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FBI informant made suggestions to alleged Whitmer kidnap plotters, according to testimony

 Adam Fox, in a photo taken by FBI informant Dan Chappel
U.S. Prosecutor's office for the Western District of Michigan
U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan
Adam Fox, in a photo taken by FBI informant Dan Chappel

Big Dan needed to know the plan.

He was the executive officer, or “XO,” of the Wolverine Watchmen militia, and he’d heard a lot of talk in the spring and summer of 2020 about actions the militia members planned to take to bring down “tyrants” who were imposing emergency pandemic orders on the public. “Big Dan” was a nickname within the militia. His real name is Dan Chappel. He was an Iraq combat veteran, a contract truck driver for the U.S. Postal Service, a firearms instructor, and a supporter of the Second Amendment.

He was also an informant for the FBI.

On Monday, Chappel continued his testimony in the federal trial of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Chappel said he initially went to law enforcement after being accepted into the Wolverine Watchmen’s private chat group and seeing their discussions about toppling the government — and possibly killing police officers along the way.

Soon, he said, the FBI enlisted him to track the group and gave him recording devices to wear during all their meetings. He also gained the trust of the men in the Wolverine Watchmen, rising in their ranks, and connecting with other militia members in multiple states.

He testified that he listened as the men discussed the need to take action against the government, to push back, with violence if necessary, on the emergency orders that forced businesses, schools and churches to close over fears of COVID-19.

The men met for training events, practiced tactical maneuvers, and handled their weapons. They talked a lot. But what Dan Chappel didn’t hear in the spring of 2020, was any agreement on what action to take.

“You can train for anything, but what’s the point if you don’t have an end game?” asked defense attorney Christopher Gibbons, who cross examined Chappel in federal court in Grand Rapids on Monday. “Do you recall saying something to that effect?”

“I do,” Chappel responded.

Julia Kelly, another defense attorney, read from texts Chappel sent to his FBI handlers, complaining that the men had no plan.

They were “wasting your time,” Kelly said to Chappel.

Chappel had been following the members of the Wolverine Watchmen for nearly three months and had yet to witness them doing anything illegal, Gibbons pointed out.

“No crimes,” Gibbons said.

“Fortunately, none,” Chappel responded.

The fact the men had no plan in the spring of 2020 is a key point for defense attorneys for the four men, because they argue if the FBI hadn’t gotten involved by inserting informants and undercover agents into the militias, there never would have been a plan.

It was all just talk, defense attorneys have argued.

On June 20, Chappel met with Adam Fox in Grand Rapids. Fox was not a member of the Wolverine Watchmen, but he had connected with members of the militia at a second amendment rally at the capitol in Lansing a few days before.

“I think we’re in the very, very beginning stages,” Fox said at the June 20 meeting.

One idea on the table: storming the capitol building and taking the governor hostage. It wasn’t a plan, exactly, but maybe a start.

“Got to get Adam focused,” an FBI agent said in a text to Chappel after the meeting, according to testimony.

A few days later, Chappel defended Fox to the other members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia.

“I don’t think we should boot him,” Chappel argued in a group text.

And Chappel did more than just keep Fox in the group, or encourage them to make a plan, defense attorneys argued.

When they didn’t have agreement on a plan of their own, Chappel would suggest other ideas. He prodded Fox in text messages later that summer, asking if he wanted to “get intel” on Gov. Whitmer’s vacation home in Elk Rapids, a location they viewed as a softer target for their kidnapping idea.

At one point, Chappel suggested firing a bullet through the window, as a message, or to “blow down her door” with Tannerite, a brand of explosive.

When he agreed to be an informant for the FBI, Chappel was instructed not to help develop attack plans, or initiate ideas within the group.

“You were not to suggest ideas,” Gibbons said to Chappel on the stand. Gibbons is Adam Fox’s attorney in the case.

“But you did make suggestions, didn’t you?” Gibbons asked.

Chappel agreed that he had.

Fox wanted input, Chappel said. He was brainstorming.

Why not suggest something lawful, Gibbons asked. Why not a protest?

“Adam was not satisfied with that,” Chappel said.

As an informant, Chappel said he’s not a law enforcement professional. Some of the ideas he threw out, he said, were ideas he repeated from others. Someone else had shared the bullet-through-a-window idea before, Chappel testified. He was doing the best he could, he said to stay in the group and to continue to monitor their activity.

He sometimes had to make things up “on the fly,” he said. “I had no playbook.”

Chappel will face continued cross examination when the trial resumes on Tuesday.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.