An Army veteran who recorded hours of conversation as an FBI informant told jurors Friday that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was the clear target of extremists as they trained, met in secret and expressed anger about government.
Dan Chappel is a major witness for prosecutors in the trial of four men charged with a kidnapping conspiracy in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The scheme was unfolding in 2020 when the Democratic governor, as well as leaders in other states, were keeping people at home and imposing other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chappel helped introduce profane, violent and seemingly incriminating recordings that are at the crux of the government’s claim that the group was committed to abducting Whitmer without any entrapment by investigators.
In August 2020, less than two months before the FBI made arrests, Chappel said he was driving a pickup truck with Adam Fox and another man as they took pictures and video of Whitmer’s second home in Elk Rapids in northern Michigan.
“That’s it! No question. That’s it!” the jury heard Fox saying.
Chappel said he later took a photo while Fox was drawing a map of the area, which included a highway, Whitmer’s house and the location of local police departments. The image was presented to the jury.
Earlier, jurors heard co-defendant Barry Croft Jr. on a recording say he wanted to put “her” on trial, adding: "Treason is a hanging offense.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler asked who was “her?”
“The governor of Michigan,” Chappel replied.
Chappel, 35, spent hours in the witness chair. He explained to jurors how he became an informant, describing himself as a libertarian and gun rights advocate who was looking for ways to sharpen his firearm skills when he found the Wolverine Watchmen on Facebook. But things turned sour.
“They wanted to target law enforcement and kill them,” said Chappel, who shared this information with a law enforcement friend.
“About a week later, I was contacted by the FBI. ... They asked if I would stay inside the group and monitor their activity,” Chappel told the jury.
Fox, Croft, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta are charged with conspiracy. Their trial could last more than a month.
FBI agent Mark Schweers said Thursday that he fooled Fox and others into believing he shared their disgust for government and Whitmer. He, too, wore a recording device, bonded with the men while firing guns and traveled to Elk Rapids to scout the governor's home.
“We want her flex-cuffed on a table while we all pose and get our pictures taken like we just made the biggest drug bust in ... history,” Fox said of Whitmer, laughing and using profanities.
“You give us that, we’ll be happy,” he said. “Then you lock her ... up, even if we gotta go with her.”
Defense lawyers claim informants and agents improperly influenced the men. Schweers acknowledged that he paid for meals and provided rides for Fox, who promised to make him “warden of the north,” a reference to a “Game of Thrones” character.
Whitmer, who is seeking reelection, rarely talks publicly about the case. 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. She has said Trump was complicit in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
White reported from Detroit.