Briant Titus wasn’t around when a group of men met in his vacuum repair shop’s basement this summer, allegedly to discuss attacking the Michigan state capitol and using Molotov cocktails to destroy police vehicles.
Nor was he present around a month later when the alleged ringleader of the plot to also kidnap the governor of Michigan, Adam Fox, told an FBI informant in the shop that their best chance would be a “snatch and grab” at the governor’s vacation house.
But now, it’s all Titus hears about.
“Everybody’s calling here,” he told TPM Wednesday. “I’m getting a lot of hate calls, too.”
The Grand Rapids shop, Vac Shack, has turned into an unexpected focal point of a foiled criminal conspiracy, for which six people face federal charges and seven more face terrorism counts in state court.
“I’m in shock, I just wish it would go away, but it’s not,” he said. “I just hope it don’t affect my business, that’s all.”
Titus has known Fox for years, he told TPM. He let Fox sleep in the store’s basement off and on for months and employed him part-time.
Titus, who denies any involvement with the plot, is little more than a bystander in the case. He doesn’t appear anywhere in the charging documents, and he has not been charged. But the Vac Shack basement figures prominently in the criminal charges.
During the June meeting, according to the FBI, Fox led everyone downstairs at the Vac Shack and then collected attendees’ phones in an effort to prevent audio recording. But he didn’t check thoroughly enough: The whole thing was recorded by the informant.
Titus said the 37-year-old Fox often complained about the state’s COVID-19 restrictions and warned that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee, would attempt to seize guns if Democrats won the White House. But Titus couldn’t fathom the kidnapping plot allegations.
“What’s going on right now, that’s not him,” he said of Fox. “It don’t make no sense.”
“I told his mom, he’s gotta be insane if he did all this,” the shop owner added. “She got mad at me. But obviously somebody in their right mind wouldn’t do something like this.”
Titus said he’d been instructed not to discuss what the FBI had seized from his shop because “everything’s still up in the air, with what they’re going to charge him with.”
In court Tuesday, the FBI agent handling the kidnapping plot case, Richard Trask, alleged that men involved in the Michigan plot also discussed potentially kidnapping the governor of Virginia.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Titus said. “They were going to kidnap the Virginia governor, too?”
It was no secret that Fox was in a militia, Titus said. But allegedly plotting to kidnap governors? “When you cross that line, there’s no looking back.”
Whatever planning Fox did, he kept it hidden from the Vac Shack owner — “because he knew he’d be homeless” otherwise, Titus speculated.
But Titus did witness one thing: Some of Fox’s last words as a free man.
On the day of Fox’s arrest, Titus recalled, “some guy walked in” at the store and Fox started making his way out the door. Titus asked where they were going.
“I’m going to a meeting on the east side of the state,” Titus recalled Fox responding.
According to the FBI’s version of events, it wasn’t just any meeting: Fox and others allegedly met with an undercover law enforcement officer with the intent to “make a payment on explosives and exchange tactical gear,” an agent’s affidavit said. Soon, Fox was in federal custody.