Death threats were aimed at Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker
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The FBI raided a Detroit home after receiving threats to both the judge and a pair of defense lawyers involved in the Governor Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy trial.  

Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker, together with lawyers Josh Blanchard and Christopher Gibbons, have all received death threats over their participation in the high-profile trial, which has just entered its third week.

The threats led FBI agents to a home in Hazel Park, just south the city, that was raided on Friday.  

Jonker, 62, is the presiding judge in the trial with the attorney’s Blanchard and Gibbons representing the accused ringleaders of the plot – Barry Croft and Adam Fox – who face life in prison if convicted of kidnapping conspiracy.

Death threats were aimed at Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker

Death threats were aimed at Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker

Defense lawyers Christopher Gibbon, left, and Josh Blanchard, right, have had death threats

Defense lawyers Christopher Gibbon, left, and Josh Blanchard, right, have had death threats

Jonker has served on the federal bench since 2007 after being nominated by President George W. Bush. 

The raid raised issues over the security of those involved in the high-profile prosecution.  

‘Unfortunately, it’s become far too common a thing in society today,’ Detroit defense attorney Michael Bullotta, a former federal prosecutor, told the Detroit News. ‘It comes with the territory in a high-profile case.’

Bullotta says that he does not believe it will have much affect overall ‘because we hear about death threats all the time.’ 

‘I feel like defense attorneys are more vulnerable, in many ways, to threats and violence in the criminal justice system, because they don’t have the protection and law-enforcement backing. To the extent they are representing dangerous and violent people, those clients expect certain things to happen in their favor. And when those things don’t happen, they can blame the defense attorneys,’ Bullotta explained. 

Whitmer, a Democrat, 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 

‘FBI Detroit will work closely with other FBI field offices and with our law enforcement partners across the country to identify the source of any threat made to anyone involved with the ongoing prosecution in Grand Rapids,’ FBI spokeswoman Mara Schneider explained in a statement. 

‘Individuals found responsible for making threats in violation of state and/or federal law will be referred for prosecution in the appropriate jurisdiction.’

It is not known if any new security measures have been put in place in response to the threats against the judge or defense lawyers.

So concerned was the judge about security that he ensured the names of the jurors were withheld from the public.  

‘I want to have jurors identified in court only by number to give them some greater confidence that they are not going to have their privacy unduly invaded in the process,’ Jonker said.

Adam Fox

Barry Croft Jr.

The two defense lawyers representing Adam Fox (left) and Barry Croft Jr (right), who have been described as leaders of the group’s plans, received death threats

Daniel Harris

Brandon Caserta

Daniel Harris, left, Brandon Caserta, right, are also charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer

Federal prosecutors are poised to finish their case on Wednesday, which will be the 13th day of trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They’re trying to show in the final stretch that the men charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer were firmly committed to a plan without influence by informants or undercover FBI agents. 

Barry Croft Jr., a 46-year-old trucker from Bear, Delaware, regularly vented on Facebook about government and public officials in 2020 when governors were issuing stay-home orders, requiring masks and making other rules during the early leg of the pandemic.

‘Which governor is going to end up dragged off and hung for treason first?’ Croft wrote on Memorial Day 2020. ‘It’s really a spin-the-bottle match at this point and I’m sure a few mayors are in the running!!! God bless the constitutional republic!!!’

A few days later, Croft posted about seizing state Capitols and ‘putting these tyrants´ addresses out here for rioters.’

The FBI said that message was ‘liked’ on Facebook by Fox.

Defense lawyers deny there was an actual plan to snatch Whitmer, claiming the men were induced by agents and informants and exchanged wild talk while smoking marijuana. 

Men carry rifles near the steps of the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan in April 2020. Whitmer was one of the more high-profile targets of political violence when prosecutors say a group of men who were angry about pandemic restrictions plotted to kidnap her. But the case didn't surprise many women lawmakers or people who track such attacks

Men carry rifles near the steps of the State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan in April 2020. Whitmer was one of the more high-profile targets of political violence when prosecutors say a group of men who were angry about pandemic restrictions plotted to kidnap her. But the case didn’t surprise many women lawmakers or people who track such attacks

Attorney Joshua Blanchard has accused the FBI of targeting Croft because agents didn’t like his strident views. He referred to a meme posted by Croft of ammunition with the message, ‘Oh, look, 30 votes that count.’

‘A little tongue in cheek? A little bit funny?’ Blanchard asked FBI agent Thomas Szymanski.

‘I didn’t laugh when I saw this meme,’ the agent replied.

Whitmer, a Democrat, rarely talks publicly about the kidnapping plot, though she referred to ‘surprises’ during her term that seem like ‘something out of fiction’ when she filed for reelection on March 17.

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. 

Whitmer has said Trump was complicit in the January 6 Capitol riot.

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