GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On the eleventh day of the trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor, the jury heard from another FBI agent who went undercover to infiltrate the militia group.
Special FBI Agent Timothy Bates, known to the group only as ‘Red,’ posed as an explosives dealer who claimed he could provide the group with bomb-making materials. He testified the materials were for their plan to bomb residences, police stations, power lines, and a bridge leading to the governor’s vacation home to slow the response of law enforcement the night of the alleged kidnapping.
“My story was that I knew an individual in the mining industry so that individual would have access to high-grade explosives,” said Sp. Agent Bates on the stand Monday. “I was tasked with that role because the government felt that the individuals that were taking part in the plot against the governor were looking for explosives, and they needed someone to step in and basically control the timeline is what it came down to.”
Sp. Agent Bates said he wanted to keep the suspects close – close enough that they wouldn’t seek explosives elsewhere. Bates sent the group videos of him detonating an SUV with success, but the videos were staged by FBI bomb technicians on a closed range.
Bates was able to infiltrate the group with the help of confidential human source Dan Chappel, an undercover informant who posed as Bates’ friend.
“He had good access to the group and therefore, his access would allow me to come in and pose as a friend of his earning trust amongst the group,” said Bates.
Bates said he never would have provided the group with the materials they were seeking, like C-4 and claymores. But Bates, who quickly earned the trust of the group, attended meetings and accompanied them on surveillance missions of the governor’s home – including a nighttime outing where he and a few of the accused militia members stopped to survey a bridge in Elk Rapids near the home to see what kind of explosives would be needed to detonate it.
Defense attorneys pressed him on the idea that there was never an agreement struck to buy explosives, even though the defendants tried and failed to scrounge together the $4,000 price tag for the explosives Bates claimed to be able to get them. At that time, Bates said, they offered him an IOU for the materials.
“Nobody ever actually gave you money, right?” asked Barry Croft defense attorney Joshua Blanchard.
“Correct,” responded Bates.
“Nobody ever shook your hand and said you got a deal,” continued Blanchard.
“Right,” Bates responded.
The jury also heard from another FBI employee Monday, tactical specialist Brandie Bowman, who analyzed the group’s encrypted chat messages. The 13-year agency veteran told the jury that in early summer of 2020 when the alleged plot was first being hatched, Dan Cappel accounted for 27% of the messages, while convicted plot suspect Ty Garbin accounted for 20% and state-charged militia member Paul Bellar accounted for 30%.
When defendants Daniel Harris, Brandon Caserta and Kaleb Franks joined the chats the following month, Chappel’s share of the messages dropped to 18% while the three defendants combined to account for over 50%.
Defense attorneys are claiming entrapment and are trying to prove that it was the government and their agents, not their clients, who pushed the kidnapping from the beginning stages of the alleged plot. Defense attorneys noted that the messages were only quantified – the jury wasn’t shown their actual content. Likewise, Bowman only accounted for messages sent within the encrypted group chats, not messages sent between individuals.
The prosecution could rest its case as soon as the middle of this week.