GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The government’s accusations were jarring: Several men with militia ties had schemed to abduct Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan at her vacation home. The group, prosecutors and witnesses said, had held a series of “field training exercises” and discussed killing or stranding her in a boat in the middle of Lake Michigan.
As the trial of four men unfolded over the last month, federal prosecutors presented a barrage of alarming messages and surreptitious recordings that they said revealed the group’s plan to storm Ms. Whitmer’s home, eliminate her security detail and detonate a bridge to slow any police response to the kidnapping. Another man, a former co-defendant who pleaded guilty before the trial, testified that he hoped the kidnapping would touch off a civil war and prevent Joseph R. Biden Jr. from becoming president.
Testimony during the trial, one of the highest-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions in recent memory, has provided a glimpse into increasingly brazen and violent discourse among some on the far right. But the case has also raised questions about when hateful political speech and gun possession cross a line from constitutionally protected acts to crimes.
The men on trial at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids were among 14 arrested in October 2020, before there was any attempt to carry out a plan. Jurors briefly began deliberations on Friday afternoon and were scheduled to resume those discussions on Monday.
many rules in place even when case numbers dropped.
Nils Kessler, a prosecutor, told jurors Friday that it was perfectly legitimate to exercise free speech, own guns and vote politicians out of office.
“What we can’t do is kidnap them, kill them or blow them up,” Mr. Kessler said. “That’s also what makes America great.”
But Christopher Gibbons, a lawyer for Mr. Fox, described the entire case as a trap laid by the government to ensnare misfits with unpopular political views. Mr. Gibbons insisted his client never joined any conspiracy to kidnap Ms. Whitmer.