It was an ordinary indictment with extraordinary repercussions. According to reports, Robeson helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) infiltrate an alleged conspiracy to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan last year.
The one-paragraph indictment of Robeson filed on March 3 did not mention the Whitmer case. It alleged that Robeson – a career criminal – possessed an Armalite .50-caliber sniper rifle, which could shoot a target more than a mile away. He allegedly acquired the sniper rifle on Sept. 26 last year in Wisconsin.
There were no additional details about the circumstances surrounding the rifle, which retails for about $4,000 and fires $4 bullets.
The indictment of Robeson is the latest legal development in a criminal case that has relied heavily on informants and undercover FBI agents to reveal violent extremism in Michigan. Legal experts said, an indictment after a prolonged period of cooperation suggested that the relationship between Robeson and the FBI had gone south and that the prosecutors would no longer use him at trial.
But defense lawyers can try to call Robeson as a witness and attack his credibility.
"This gives defense lawyers ammunition to create reasonable doubt," said Andrew Arena, former special agent in charge of the FBI office in Detroit. "It's a difficult proposition when you are using these guys. You're telling them don't commit crimes. You're doing everything to keep on top of them. But you're not with them 24 hours a day."
The Detroit News reported that three sources familiar with the investigation identified Robeson as one of the government's undercover informants in the alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. Robeson apparently helped stir up an antigovernment group with violent and extremist rhetoric for months.
According to the sources, Robeson attended and organized combat training in Wisconsin, participated in a June 2020 meeting in Dublin, Ohio that served as a catalyst for the kidnapping plot and attended a camp in northern Michigan where accused plotters underwent combat training.
Robeson has a history of testifying for the government. In 1985, he testified against a suspect in a murder and arson case involving members of the Ghost Riders motorcycle gang, according to a Wisconsin State Journal article. The article portrayed Robeson as a jailhouse snitch who shared a county jail cell with one defendant in the case.
He also has a lengthy criminal record. Wisconsin court records showed convictions for having sex with a child aged 16, sexual assault and bail jumping.
His name came up during a federal court hearing about the Whitmer case in January. Joshua Blanchard, the attorney for accused plotter Barry Croft, mentioned Robeson while arguing government informants were the main drivers in the alleged kidnapping scheme. (Related: Terror plots foiled by the FBI turn out to be planned, funded and weaponized by the FBI itself.)
Robeson lives in Oxford in southern Wisconsin. His ranch-style home is 16 miles northeast of Wisconsin Dells resident Brian Higgins, 52, who was charged last fall with material support of an act of terrorism in the Whitmer case.
A Michigan State Police affidavit showed that Higgins participated in surveillance of Whitmer's vacation home. He also provided night-vision goggles and used a dash camera in his vehicle to record footage of the surveillance.
Wisconsin is a recurring setting in the Whitmer case. The accused plotters discussed kidnapping Whitmer and taking her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election, according to the FBI.
In early July last year, several members of the alleged conspiracy attended firearms training and combat drills in Cambria, 41 miles southeast of Robeson's home.
During the weekend training session, Croft and an unidentified member of a militia group tried and failed to build an improvised explosive device (IED), FBI Special Agent Richard Trask wrote in an affidavit. The IED consisted of black powder, balloons, a fuse and BBs for shrapnel.
An FBI informant provided FBI agents with video of the failed bomb project, according to court records.
The FBI didn't seem distracted by the Robeson indictment. On Wednesday, March 10, federal agents released a list of items seized from three people charged in connection with the alleged Whitmer kidnapping conspiracy – Ty Garbin, Daniel Harris and Eric Molitor.
Garbin had already agreed to testify against the other five defendants charged in federal court in Western Michigan and the eight other men accused in state court of cooperating with the plans to kidnap Whitmer.
The list of items seized by the agents included 18 firearms, a crossbow, more than 700 rounds of ammunition, night-vision goggles and a bronze .30-caliber silencer inscribed with the name "Ty Garbin."
Agents seized a 9mm pistol, ammunition, tactical gear and a My Little Pony-brand holster from Harris while two shotguns, five rifles, two pistols and two revolvers were seized from Molitor.
They also seized metal and plastic handcuffs, a bulletproof vest, a gas mask and tactical leg irons.
According to Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, the firearms, restraints and gear reflect the danger at the heart of the terrorism allegations.
"It definitely speaks to the gravity of the plot and provides further evidence that there was a very serious and real intention to try and kidnap a sitting governor," Lewis said.
Molitor's lawyer, William Barnett, provided a different perspective for owning such items.
"Eric is a gun enthusiast and collector and also purchased the other legal items for either his duties as a private security contractor or as an individual who enjoyed training for defensive paramilitary activities," Barnett told the Detroit News.
"He also has competed and trained for paramilitary competitions that are held annually that involve the proficiency of many of the items listed. Eric had no intention to do anything illegal with these items and again, all items were legal to purchase or possess."
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