GRAND REPIDS, Michigan (AP) – Were they gullible ugly people under the guise of undercover agents? Or a scoundrel who is boiling with enough anger to actually want to kidnap the governor of Michigan?

The jury selection begins Tuesday in a trial over four men accused of conspiracy snatch Governor Gretchen Whitmer in a stunning scheme to avenge her stay-at-home policy and other COVID-19 restrictions in the first months of the pandemic.

In 2020, Whitmer, a Democrat, mocked then-President Donald Trump over his administration’s reaction to COVID-19. Her critics, meanwhile, regularly protested in the Capitol of Michigan, killing the streets around the state building and legally carrying semi-automatic rifles into the building.

At the troubled time, Adam Fox, Brandon Caserta, Barry Croft Jr. and Daniel Harris were plotting to snatch Whitmer, prosecutors say. They are accused of taking important steps for months, including secret reports, forest shooting exercises and a night trip to northern Michigan to explore her second home and figure out how to blow up the bridge.

The FBI, which infiltrated the group, said it had thwarted the plan In October 2020, six people were arrested. Two of them, Ty Garbin and Caleb Frankspleaded guilty and will act as key witnesses for the government, giving jurors an idea of ​​what was planned.

Garbin, for example, said Fox the alleged instigatorwanted the men to take away a $ 4,000 explosive large enough to destroy a bridge near Whitmer’s house and distract police during the abduction.

“The blood of tyrants must be shed,” Garbin was quoted as saying by Caserta during the meeting.

Garbin and Franks insist that no one in the group acted due to the excessive influence of agents or undercover informants.

“This is not the end of the defense case, but it is a big obstacle that needs to be overcome,” said John Smetanka, a former federal prosecutor, about the couple’s cooperation. “It will come down to trusting witnesses, as well as the influence of any external evidence, such as tapes.”

Indeed, prosecutors said much of the evidence would be the defendants’ own words gathered during secret recordings. The government also offers screenshots of text messages as well as photos and videos posted on social media.

Prior to the trial, lawyers considered the case, especially the “stunning use” of informants. They deny any conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer and signaled protection from the trap.

“Agents and thugs recruited defendants, arranged meetings, paid for travel, paid for hotels, rented cars, created promotional videos demonstrating explosives, bought equipment, tested new members, nurtured ideas and managed operations,” said Joshua Blanc. Croft’s lawyer.

Defense attorney Christopher Gibbans said Fox did not want to kidnap Whitmer, although he made “many incendiary remarks” about the governor and what he considered unconstitutional.

Agents and informants were “the binding force and catalyst of every event, the stick of speech and almost every hint of crime,” Gibbans said in a court case.

Assistant Attorney General Niels Kessler said informants pay for gathering information, not for causing crime.

“What they recorded was the defendants’ own words. That’s why the defendants look guilty, “Kessler told the judge on Friday.

Successful protection from the trap requires evidence that the government has forced someone to commit a crime that they would not otherwise be willing to commit, Smetana said.

Whitmer, who is seeking re-election this year, rarely speaks publicly about the case and does not expect to attend the trial, which could take more than a month in federal court in Grand Rapids. After charges were filed in 2020, a few weeks before the fall election, she accused Trump “Give comfort.” anti-government extremists with his rhetoric.

“Conspiracies and threats against me, no matter how alarming, could not stop me from doing my best to save as many lives as possible by listening to medical and health experts,” Whitmer said last summer. , referring to COVID-19.

Separately, authorities in the state court are prosecuting eight people accused of aiding the group.

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White reported from Detroit.

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