Luther — Shotgun shells litter the ground. Human silhouettes are spray-painted in red on a wooden wall. Bullet holes are everywhere.

This is a training ground of a group of men who plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to the FBI. Buried deep in the northern Michigan woods, 30 miles southwest of Cadillac, it also was allegedly used by the group as a meeting place and possible launching pad for their scheme.

Neighbors occasionally heard gunshots coming from the site, but that’s a common sound in the hunting-crazed region, they said.

This secluded camp near the village of Luther was allegedly used by men plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo: Chris duMond, Special to Detroit News)

That changed last month when residents heard what sounded like a bomb.

Cliff Demos, whose farm is a half-mile from the site, said the blast was followed by automatic gunfire, approximately 30 rounds of it.

“This is Luther. We hear gunshots at 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said. “But that was scary.”

Barry Croft, 44, of Bear, Delaware, one of six men accused of being part of the conspiracy to kidnap the governor, had brought what he called his “chemistry set” to the site that day, according to the FBI. It contained the components of an improvised explosive device.

The device comprised a commercial firework that was packed with extra black powder, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit. It was then wrapped with pennies and electrical tape as shrapnel.

The group ignited the device in a clearing surrounded by the human silhouettes to see if they would be struck by the shrapnel, the agent said.

The alleged activities of Sept. 12 and 13 are known because the group was joined by an informant and undercover agent who secretly recorded the proceedings. Also alleged to be present with Croft during the training are the other five accused in the conspiracy: Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville; Ty Garbin, 24, of Hartland; Kaleb Franks, 26, of Waterford Township; Daniel Harris, 23, of Lake Orion; and Brandon Caserta, 32, of Canton Township.

According to the FBI, Fox discussed the merits of trying to kidnap Whitmer at her northern Michigan home.

“And it’s a perfect f—— setup,” Fox allegedly said during the recorded conversation. “Out of everywhere that she resides, this is the only one that’s probably actually feasible with a success rate.”

Later that night, several members of the group drove 80 miles to the summer home of Whitmer in Elk Rapids, the FBI said. Traveling in three cars, Croft asked Fox whether the group was armed.

“Fox confirmed that they were, and Croft suggested they take the opportunity to conduct an act of violence that night,” wrote the FBI agent.

Croft was talked out of the action, and the next day, the group met at the training grounds to confirm their plan to kidnap the governor, said the FBI.

“An FBI (undercover employee) told Fox that it will cost approximately $4,000 to procure the explosives that Fox and Croft want to use, to blow up the bridge leading to the vacation home,” the agent wrote.

The group scheduled a final training exercise for late October, according to the FBI.

According to federal and state officials, wider plans also included seven members and associates of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen. State officials have accused them of wanting to overthrow Michigan’s Capitol, target police and “instigate civil war.” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel charged the seven with the state’s anti-terrorism law, a 20-year felony.

Meanwhile, Fox, Garbin, Franks, Harris and Caserta are scheduled to appear for detention hearings at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in federal court in Grand Rapids. Croft is in custody in Delaware and will face a hearing there on Tuesday. He could be transferred to Michigan soon. 

The conspiracy charges filed against them last week are punishable by life in prison.


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