Defendant Daniel Harris tells jury: I 'absolutely' did not plot to kidnap Whitmer

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Daniel Harris, arraigned in federal court in Kent County, Michigan, faces charges related to what the FBI says was a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Daniel Harris, arraigned in federal court in Kent County, Michigan, faces charges related to what the FBI says was a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

After five of his witnesses refused to testify, defendant Daniel Harris took the stand in his own defense Wednesday, telling jurors repeatedly that he "absolutely" did not plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the summer of 2020 when he was a member of the Wolverine Watchmen militia.

Harris also testified about some of the most explosive testimony during trial: that he and a co-defendant built explosives as part of their alleged kidnapping plot.

Harris admitted that he helped build an explosive device and set it off, but played it off as a benign effort, one that involved blowing up a balloon in an oven with his co-defendant Barry Croft - man he described as a "stoner pirate" who was "kind of a wacknut."

"I was putting BB’s and a little bit of gunpowder into this balloon, and we were going to blow up a stove," Harris testified. "We put it in a stove. We lit the fuse and we ran."

More: First case of alleged Whitmer kidnap plotters takes hit after rash of Fifth Amendment pleas

The device failed to detonate Harris testified, so they built a second bomb — this time, another man added tape on it. They put it back in the oven.

"Did anything happen?" his lawyer asked him.

"No," Harris responded.

Harris also refuted trial testimony that he and his co-defendants were plotting to blow up a bridge to slow down law enforcement after the kidnapping.

“I didn’t even know about a bridge, nobody told me," Harris said.

Harris spent two hours on the stand, denying numerous allegations that FBI agents, informants and two of his co-defendants made against him during the last two weeks, including a claim that he agreed to kidnap the governor while on a hike with two others. That's what co-defendant Kaleb Franks told the jury last week, with the defense lawyer referring to the hiking group as "The Three Musketeers."

"I'm not French. I would not call myself a Three Musketeer," Harris testified, saying he "absolutely" did not agree to kidnap the governor during a hike.

Harris told the jury that he was vehemently against the idea of kidnapping Whitmer, saying he threw his hat when someone suggested the idea during an Aug. 9, 2020, event in Munith.

Harris, 24, of Lake Orion, is the first defendant in the case to testify, though others are also expected to take the stand. During his testimony, he described himself as a hard worker with a strong work ethic who grew up in a supportive family, telling jurors that lessons his parents taught him as a child guided him after he joined the Wolverine Watchmen militia in the summer of 2020.

With his parents in the courtroom, Harris told jurors that he opted not to go to a group meeting in the basement of a vacuum shop, where his co-defendant Adam Fox lived and had summoned the group.

"Everything in my head that my parents had taught me as a child – 'don’t get in cars with strangers’ was going on," Harris testified, adding that "getting in a basement with a stranger" did not sound like a good idea.

Harris talked about going to a Baptist high school in Lake Orion – not a Catholic one, he noted - about joining the military after high school and how he missed his military friends following his 2019 discharge.

Harris said he eventually found a job in the security industry, and within a year, joined the Wolverine Watchmen, the militia group at the center of the Whitmer case.

More: Girlfriend of Whitmer kidnap plot suspect Barry Croft breaks down crying on stand

More: FBI raids Hazel Park home over death threats to key players in Whitmer kidnap trial

According to his testimony, here's how Harris, a former Marine, joined the Wolverine Watchmen:

"When (COVID-19) happened," he told jurors, "I was scrolling around on Facebook and I was on a Motorcity Boogaloo page." One of his friends had started the page, he said, and he started posting things on the page, "sometimes more or less funny," things he said, noting his Facebook name was George Bunton.

Harris said he joined the Wolverine Watchmen for military training experience, saying he was concerned about keeping up his skills after leaving the military. "It was really for me to kind of keep what I already had," he testified.

During his testimony, his lawyer asked him about comments he made while with the Wolverine Watchmen, comments that were played for the jury, like "I can make things go boom."

Harris said he was referring to his days in the military, when he was tasked with launching rockets.

His attorney Julia Kelly then took him through a timeline, with Harris confirming all this happened;

In May 2020, he attended a protest in Lansing, where he met the Wolverine Watchmen for the first time in person. That's where he met the undercover informant named Big Dan. They shared a smoke and talked about military backgrounds.

On May 17, 2020, he had his first training with the Wolverine Watchmen at Munith.

"It was really, really basic training," Harris testified. " I could have done it with my eyes closed. "

An FBI informant known as Big Dan was there with a pistol and rifle, though Harris had no idea he was undercover.

"He absolutely had more knowledge than me," Harris testified.

After the training, he went into a members' house for burgers and heard conversations that made him uncomfortable.

"There was a pucker effect. My body tensed up. That was the absolute last time I walked into the house," Harris testified, without elaborating.

Harris also testified about a video that Big Dan had shown the group of a bomb being dropped on an apartment complex in Iraq, telling the group that one of his buddies had shot the video in Baghdad.

This testimony is meant to bolster the defense's claims that the FBI egged the defendants on and enticed them into saying and doing things they would not have done otherwise. In this case, it would be Big Dan getting the group excited about explosives, according to testimony.

Harris also testified about the protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, telling jurors he attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Lake Orion that summer.

"America was on fire," he testified. "People were pretty angry about the whole police brutality, the whole 'I can’t breathe thing.' America was just on fire."

When his lawyer asked him if he owned guns, he responded: "Oh, absolutely."

When she asked him if he owned lots of ammunition, he again responded, "Oh, absolutely."

Harris also told jurors that he has a CPL license, and kept receipts from a shooting range so that he could accumulate free range time.

"Money was tight," he told the jury.

Harris also testified about the encrypted chat groups that he used to communicate with the Wolverine Watchmen. Prosecutors have alleged that the encrypted chats were meant to conceal the group's plans and conversations from law enforcement, and that Harris created an even more secure chat when fears arose that the feds may have infiltrated the group.

Harris said the encrypted chats were just used for memes and discussion on girls, and that he muted the group dubbed "F*** around and find out," which alleged ringleader Adam Fox was in.

"I'd typically like to keep FAFO muted," Harris said. "I'd miss like 500 messages at a time, give or take a few hundred."

Harris also testified about the night the group cased Whitmer's vacation home - a mission he was not part of. He told jurors that he did not tag along because he was too busy hanging back and getting drunk on $200-worth of cheap beer and Jagermeister.

Harris also testified about a shoothouse that jurors have heard a lot about.

"Did you build that shoothouse with the governor's house in mind," Kelly asked.

"No," Harris replied.

Harris also testified about his October 2020 arrest, when he and his co-defendants were set up in an FBI sting outside an Ypsilanti warehouse. Prosecutors allege the defendants went there to place a down payment on explosives, and to pick up other gear.

It was the first time Harris had ever been arrested, he told the jury, noting he thought he was going to Ypsilanti to meet a Watchmen known as 'Red,' who was really an undercover informant.

"I thought we were going to B-dubs to meet Red. I was told that he had free beer for us," Harris testified.

"You didn't go to B-dubs that night?" his lawyer asked.

"Nope," Harris answered. "I’ve been craving it ever since."

His lawyer concluded her questioning by asking Harris if ever agreed to kidnap the governor, possess weapons of mass destruction, blow up a bridge or harm Whitmer's security detail?

"No," Harris answered.

Then she closed with an entrapment argument.

"Would you consider Adam the leader of the group," the lawyer asked.

"No," Harris answered.

"Who would you consider the leader?"

"Dan" he answered, referring to Big Dan - the informant he had trusted.

Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Daniel Harris is 1st Whitmer kidnap plot suspect to testify