A US federal jury has acquitted two men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor and failed to reach a verdict for two other defendants.
Adam Fox, 38, Daniel Harris, 24, Brandon Caserta, 33, and Barry Croft, 46, each faced a kidnapping conspiracy charge.
Mr Harris and Mr Caserta were found not guilty, but the charges against Mr Fox and Mr Croft ended in mistrial.
The government had argued they targeted Gretchen Whitmer, 50, in a 2020 plot.
Jurors began deliberating this week after 14 days of testimony and had indicated earlier on Friday that they were deadlocked on some of the charges.
They ultimately reached no verdict against Mr Fox, who was alleged to be the group’s ringleader, and Mr Croft, both of whom were also facing an additional count each of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
In a statement sent by her office on Friday, Governor Whitmer thanked prosecutors and law enforcement for their work on the case and warned that “Michiganders and Americans – especially our children – are living through the normalisation of political violence”.
According to secret chats and private conversations revealed in court, members of the group – some of whom were said to be militia members – viewed Ms Whitmer as a “tyrant”.
Prosecutors said the men planned to abduct her from her holiday home, conduct some kind of “treason trial” and set her adrift in a boat on Lake Michigan.
But lawyers for the accused countered that the scheme was mostly “smoke and mirrors”, profane talk by angry and disillusioned men.
Throughout the trial, they maintained that the men had been entrapped – or improperly induced into the crime – by an undercover FBI operation.
The FBI has said it began tracking the group’s movements after spotting online discussions of political violence.
According to an FBI affidavit, an undercover source attended a June 2020 meeting in Ohio, where a group of Michigan-based militia members discussed overthrowing state governments “that they believed were violating the US Constitution”.
That October, the bureau announced the arrests of 13 alleged plotters.
On the witness stand, two of the men – Ty Garbin, 26, and Kaleb Franks, 27 – said the participants acted of their own volition and were free to leave the group whenever they wanted. Both men had taken plea deals to avoid a prison sentence.
FBI agent Timothy “Red” Bates also took the stand, testifying that the group discussed blowing up bridges near the governor’s house to thwart law enforcement.
But the defence alleged an FBI informant named Daniel “Big Dan” Chappel who infiltrated the group acted as a “double agent”, befriending and radicalising the men to advance the plot.
Mr Harris – the only defendant of the four to take the stand – slammed Big Dan as “a liar” who “got scared by memes” shared within the group.
Mr Fox’s lawyer also attacked Big Dan for “[beating] the drum and [getting] them all worked up”.