One of three men accused of assisting a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testified in his own defense Thursday, portraying himself as a scared participant in a daytime ride to see her vacation home in northern Michigan.
Eric Molitor and twin brothers William Null and Michael Null are charged with providing material support for terrorist acts.
Molitor said Whitmer's name didn't come up when he was encouraged by the scheme's leader, Adam Fox, to go to Antrim County to check out a “high-profile vacation house" in August 2020.
But Molitor said he became anxious when he learned that it was the governor's lakeside house in Elk Rapids. He was in a pickup truck with Fox and an FBI informant when they twice drove by the property.
“What do I say? How do I act? What do I do? How do I get out of this situation?" Molitor told the jury. "I don't have training. I don't have backup. I got nothing.”
Molitor’s decision to testify was a rare move: In four trials so far in state and federal courts, only one other defendant has taken the witness stand. He was acquitted.
Molitor and the Nulls are accused of aiding plot leaders Fox and Barry Croft Jr. Social media posts and text messages show they were outraged over COVID-19 restrictions, but evidence also revealed that they had anti-government views before the pandemic and were girding for a civil war.
Molitor, 39, said his concern about the drive to Whitmer's home eased, and he didn't contact police.
“It didn't seem serious. ... The danger level in my mind was decreasing just based on the fact that they were not organized. It was two guys, one of them just talking crazy,” Molitor testified. “My danger level went way down.”
He said he voted for Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, in 2018 but soured on them. Molitor said mask rules and lockdowns during the peak of COVID-19 were excessive.
"Did I have thoughts of hurting people? No. I did back the idea of a civilian arrest if that was possible,” he said of Whitmer. “Other than that, voting her out was my best way of taking care of that.”
The Null brothers were part of a separate night ride to see Whitmer's property several days later. The three men also participated in paramilitary training.
Informants and undercover FBI agents were inside the group for months, making recordings and collecting evidence. Whitmer was not physically harmed.
Fourteen men were arrested just a month before the November 2020 election. Nine have been convicted in state or federal court while two have been acquitted.
After the plot was thwarted, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” Trump called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal” in August 2022.
This story has been corrected to show Whitmer and Nessel were candidates for elections in 2018, not 2016.
Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez
Ed White, The Associated Press