Ringleader of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison

A man convicted of playing a key role in the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison Wednesday, more than what was meted out to a co-defendant.

A prosecutor called 47-year-old Barry Croft Jr. an American version of Omar Abdel-Rahman, “The Blind Sheikh” who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Croft and co-defendant Adam Fox, 39, were convicted in August of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and to use a weapon of mass destruction to attack Whitmer, who drew the hatred of far-right groups for her efforts to curb the spread of Covid in 2020.

Fox was sentenced to 192 months (16 years) in prison on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, setting the stage in a Grand Rapids courtroom for Croft’s fate and sentence of 235 months.

While Jonker stopped short of issuing a life sentence sought by prosecutors, the judge largely agreed with the government’s stance that Croft fueled the plot with dangerous rhetoric.

The judge called Croft the “idea guy” who egged on co-conspirators with “wrong” and “twisted” ideology.

“I do think of Mr. Croft as the more seriously culpable … more so than even Mr. Fox,” Jonker said. “I think he was the person who gave Mr. Fox something to grab on to.” 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said Croft needs to go away for an extended period of time to protect the public.

“This man is thoroughly radicalized,” Kessler said. “He hasn’t changed his viewpoint.” 

Kessler said Croft was every bit as dangerous as a foreign terrorist seeking to harm Americans.

“He’s the spiritual leader of this group, of this movement the same way some sheik in ISIS or Al Qaeda might be,” Kessler said. “And they don’t have to be tactically sound or somebody who is the best guy with a gun on the battlefield — he was the ideas guy.”

Defense attorney Josh Blanchard pleaded with Jonker to look at his client’s long history of mental illness and drug abuse. The attorney appeared to choke back emotions as he described Croft’s unstable childhood.

“His mother suffered from bipolar disorder that’s so significant and unmanaged that she had Social Security disability for it,” Blanchard said.

“His father, who has been described as cold and detached, puts aluminum foil on his ceiling on his bedroom so aliens can’t reach his brain waves. I say all of this to say that Mr. Croft needed some intervention.”

A jury in April failed to come to verdicts against Fox and Croft, forcing a judge to declare a mistrial before a second trial proved decisive.

Whitmer, who won re-election last month, was the focal point of far-right rage in 2020 when she imposed various lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of Covid.

Then-President Donald Trump appeared to back that opposition in an all-caps tweet.

A representative for Whitmer on Wednesday said the governor had no comment beyond a statement she made when the Croft and Fox were convicted, insisting that plots “against public officials and threats to the FBI are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation, threatening the very foundation of our republic.”  

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