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Trial underway in Antrim Co. for last 3 accused in Whitmer kidnap plot

Bill Barnett and his client Eric Molitor whisper during opening statements in Antrim County Courthouse Aug. 23. Molitor is charged with providing material support for an act of terrorism and a possesing a weapon while committing a felony.
Michael Livingston
Interlochen Public Radio
Bill Barnett (left) and his client Eric Molitor (right). Molitor is charged with providing material support for an act of terrorism and a possessing a weapon while committing a felony.

An Antrim County heard opening arguments Wednesday in the trial of three men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Eric Molitor and brothers William and Michael Null are the last of several defendants to be tried for the unsuccessful 2020 plot.

They’re accused of providing material support for terrorist acts and illegally possessing firearms.

Michigan Assistant Attorney General William Rollstin told the jury that all three men knew they were aiding a plot to kidnap Whitmer and attack her security detail.

Whitmer has a cottage in Elk Rapids on Birch Lake which prosecutors say the men helped stake out on two separate occasions.

Rollstin said there were also talks of destroying the Elk River bridge south of the cottage to prevent police from intervening.

“The defendants walked up to the edge of violence," Rollstin said. "The evidence is going to show you they supported two terrorists — that’s Adam Fox and Barry Croft — who were planning an attack against law enforcement here in Antrim County.”

Fox and Croft were convicted in federal court last year and are serving prison sentences.

The plot was squashed in October 2020 because the FBI was able to infiltrate the group with informants.

When court documents were unsealed, the contents were shocking, said Javed Ali, a professor at University of Michigan who specializes in national security.

“We haven't really seen anything like that from a pure domestic terrorism perspective in this country in a long, long time," he said.

Defense attorneys said the men were concerned about pandemic-era restrictions, but that taking part in militia activities was not a crime.

The Null brothers led a group called the Michigan Liberty Militia that upheld the anti-government “boogaloo” movement, Rollstin said.

Prosecutors said Molitor was recruited by Fox to join a “civilian army" that likened themselves to the founding fathers.

Attorney William Barnett represents Eric Molitor. He tried to distance his client from extremist and militia groups tied to the plot.

“He was not a member of the Wolverine Watchmen ... or the Michigan Liberty Militia, or the Michigan Liberty Patriot 3 Percenters, or any of the authentic Michigan militia groups you might hear about in this case,” Barnett said.

Following opening statements, prosecutors had enough time to bring in FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola for some questioning before the court adjourned for the day.

Impola oversaw the FBI effort to infiltrate the group with undercover informants. He's expected to finish his testimony Thursday along with others.

Two of the alleged co-conspirators are on the witness list as well. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks were both convicted in 2020, and prosecutors say they may call them depending on certain circumstances.

Two other men, Shawn Fix and Brian Higgins, have already pleaded guilty in Antrim County for their role in the plot. Part of their plea agreement was to agree to testify in this case but they are not listed on the prosecutor's witness list.

To date, a total of 14 people have been charged in three different courts, with nine convicted.

Whitmer has not commented on the Antrim case specifically.

In a 2020 statement after the plot was foiled and made public, she called out then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given, “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story may be updated as the trial unfolds.

Michael Livingston
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