. An occasional car drove past. Houses are spread far apart, meaning there’s not a lot of contact between neighbors. It could be the typical rural Michigan scene.
But what is not so typical is that authorities allege Pete Musico and Joseph Morrison set up a training range here for the Wolverine Watchmen, the group accused of helping to plan the overthrow of Michigan’s government and Whitmer’s kidnapping.
Musico’s attorney, Philip Curtis, declined comment, telling the Free Press he had been appointed to the case and hadn’t yet met with his client. Morrison’s lawyer, George Lyons, also declined comment, again in part because he had just been assigned to the case.
Gunshots and an explosion
Several neighbors said they didn’t notice much going on at the property, except for gunshots, mostly on the weekend.
Occasionally, there was more noise. Several neighbors described a loud explosion on the property on Tuesday night, just days before authorities served a search warrant there and arrested Musico, 42, and Morrison, 26.
Angela Carr lives across the street and said she and her family don’t talk much with the neighbors.
Carr said she’s accustomed to hearing gun shots because there’s a lot of hunting nearby, but Tuesday night was different.
“I heard a low bang and the whole house shook,” she said. “There was a loud explosion and the trees in the yard just swayed over. It was way out of the ordinary.”
Morrison bought the Dunn Road property April 4, 2018 for $105,000.
Before moving to Munith, Musico lived in a trailer park in between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. Prior to that, public records show, he bounced around Michigan, with addresses in Whitmore Lake and Brighton.
After he moved to Munith, Musico appeared to go silent on social media, despite having active Twitter and YouTube accounts.
His YouTube account included recordings of himself speaking excitedly on various topics, including against Whitmer’s changes to auto insurance. He also railed against gun control. YouTube removed the account on Friday, citing “multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy on violence.”
In one video, Musico gave a detailed explanation of his anti-establishment views, questioning why the government had the right to tell people to wear seat belts in their own cars and decrying “being forced to be safe.” He then urged action: “It’s time for people to start stepping up and stepping back against the system … against the people in the government. It’s time go after the government …”
Musico also had a Twitter account, with a profile picture of the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake logo. He posted regularly in 2016.
He criticized then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy.
“Look at what our country has become,” Musico wrote. “Everybody hates Trump so if everybody hates him, wouldn’t he be a good thing for our country” and “we need to get away from the controllers of this country and become America again that’s what Trump wants.”
He also urged people to stay away from vaccines.
Musico appears in photos taken by news photographers during an April rally against Whitmer’s emergency orders. Prosecutors have said those folks charged in the plot used those rallies to recruit members.
Musico was in Michigan as a teenager, pleading guilty to a felony count of forgery in Livingston County in 1995, when he was 17. He was sentenced to 36 months of probation and paid $1,170 in fines and restitution.
He spent about a decade in Alabama, where he faced more than $9,300 in financial judgments against him, including a tax lein.
It’s unclear how or when Musico and Morrison connected.
Morrison attended Center Line High School in Macomb County, graduating in 2012, according to multiple websites where former students can add in graduation information about themselves or their classmates.
Morrison attended Western Michigan University for a year, studying criminal justice, according to the university. He didn’t obtain a degree and left in the spring of 2013.
At 21, he lost custody of a son, according to Macomb County court records.
He left Warren in 2016, moving to an apartment in Howell.
It’s not clear what Musico or Morrison did for employment.
“Never in a million years”
Nearly 200 miles away from Munith, on a dirt road south of Cadillac, a few letters in the name Molitor are missing from a white fence-like sign in front of the home FBI agents swarmed around dinnertime Wednesday evening.
Eric Molitor, 36, was a kind neighbor, sometimes seen along with two polite young children and his mom outside the Clam Lake Township home, neighbor Gene Lapko, 73, said. There was nothing unusual about him or the family in the northern community, about an hour south of Traverse City.
“He target practiced, but a lot of people target practice,” Lapko said.
A woman who spoke behind the glass at Molitor’s front door Friday said she could not comment and his court-appointed attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
In school, Molitor was kind and funny, said classmate Alisha Miller, 35. She remembers his whole family that way, with his mom volunteering for class parties.
“Never in a million years would I have thought anything like that about him,” she said. “People change a lot, but I don’t believe anything until it’s proven.”
Social media posts and Wexford County Board of Commissioners meeting minutes show another side of Molitor.
On a now-deleted Facebook page, he seemed to reference the “boogaloo” movement, described as a far-right, anti-government, and extremist political movement.
On July 20, he shared a YouTube video about a St. Louis couple charged for pointing guns at protesters, saying, “We have all been seeing this coming.”
“F— this government,” he said. “This is why the boog is coming. We gotta stand against this s—.”
More: Gov. Whitmer denounces hate groups, says President Donald Trump is ‘complicit’
More: Militia group plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, feds say
More: These 13 men were charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer: Here’s what we know
In August, he shared a U.S. Senate candidate from Georgia’s post about Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with fatally shooting two people at protests in Wisconsin that month.
“Wait until the old combat hardened vets get involved & start running teams … Kyle will seem like a daydream in comparison,” the post read.
He was listed on Facebook as starting a job in 2017 for a company that provides respiratory and ballistic protection to the military and first responders.
In January, Molitor handed Wexford County commissioners a resolution to make the county a “sanctuary county,” minutes from a January meeting showed.
Details of his resolution weren’t included, but in February the board voted 9-0 to pass a resolution to making the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary County, other meeting minutes showed. Other Michigan counties have passed similar resolutions, which mark resistance to gun control legislation.
Commissioner Brian Potter said in an email Saturday that the county has a long history of supporting government, law enforcement and the Constitution.
“We were all shocked to hear the plot that one of our local citizens was involved in,” he said.
On properties in some disarray, Michael and William Null, 38-year-old twin brothers, live about 10 miles apart in the quiet countryside in west Michigan.
On Friday, no one answered the door at the Plainwell home of Michael Null, where the yard was littered with five cars in various states of repair, a lawn mower, a riding lawn mower, the carcass of what appeared to be an engine, a couple of used appliances and other scrap.
Three empty bottles of Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum sat on the steps to the house. A yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a “Three Percenter” flag, which features three Roman numerals in the middle of a circle of 13 stars to represent the nation’s original 13 colonies — flapped in the wind.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Three Percenters is an anti-government militia group. The Anti-Defamation League says Three Percenters “have a track record of criminal activity ranging from weapons violations to terrorist plots and attacks.”
Neighbors said Michael Null kept to himself, but he wasn’t rude. Sometimes he waved as he drove by.
One neighbor, 19-year-old Joshua Weger, said that about once a week, he noticed late night gatherings at the home of Michael Null. He saw a number of cars arriving and leaving the property.
He said he also heard an occasional gunshot coming from the direction of the Null property, but that isn’t unusual for the area; people hunt and shoot squirrels in the fields and woods nearby. As for militia activity in the area, Joshua Weger said he was unaware of any.
Andrew Weger, Joshua’s 21-year-old brother, said he chalked up the behavior at the Null residence to “some redneckery … Kind of that country behavior … It can be taken as shooting, cars, messy area … You could tell he wasn’t a refined businessman.”
Added Joshua Weger: “He just seemed like a redneck country folk.”
Neighbor Bob Veldt, 84, who has lived in the farmhouse next door to the home Michael Null occupies since 1961, said he doesn’t know much about Null.
He said he was surprised by Null’s alleged involvement in a plot to kidnap Whitmer, he added “I really didn’t expect anything like that to happen here.”
The home of William Null — which is in the process of being remodeled and has piles of construction debris around it in addition to a giant orange trailer, the type a tractor-trailer might pull — is partially surrounded by a new metal privacy fence.
Neighbors said they were shocked that the fence went up so quickly just a few days ago.
“Every time you drive by there, you get a bad vibe,” the neighbor said. Nevertheless, the neighbor was surprised at the news of William Null’s alleged involvement: “You don’t expect to live (near) … somebody who is going to do something like that.”
There was no answer at the door of the William Null home on Friday afternoon.
William Null’s attorney, Damian Nunzio, declined to comment on the case. Michael Null’s attorney, Thomas Siver, didn’t return messages seeking comment.
Norm Snyder, who is 81 and lives several houses away, said he’d talked with William Null and found him to be “a gentleman.” They chatted about the neighborhood and how long they’d lived there.
“It’s still hard to believe because when I talked to him, he seemed like an ordinary person,” Snyder said. “It’s still hard to believe he’s in on what I call it, terrorism.”
“Don’t tread on me”
Shawn Michael Fix, a 38-year-old truck driver, lives about 130 miles away in Belleville in a two-story white-sided house with black shutters on a tree-lined country road.
An American flag flapped in the wind on one side of his porch Friday afternoon. A yellow, “Don’t tread on me,” flag dangled from the other.
In the front lawn were two campaign signs supporting Trump. One said: “Truckers 4 Trump” and the other “Honk 4 Trump.” Both said “Make American Great Again 2020.” A rusty Chevy pickup was parked in the driveway, its tires flat. Beside it was a Ford Escape SUV.
Fix is accused of hosting meetings for the Wolverine Watchmen paramilitary group, taking part in tactical training and provided support and resources to the group.
Traverse City-based attorney Paul Jarboe, who represented Fix at Friday’s arraignment, told the Free Press it could be three or four business days before a court-appointed lawyer is named.
Fix told the court he works for AD Transport Express, a Canton-based trucking company, and earns an average of $1,100 a week. A company spokesperson said Friday she could not verify Fix’s employment and had no comment about the allegations.
Though Fix was a truck driver, records suggest he has had more than a dozen driving infractions from 2007-18.
In addition, Fix was charged in November 2012 with assault and battery and aggravated assault, court records show. But he was never convicted; the person who accused Fix of attacking him dropped the charges in 2013.
Michigan State Police troopers and FBI agents raided the house at dusk on Wednesday, neighbor Kim Williams, 57, said.
“We seen all the cars and the FBI, but … we had no clue what was going on,” Williams said.
Fix’s mother lives in a tan-sided mobile home in a trailer park in Hillsdale. A woman opened the door a crack when a reporter knocked Friday evening, then immediately closed it, locked it and closed all the blinds.
Williams said he went to Belleville High School with her own now-grown children, and that over the years, she has invited him to her house for dinner.
“We had no idea,” Williams said, that he may have been involved in this kind of plot. If he hosted other members of the Wolverine Watchmen at his house, she never noticed.
“He’s outgoing. I mean, if I was to call him because I needed help or something, he would do it. That’s the kind of person he was. I’ve never had a problem with him.”
Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford is the youngest man charged in the plot. Bellar’s older brother, Thomas Bellar Jr., doesn’t believe the charges against Paul Bellar are true.
“He’s my closest sibling to me,” Thomas Bellar Jr. said. “He has a heart of gold — he’s worked for fire departments, paramedics. He would never do anything like that.
Thomas Bellar Jr., who lived near his younger brother in the Childs Lake Estates mobile home park in Milford, said Paul Bellar was “ex-Army,” and “was a fire cadet for a while” with the Milford Fire Department.
Milford Fire Chief Thomas Moore confirmed that Paul Bellar served in the department’s cadet program while in high school a few years ago.
Moore recalled Bellar as “just a normal high school kid, trying to figure things out.
“I never, ever would imagine he could morph into what he’s accused of now,” he said. adding Bellar left the cadet program and “went into the military.”
Thomas Bellar Jr. said Paul and their other four siblings grew up in Milford. Their father, Thomas Bellar Sr., now lives in South Carolina, where Paul Bellar was arrested Wednesday. Thomas Bellar Jr. said he didn’t know his brother to harbor anti-government views.
“He’s definitely not a radical; I know that much of him,” he said. “He’s the same kid who would get up in the morning, have a sip of coffee with me, and we’d just sit there and talk. He’s just … he’s normal.”
Ty Garbin, 24, grew up in Wyandotte before moving to Hartland Meadows, a well-kept manufactured home park in eastern Livingston County, where federal agents conducted one of numerous raids this week.
The tidy Wyandotte home where Garbin’s family still lives features a handful of Halloween decorations. No one answered the door at the house when a reporter knocked.
Near the home where he grew up, two neighbors, a man and his wife, did not know Garbin was one of the people accused in the plot. The couple asked not to be named. The woman said she was shocked.
When a reporter knocked on the door of Garbin’s house in Livingston County, the person who answered said, “We’re not making any comments.”
Details about Garbin’s personal journey after high school are murky. Paul Mitchell, Garbin’s attorney who is based in Grand Rapids, did not return messages seeking comment.
Garbin is a licensed airplane mechanic, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Details of recent employment were not clear, but he apparently previously worked for SkyWest Airlines.
A spokeswoman for SkyWest said that while the company generally doesn’t discuss personnel matters, she could confirm that Garbin “has not worked for SkyWest in over a year and a half.”
On Friday evening in Hartland Meadows, life was mostly back to normal but neighbor Christina Whittaker, 48, recounted the Wednesday raid with people in military gear with weapons drawn approaching the house before someone was led away in handcuffs.
The people who live at Garbin’s house are considered new to the community. “They kept to themselves,” Whittaker said.
Brandon Caserta was ready for violence in the weeks before he was arrested in the kidnapping case.
“When the time comes there will be no need to try and strike fear through presence. The fear will be manifested through bullets,” Caserta replied on Sept. 17 in an encrypted group chat that included four other alleged coconspirators and a confidential FBI source, according to court records.
The group was discussing a militia group’s invitation to participate in an armed protest at the state Capitol.
Caserta chimed in about manifesting fear through bullets after another alleged conspirator, Garbin, advised against the protest.
“Also there needs to be zero and I mean zero public interaction if we want to continue with our plans,” Garbin messaged in the chat, according to court records.
Caserta, 32, was living in a Canton apartment when he was arrested for his role in the kidnapping plot. Nobody answered his door on Thursday night. Caserta’s lawyer, Michael Hills, declined to comment on Friday, saying he had only been representing Caserta for a matter of hours.
Caserta’s landlord at the apartment filed a complaint for nonpayment of rent in June 2019, according to records in the 35th District Court in Plymouth.
In videos posted to TikTok and other social media platforms, a person appearing to be Caserta comes off as an anarchist philosopher with an interest in guns. He calls President Trump a “tyrant” in one video posted to Twitter on Thursday by Robby Starbuck, a producer and director.
“Here’s a thought for today,” a person appearing to be Caserta said in another social media video. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and indifference to this notion is the means by which the people can and will secure their own oppression.”
In closing, he pointed a finger on his tattooed hand at the camera and said, “Wake the f— up.”
Brian Arnett, 51, said he lived next door to Caserta in Ann Arbor when they were both staying in transitional housing for recovering addicts.
“He changed immensely. He wasn’t philosophical at all back then,” Arnett said in a phone interview on Friday. “He was kind of a dopey guy. … He certainly wasn’t trying to be an intellectual and nobody ever accused him of it.”
Caserta marched to his own beat and did not take well to instructions from authority figures, Arnett said.
Caserta was mostly friendly other than an occasional flash of anger, Arnett said. He recalled one instance after Caserta lost his Chipotle job. He returned to the store to retrieve his slip-resistant work shoes. They were missing — sometimes employees borrowed work shoes and accidentally wore them home — so Caserta took someone else’s shoes, Arnett said.
“The Brandon I knew wasn’t political,” he said. “I’m sure he would’ve loved no rules at all. He just didn’t want to be told what do to.”
Daniel Harris, 23, lived with his parents on sleepy Beach Drive in Lake Orion, right across from a small lake.
But federal officials also allege Harris participated in multiple field training exercises in Munith and Luther in connection with a plot against Whitmer, according to the criminal complaint against him.
Harris served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a rifleman from June 2015 to June 2019, according to the military service. He became a corporal and was deployed in Japan for about six months. He earned a handful of awards, including the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
“The serious allegations are not a reflection of the Marine Corps, do not reflect the oath every Marine takes to support and defend the constitution, and do not align with our core values of honor, courage, and commitment,” a Marine Corps spokesperson said in an email to the Free Press. The spokesperson did not describe the nature of Harris’s discharge.
Upon leaving the Marines, Harris worked as a part-time security guard.
He worked at Burton-based Lagarda Security from mid-July to mid-September 2019 before quitting for what he said was a better gig, said Brent Leder, an attorney for Lagarda Security.
That new job was at DK Security, which provides security services to the State of Michigan.
Kevin Belk, senior vice president at DK Security, declined to comment on if Harris was ever posted at a Michigan state building. He also declined to comment on if the firm had any issues with Harris while he was employed and whether Harris was fired or quit.
Leder said Harris was “about as anonymous as an individual can get.”
“He was a good candidate for employment — went through the background check, had a military history. He didn’t stand out, didn’t have any problems with anybody,” Leder said. “And honestly, nobody’s really heard from him since, and no one really remembers him very much.”
A Free Press reporter knocked on the door of Harris’s Lake Orion home Friday afternoon. No one answered and messages left for him and his family were not immediately returned.
Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said the only two interactions the sheriff’s office previously had with Harris involved traffic violations.
Next-door neighbors and others who live on Beach reached last week they didn’t know Harris well but that they never would have imagined he would allegedly be one of the men behind a plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Harris’s next-door neighbor described the family as very nice, church-going people who gave gifts to those living around them.
But according to an FBI document in federal court, Harris hosted several of the alleged domestic terrorists at his Lake Orion home in August, during which the group expressed concerns about being infiltrated by law enforcement. Harris also attended a meeting in Ohio, in which attendees discussed plots to attack a Michigan State Police facility, court documents allege.
According to the criminal complaint, Harris wrote in an encrypted group chat of Whitmer: “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her…at this point. F— it.”
Connection to Delaware
While most of the men charged in connection with the alleged plot called Michigan home, Barry Gordon Croft Jr., 44, was living on the East Coast where he had earlier brushes with the law scrubbed clean.
Croft, of Bear, Del., was pardoned by Delaware Gov. John Carney last year, according to public documents.
The charges for which Croft received a pardon include possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, assault and burglary, according to court records. Carney, a Democrat, signed the pardon in April 2019 after the Delaware Board of Pardons recommended approval.
On Friday, Carney confirmed he pardoned Croft for a series of criminal charges that occurred in the mid-1990s.
In a written statement issued through a spokesman, Carney called Croft’s federal charges “disturbing” and said everyone involved with the kidnapping plot should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, a Democrat who chairs the Board of Pardons, said in a written statement that the board considers several factors when determining whether to recommend a pardon to the governor, “such as the position of the Department of Justice, the nature of the incident(s), the time lapsed from the last conviction, and the impact on employment and housing.”
“All of those factors were considered with this recommendation,” she said.
Details of the process that led to Croft’s pardon were not immediately available. Records detailing the exact nature of his crimes were also not immediately available.
Court records indicate Croft was arrested multiple times from 1994 to 1996. During that period, he pleaded guilty to several charges including third-degree burglary, attempted theft, receiving stolen property, third-degree conspiracy and third-degree assault, according to court dockets.
In 1997, he was charged with reckless endangering and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He pleaded guilty to only the firearm charge in that case.
That year, he did his longest sentence in Delaware prison: serving from December 1997 to November 2000. Department of Correction records indicate he had several shorter stints in Delaware prisons and in community supervision.
Croft applied to the Board of Pardons on Dec. 13, 2018. An official with the Board of Pardons said there are no minutes of the hearing. A document states Croft sought the pardon “for employment purposes.”
The five-member board recommended Croft be pardoned with no objection from the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
Mat Marshall, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathy Jennings, a Democrat, said her predecessor, Matt Denn, also a Democrat, did not oppose Croft’s pardon because his criminal record was more than two decades old.
“It appeared to everyone involved that his offenses were in his past and that he had gotten himself on the right track,” Marshall said in a written statement.
He said neither state prosecutors nor the Board of Pardons would have endorsed Croft’s pardon had they known “what the future held.”
“Croft’s actions are horrific and another reminder about the rising tide of political violence by so-called ‘militias,’ the boogaloo boys, the Proud Boys, and other extremist groups,” Marshall said.
Public records indicate Croft lived in different parts of Delaware — most recently, in a subdivision in Bear. They also indicate he owned a trucking company.
On social media pages that match his mugshot and identifying details found in court documents, Croft tweeted praise for President Trump and disdain for current immigration policy.
Across multiple social media sites, Croft wears a tricorn hat. One meme posted to his Twitter page features a photograph of 18th-century armed men with the text: “Armed Citizens: The Original Homeland Security Since 1776.”
Another tweet states that “every government official is responsible for the invasion of America by an estimated 35 million illegal foreign people. Enjoy your memorial day weekend.”
A sworn affidavit from an FBI agent filed in court papers in Michigan last week indicates that Croft was among a group of people “discussing the violent overthrow of certain government and law enforcement components” early this year.
Croft and and his co-defendant Fox, “agreed to unite others in their cause and take violent action against multiple state governments that they believe are violating the U.S. Constitution,” according to the affidavit.
In July, 26-year-old Kaleb Franks, another man charged in the plot, said at a meeting with members that he was “not cool with offensive kidnapping,” adding a statement to the effect of he was “just there for training,” according to the federal criminal complaint.
But later, the Waterford resident allegedly wrote in a chat to a confidential informant that he was “in for anything as long as its well planned.”
And in September, as members laughed about their plans after surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home, Franks said, “Kidnapping, arson, death. I don’t care,” according to the complaint.
He made a big purchase in anticipation of the attack: Franks told the group in August that he’d recently spent almost $4,000 on a helmet and night-vision goggles.
At one of the group’s firearms exercises in July, Franks brought and fired a rifle with a silencer, according to the complaint.
Two people who’ve known Franks for years told the Free Press that they never heard him express strong opinions on politics or government, and they didn’t know how he became acquainted with the other men accused in the plot.
Yearbooks show Franks attended Brighton High School in 2010 and 2011. A LinkedIn account for a user named Kaleb Franks states that he studied clinical psychology at Washtenaw Community College.
The LinkedIn account for Kaleb Franks lists his employer as Meridian Health Services in Waterford, an addiction treatment organization.
“Hardworking individual who is always looking for a new challenge to tackle,” Franks wrote on LinkedIn. “I Have great people skills which helps me in my current field (drug and alcohol addiction treatment). My leadership skills help when a situation calls for someone to step up and take the lead. I’m able to juggle multiple tasks at once and work under pressure.”
Reached at home Friday, Franks’ father declined to comment. Franks’ court-appointed attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.
A Metro Parent article from August describes Franks as a peer recovery coach at Meridian Health Services and quotes him as saying that recovery is “about progress and not perfection.”
“We all make mistakes. … I understand that I have to acknowledge that and work on it as things are coming at me,” Franks said in the Metro Parent article. “I don’t have to relapse; I can correct my course of action right there.”
Free Press reporter John Wisely wrote this report and contributed to its reporting. Omar Abdel-Baqui, Elisha Anderson, Tresa Baldas, Dave Boucher, Jennifer Dixon, M.L. Elrick, Joe Guillen, Angie Jackson, David Jesse, Gina Kaufman, Georgea Kovanis, Eric D. Lawrence, Keith Matheny, Darcie Moran, Adrienne Roberts, Kristen Jordan Shamus and Niraj Warikoo also contributed to this report.
Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or [email protected] On Twitter @jwisely
When federal and state officials announced charges in the alleged kidnapping plot aimed at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, the Detroit Free Press assigned more than a dozen reporters and photographers to the story.
That team logged more than 2,100 miles visiting remote parts of western and northern Lower Michigan. They conducted more than 80 interviews as part of this report and reviewed records from more than 10 courthouses and other sources.
Reporters on this story were Omar Abdel-Baqui, Elisha Anderson, Tresa Baldas, Dave Boucher, Jennifer Dixon, M.L. Elrick, Joe Guillen, Angie Jackson, David Jesse, Gina Kaufman, Georgea Kovanis, Eric D. Lawrence, Keith Matheny, Darcie Moran, Adrienne Roberts, Kristen Jordan Shamus, Niraj Warikoo and John Wisely, who also wrote the story. Delaware Online/The News Journal also contributed to this report.
The photographers were Ryan Garza, Junfu Han and Eric Seals.
State and Federal prosecutors accuse 13 men of hatching a kidnapping plot aimed at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Charges include providing material support for terrorist acts, a felony which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine; gang membership, a 20-year felony; threats of terrorism acts, a 20-year felony and conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
Charged at the state level are:
- Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford
- Shawn Fix, 38, of Belleville
- Eric Molitor, 36, of Cadillac
- Michael Null, 38, of Plainwell
- William Null, 38, of Shelbyville
- Pete Musico, 42, of Munith
- Joseph Morrison, 26, of Munith
Charged at the federal level are:
- Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford
- Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton
- Ty Garbin, 24, of Hartland Twp.
- Adam Fox, 37, of Grand Rapids
- Daniel Joseph Harris, 23, of Lake Orion
- Barry Croft, 44, of Delaware