Jury hears from key informant in Gov. Whitmer kidnap plot
LANSING — A man charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was ecstatic and exclaimed, “That’s it!” as he rode past her vacation home in 2020 and told an ally to make a video, according to trial evidence presented Monday.
Jurors heard from Dan Chappel, who was known as “Big Dan” to Adam Fox and a band of anti-government extremists. He was a crucial informant armed with recording devices to help the FBI build its case two years ago.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. are on trial for the second time on conspiracy charges. A jury in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict in April but acquitted two other men.
Chappel, an Army veteran who hauls mail, explained to jurors how he joined a paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen, early in 2020 to maintain his gun skills and meet people who supported gun rights. He said he turned to the FBI when talk turned to killing police.
Fox wasn’t a member of the Wolverine Watchmen, but the group became his ally that summer. Chappel participated in firearm drills, met privately with Fox in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop and made two trips with him to see Whitmer’s property in Elk Rapids.
On a recording, Fox said they would pose as tourists on the first ride, “just checkin’ out pure Michigan, bro,” a reference to a state tourism slogan.
“That’s it! That’s it! … No question, that’s it!” Fox said about Whitmer’s home as they rode in a pickup truck driven by Chappel.
At lunch at a nearby tavern, Fox drew a map to determine the best ways to get in and out of the area in a pinch, Chappel testified.
Fox’s attorney has described him as a hapless man who said things to please Chappel, whom “he worships.” Prosecutors sought to counter that portrayal by playing recordings where Fox had detailed discussions about a violent strike against the Michigan Capitol, abducting Whitmer on Mackinac Island and the consequences of a kidnapping.
“Who was the leader?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler.
“Adam Fox,” Chappel replied.
The defense strategy is to cast the plot as a creation of career-building FBI agents and rogue informants, including two who won’t be appearing in court for the government. During cross-examination, attorney Christopher Gibbons noted hundreds of text messages between Fox and Chappel.
Gibbons reminded Chappel that the government liked his work, quoting an FBI handler as saying, “Excellent work. Look at you. Bringing people together.”
He confronted Chappel with his message to anti-government activists during a meeting in Peebles, Ohio, where the informant said they needed a “focus” and “direction” for their training. Chappel said he couldn’t recall those words.
Fox, 39, who lived in western Michigan, Croft, 46, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, and four other men were arrested in October 2020, just weeks before the presidential election. The government said they were making plans to get money for an explosive.
Whitmer, a Democrat, has blamed then-President Donald Trump for stoking mistrust and fomenting anger over coronavirus restrictions and refusing to condemn hate groups and right-wing extremists like those charged in the plot.
Trump recently called the kidnapping scheme a “fake deal.”