Jury throws out government’s case—finds FBI agents fabricated a kidnapping threat against Michigan governor so they could pretend to be heroes by foiling a “crime” of their own creation.
FBI director’s use of entrapment is part of a strategy designed to sow public fear and render support for draconian anti-terrorist legislation.
For 95 years—from J Edgar Hoover to Christopher Wray—the FBI has lied, cheated, threatened, and even murdered Americans. Is it beyond reform?
Should we replace it with a national police force that protects instead of persecutes those it is supposed to serve?
The Michigan bombing case is just the latest, but it is surely not the first example, of the FBI overstepping legal and ethical boundaries to burnish its public image by creating Bad Guys to scare the public and blackmail Congress into passing ever larger budgets to fight domestic terrorism.
Like the Pentagon and the CIA, the FBI needs Bad Guys to justify its existence—and it’s trampling on civil rights. So if villains do not exist, they will be created. In the case of the Governors bombing plot, the FBI cynically created “dangerous terrorists” out of “credulous weekend warriors, often stoned on marijuana and prone to big, wild talk.”
But the members of the jury didn’t buy it
The jury in the bombing case—six men and six women—believed the defense’s evidence, which showed that “FBI agents and informants had tricked and cajoled the men into targeting the governor.”
Two of the defendants, Daniel Harris and Brendan Caserta, were acquitted in court and a hung jury probably ended the case for the other two, Adam Fox and Barry Croft.
Kaleb Franks and Tyler Garbin earlier struck plea deals, pleading guilty and testifying against the four other defendants.
During the trial, one of the defense attorneys said that the FBI’s plan was “utter nonsense,” and pleaded with jurors to be the “firewall” against the government. “I think what the FBI did is unconscionable,” another defense attorney said outside court. “And I think the jury just sent them a message loud and clear that these tactics—we’re not going to condone what they’ve done here.”
On October 7, 2020, one month before the presidential election, six men associated with a militia known as the Michigan Wolverines were arrested in a sting outside a warehouse in Ypsilanti, Michigan, a city east of Ann Arbor.
An undercover FBI informant had driven the men to the warehouse, tricking them into thinking they were going to make a down payment on explosives, pick up some military gear, and then head to Buffalo Wild Wings for beer and chicken.
The next day, The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian, and other media published stories detailing a “failed domestic terrorism plot to overthrow the Michigan state government.”
The CNN article characteristically claimed that the alleged scheme included plans to overthrow several state governments “that the suspects believe are violating the U.S. constitution” through advancement of COVID lockdowns, and warned about the “increasing threat of extremist and far right groups.”
In truth, no bomb plot was ever consummated even in Michigan and the alleged plotters had been manipulated by the FBI.
Big Dan Hosts a Government Party
At least a dozen confidential informants infiltrated the Wolverine Watchmen, including an undercover bomb maker.
Court testimony shows that the main leader and instigator of the phony plot was an FBI informant named Dan Chapel—an Iraq War veteran and postal worker who went by the nickname “Big Dan.” The former army sergeant and firearms instructor made hundreds of hours of clandestine recordings of the defendants, accompanying them on trips to meetings and training exercises, and often paying for their travel expenses.
Dan told jurors that he was a former Wolverine Watchman who quit the group after hearing the men talk about killing the police. He then became an FBI informant who was paid $54,000 for seven months of work, during which time he carried a secret recording device for the FBI.
On one outing, Big Dan had the others videotape themselves jumping out of Kaleb Franks’ blue PT Cruiser and taking cover behind its doors while they fired rifles.
Big Dan said that his FBI handlers told him to develop a plan whereby teams of men wearing body armor and equipped with explosives kidnap Governor Whitmer and take her on a boat to Wisconsin where they were to hold a kangaroo court and then execute her.
A date for the kidnapping, however, was never actually set.
R. Michael Bullotta, a defense lawyer who worked as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit, said that the premature arrests hampered the government’s case. He also said that the use of too many government informants “almost made it look like it was a government party as opposed to having just one informant reporting to the FBI.”
Big Dan worked under FBI Agent Jayson Chambers who wrote 227 reports on his contacts with Big Dan. In one text message in September 2020, Chambers told Big Dan: “Mission is to kill. The Governor specifically.”
In August 2021, Buzzfeed News broke the story that Chambers operated a private intelligence business called Exeintel specializing in cyber-security which was linked to an internet troll who tweeted about the Michigan bomb plot case before it became public.
This points to a clear conflict of interest in that Chambers was aiming to personally profit from the manufacture of a public security threat.
Another of Big Dan’s FBI handlers—Henrik Impola—sent text messages asking Big Dan to destroy his text messages and to lie to Pete Musico, the founder of the Wolverine Watchmen, and accuse another person named Trent of being an undercover agent rather than him.
Impola—who made hundreds of hours of secret recordings during the probe—had been accused of perjury in a prior case and “had trouble telling the truth under oath.”
Yet another FBI agent involved with the case, Richard Trask, was charged with felony assault in state court for beating his wife after visiting a swingers party together.
Michael Hills, Brendan Caserta’s lawyer, said that Jayson Chambers’ side business sent the strongest “signal” to jurors that something had gone wrong.
Here was a “rogue FBI agent trying to line his own pockets with his own cybersecurity company, pushing a conspiracy that just never was, never was going to be. Our Governor was never in any danger. And I think the jury—they didn’t get all of it—but they smelled enough of it.”
The defendants in the case, to be sure, were not choir boys. Prosecutors said they had cased Governor Whitmer’s vacation house twice, drew maps of the area, built a model of her cottage and practiced using explosives. Brendan Caserta once said that he “wanted to drink the blood from the skulls of Zionist bankers.”
What is disturbing, however, is the clear effort by the FBI to provoke, mobilize and then entrap a group of anti-government zealots for the purpose of manipulating public opinion.
The vulnerability of members of the group was evident in the fact that Adam Fox had been on the brink of homelessness after his girlfriend kicked him out of her house and was living temporarily in the basement of a friend’s vacuum cleaner store.
Unfortunately, the Michigan bomb plot fits a wider pattern of FBI black flags that goes all the way back to the era of COINTELPRO in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, the FBI planted provocateurs in mostly left-wing groups with the goal of creating internecine conflict and discrediting them.
The FBI also infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, though it offered its leaders the kid-gloves treatment because longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover considered the Klan to be patriotic.
In the 1990s, FBI provocateurs began to infiltrate right-wing militia groups which emerged in response to a botched police raid in Ruby Ridge in rural Idaho and siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, FBI provocateurs coerced often poor, broken-down Muslims into committing terrorist acts that sustained public fear about Islamic terrorism lying at the root of the USA PATRIOT Act, which trampled on traditional constitutional liberties.
With the threat of Islamic terrorism receding, it is not a great surprise that the FBI and other national security agencies would seek to re-engineer public alarm about right-wing domestic extremism—particularly in light of the very real growth of white supremacist movements during the presidency of Donald Trump.
The Michigan bomb plot should be understood in this context, and as part of a much larger and disturbing pattern.
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