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Whitmer Kidnapping Trial: The Hail Mary Pass

Daniel Harris testifies and the defense rests
Daniel Harris (center) in better days

Daniel Harris (center) in better days

Defense attorneys rested their case Thursday after testimony from Daniel Harris, the only one of the accused men to take the stand. 

The defendants — Adam Fox, Barry Croft Jr., Brandon Caserta, and Harris — were arrested in October 2020. From the very beginning, the government used their social media activity to convince the public that these were hardened extremists. 

Of course, most everyone these days communicates in memes, and it’d be foolish to use the sharing of lame images on Facebook as proof of anything. When asked about the memes, I feel like Harris answered with the appropriate level of contempt:

Chappel refers to “Big Dan” Chappel, the FBI informant who set the whole thing off.

This highlights the problem of relying on court documents and FBI statements to understand a case. Of course, the government is biased, and examining memes and text messages out of their original context doesn't help either. For example:

Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 9.54.55 AM

Are these tasteless jokes, or a call-to-arms?

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Then again, the meaning of social media posts like these is pretty unambiguous:

To stay out of prison, the defense has to recast all of this as not only protected speech but innocuous speech as well. Harris seems to have understood this, and he didn’t whither under a cross-examination by Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Roth that was by all accounts aggressive.

Another piece of evidence that Harris tried to refute is the chat message mentioned towards the end of our feature “Prophets of (White) Rage” on Failed State Update:

According to Harris (via chat messages) merely kidnapping Whitmer would be rather lame. A better plan, he said, would be to pose as a pizza delivery guy, knock on the door, and shoot her when she answers (because the governor is likely to answer the door herself for a pizza she never ordered, I guess).

As Harris explains it, he was needling his co-defendants. He knew they’d never go through with this ridiculous plan of theirs. Who would believe that a bunch of perpetually drunk-and-stoned oddballs would get their act together to kidnap a sitting American governor in an A-Team-style paramilitary operation? When they couldn’t even get the $4k together to buy explosives?

True, Harris helped build a “kill house” for room clearing drills, but what good militia hasn’t trained this way? The structure wasn’t intended to represent the governor’s home per se, he testified. Also, when the other guys went to reconnoiter the governor’s second home in Elk Rapids, Harris instead chose to blow $200 on beer and cigarettes so he could “get wasted” with the other guys back at the camp.

Testifying in your own defense at a criminal trial is risky, but then again going to trial at all is risky. That’s why two men took plea deals, and the rest didn’t testify at all.

This was Harris’s Hail Mary pass. He hopes that the testimony will humanize him and put some of the things the prosecution said in a less extreme context.

Closing arguments should be happening any time now, with a jury returning its verdict as soon as today.