Home U.S. News Trial Opens for Men Accused of Aiding Plot to Kidnap Michigan’s Governor

Trial Opens for Men Accused of Aiding Plot to Kidnap Michigan’s Governor

Trial Opens for Men Accused of Aiding Plot to Kidnap Michigan’s Governor

Nearly three years ago, amid the tumult of Covid-19 and a presidential campaign, federal and state prosecutors outlined a sprawling right-wing terror plot to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, at her vacation home.

Since then, in courtrooms across Michigan, that investigation has led to guilty pleas, convictions at trial and two acquittals, as well as introspection about what the plot says about the country’s political discourse.

This week, as another presidential election approaches, what is likely the final chapter in that case is unfolding in the same rural county as the governor’s vacation home. Three men — Michael Null and William Null, who are twin brothers, and Eric Molitor — are on trial on a charge of providing material support for a terrorist act. Prosecutors said the plot had been fueled by anti-government sentiment, militia activity and anger over pandemic lockdowns.

“For the average person, it’s almost impossible to fathom how brazen and how bold and how dangerous these individuals were,” William Rollstin, a prosecutor, told jurors in state court on Wednesday. “These defendants decided to use force and violence to solve their problems.”

Prosecutors have accused the Null brothers and Mr. Molitor of traveling to Antrim County, about 250 miles northwest of Detroit, to scout out the governor’s vacation home and help prepare for an attack. If convicted, they could each face more than 20 years in prison. Unlike the men convicted in federal court, they are not charged with planning to participate in the kidnapping itself.

Opening arguments on Wednesday echoed many of the themes aired in two prior federal trials in Grand Rapids, as well as another in state court in Jackson, Mich.

Defense lawyers tried to downplay their clients’ actions. They suggested the men were minor players who did not know much about the plans to harm Ms. Whitmer, were egged on by F.B.I. informants and were caught up in overheated pandemic-era politics.

“We have police protests — I mean, cities are burning,” Kristyna Nunzio, a lawyer for William Null, said in court, describing national events in 2020. “People are scared during this time period. And it’s fair to keep that in your mind when you review all of the evidence.”

But prosecutors said the defendants were aiding the leaders of the plot, Barry Croft and Adam Fox. Federal jurors found that Mr. Croft and Mr. Fox had planned to kidnap Ms. Whitmer and blow up a bridge leading to her home in order to disrupt the police response. Mr. Croft is serving a nearly 20-year prison sentence, and Mr. Fox is serving a 16-year sentence.

This trial is playing out in politically conservative Antrim County, where Donald J. Trump received more than 60 percent of the vote in 2020 even as Joseph R. Biden Jr. clinched Michigan. When Ms. Whitmer won re-election in convincing fashion last year, her opponent carried Antrim County by a 14-point margin.

In opening arguments, Mr. Rollstin emphasized that the underlying terror plot sought not just to harm Ms. Whitmer but also to attack members of her security detail and other law enforcement officers who might respond to the scene.

“It’s much more than just the governor, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Rollstin said.

William Barnett, a lawyer for Mr. Molitor, noted for the jury that Ms. Whitmer had blamed Mr. Trump’s rhetoric for the plot.

“It’s all politics, folks,” Mr. Barnett said. “There’s something going on here. I don’t know what’s going on. But it looks like weaponization of the government.”

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