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Trial is underway for three men accused in a plot to kidnap Michigan governor

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The trial for three men accused of aiding in a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan is underway now in northern Michigan. As Interlochen Public Radio's Michael Livingston reports, attorneys gave their opening statements, and prosecutors are now presenting their case.

MICHAEL LIVINGSTON, BYLINE: Eric Molitor and twin brothers William and Michael Null are the last three defendants to be tried for the unsuccessful plot to abduct the governor from her vacation home. Fourteen people were arrested and charged in 2020. Nine have since been convicted while two others were acquitted. Prosecutors argue Molitor and the Null brothers provided some form of material support for the plot.

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WILLIAM ROLLSTIN: The defendants walked up to the edge of violence, and the evidence is going to show you that they supported two terrorists.

LIVINGSTON: That's Michigan Assistant Attorney General William Rollstin. The two terrorists he names are Adam Fox and Barry Croft, the convicted ringleaders who helped bring these defendants further into the fold. Rollstin played video clips of the men shooting guns in training exercises and audio of a trip to surveil Governor Gretchen Whitmer's cabin in Elk Rapids. However, the defense said that participating in militia activities, which usually involves paramilitary training, is not a crime. Kristyna Nunzio represents William Null.

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KRISTYNA NUNZIO: Bill Null has a healthy mistrust of the government, and that alone is not a crime. And he's a firm believer in his Second Amendment rights - not only to bear arms but for a well-regulated militia.

LIVINGSTON: But for FBI Special Agent Hank Impola, they, quote, "seemed to be escalating toward violence." He was the first to testify today and helped oversee the use of undercover informants. He says this group crossed a line.

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HANK IMPOLA: Obviously, there's freedom of speech, and people can say whatever they want. But assessing their level of dangerousness is really what their actions say.

LIVINGSTON: The informants he oversaw are likely to testify as the trial unfolds. Governor Whitmer has not commented on this case specifically, but she did speak out when arrests were made in 2020.

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GRETCHEN WHITMER: If you break the law or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone, we will find you. We will hold you accountable, and we will bring you to justice.

LIVINGSTON: The trial in state court is expected to last about three weeks. For NPR News, I'm Michael Livingston in Bellaire, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Livingston