Man in Gov. Whitmer Kidnap Plot says He Lied After Arrest
A second man who pleaded guilty in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer admitted Friday that he lied at times after being arrested in 2020 because he didn’t want to go to jail.
Kaleb Franks was questioned by defense attorneys a day after testifying for prosecutors in the trial of four former allies charged with conspiracy.
They tried to trip him up by highlighting inconsistencies between his testimony and previous statements to the FBI.
Franks acknowledged telling investigators that the alleged leader, Adam Fox, was regularly egged on by a man who turned out to be an FBI informant. It conflicted with his remarks Thursday that Dan Chappel didn’t try to steer the group of antigovernment extremists.
“I was untruthful in that interview because I was trying not to go to jail,” Franks told jurors Friday.
He said he hopes his cooperation with prosecutors leads to a break at sentencing but “there’s no guarantee.”
Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are on trial in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with Franks and another man, Ty Garbin, the four were arrested in October 2020, a month before the national election.
Franks, 27, and Garbin, 26, have told jurors about a wild plan to abduct Whitmer at her vacation home and leave her stranded in a boat in Lake Michigan.
Franks said Fox believed Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions were “tyrannical” and that the U.S. Constitution gave the men a right to strike back. He said no one was forced to stick with the plan and many people had dropped away by late summer 2020.
“I was going to be an operator,” Franks said Thursday when asked by a prosecutor to describe his role in a kidnapping. “I would be one of the people on the front line, so to speak, using my gun.”
He said Croft wanted to use a grenade launcher and machine gun to fight Whitmer’s security officers.
Garbin, 26, testified Wednesday that Whitmer’s kidnapping could serve as the “ignition” for a U.S. civil war involving antigovernment groups and possibly prevent the election of Joe Biden.
Authorities said the group, following weeks of training, were trying to come up with $4,000 for an explosive. They practiced that summer by dashing in and out of crude structures built to resemble a house or office.
Traveling at night, they scouted Whitmer’s second home in Elk Rapids and inspected a bridge that could be blown up to frustrate any police response, according to trial testimony and conversations that were secretly recorded.
Franks, a drug rehabilitation coach, said he joined a militia, the Wolverine Watchmen, to work on his gun skills. He eventually met Fox and Croft, who were not members of the militia, and found himself in the middle of a conspiracy.
Franks said he stuck with the group because he hoped he would be killed in a shootout with police during the kidnapping, but he kept that reason from others.
“I no longer wanted to live,” he said, moments after settling into the witness chair. “A large portion of my family had died. I was struggling financially. Just wasn’t happy.”
Garbin pleaded guilty roughly four months after his arrest and was sentenced to six years in prison, a significant break because of his cooperation.
Defense attorneys are trying to show the jury that there was no credible plot, just a lot of profane, violent and crazy talk about Whitmer and other politicians trampling their rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also claim informants and undercover agents who infiltrated the group entrapped the men.
Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the case, though she referred to “surprises” during her term that seem like “something out of fiction” when she filed for reelection on March 17.
She has blamed former President Donald Trump for fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn right-wing extremists like those charged in the case. Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.