GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (SBG) — Day five of the second trial over the alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer saw jurors hear from the prosecution's star witness, a man who joined the group and later provided secret recordings to the FBI.
Federal prosecutors are trying for a second time to convict Adam Fox and Barry Croft with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer over her COVID-19 policies. Fox and Croft were already tried in April, along with other members of the Wolverine Watchmen group, but Fox and Croft's cases were declared mistrials after the jury could not come to a unanimous verdict.
Army veteran and father of one Dan Chappel was scrolling through Facebook in March 2020 when the social media site suggested the Wolverine Watchmen Facebook group to him. Chappel, a fire sports specialist in the Army, said in a testimony Monday that he decided to join the group because it was pro-second amendment and he saw it as a potential firearm training opportunity.
After members of the group began talking about targeting law enforcement and finding officers' addresses a few weeks after Chappel joined, the 35-year-old post office contractor said he contacted a friend in law enforcement to come over and view the messages for himself.
A week later, Chappel says he was contacted by the FBI to become an informant. Chappel says he initially resisted the FBI's request but eventually agreed to wear a wire for future interactions with members of the group.
Chappel spent the months following recording hours of conversations and traveling with members to what he described as "recon missions" and training camps, some of which he said included so-called "kill houses" where members practiced entering and taking down targets in a fake home.
Videos of members training in a Cambria, Wisconsin, kill house were played by the prosecution on Monday, along with over a dozen recordings of the defendants.
In those recordings, Croft is heard saying that he wanted to interrogate and put Whitmer on trial over her lockdown policies, adding "treason is a hanging offense."
Fox, who Chappel identified as a leader of the group, is seen in a photo drawing a map of the governor's vacation residence. In a recording, he's seen asking other members of the group to take slow motion video of the residence on their phones.
Chappel also outlined the group's plans to recruit more members, saying political rallies, especially those that had to do with second amendment rights, were key recruiting grounds.
Fox is heard saying in a recording that if the group obtained more members, "we're a f****** kill squad, man."
Both defense attorneys continued in their effort on Monday to convince the jury that the FBI was entrapping their clients.
Outside of the court, Croft's attorney Joshua Blanchard expressed concern over the prosecution's use of recordings.
I’ve always been told that a trial is a search for the truth, where we’re trying to figure out what actually happened," he said. "And when you give, I think what, last week we had a five-hour meeting they played 18 seconds from, I think today it was another 18 seconds out of four hours. I mean, you’re losing a ton of context and they hold the keys to that.”
Defense attorneys say Chappel and other FBI informants and agents coordinated the surveillance missions, offering rides and guiding them in the plot. The defense showed texts with Chappel's FBI handler praising his work, though Chappel said the FBI never told him to push the plot forward.
Jurors also briefly heard from FBI agent Mark Schweers and Croft's longtime girlfriend Chastity Knight, the latter of whom previously pled the fifth in the first trial. This time, Knight testified to Croft's anti-government beliefs and frequent marijuana use. Knight also said she heard a large boom during one of the group's apparent training trips.
The defense is expected to continue cross-examination of Chappel on Tuesday.