The co-leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison for conspiring to kidnap the Democrat and blow up a bridge to facilitate the escape.
Adam Fox’s sentence is the longest of anyone convicted in the plot to date, although it is significantly shorter than the life sentence prosecutors sought.
Fox, 39, returned to federal court four months after he and Barry Croft Jr. they were convicted of conspiracy charges in a second trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
They were accused of orchestrating a savage plot to raise anti-government extremists just ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Their arrest, along with the capture of 12 others, was a stunning coda to a tumultuous year of racial strife and unrest politics in the United States.
The government said Croft provided bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging his recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”
But Judge Robert J. Jonker said that while Fox’s sentence was necessary as punishment and a deterrent to future similar acts, the government’s request for a life sentence “is not necessary to achieve those purposes.”
“It’s too much. Something less than life does the job in this case,” Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “is still on my mind for a long time.”
Jonker said he also considered the emotional baggage Whitmer will have to carry because of the storyline.
“It affects, without a doubt, other people who hold public positions or are considering a public position”, he said, “they have to count the cost. This does require a strong judgment from the court.”
In addition to the prison term, Fox will serve five years of supervised release. He will also receive more than two years in prison since his arrest.
“Responding to domestic terrorism plots has been a priority for the Department of Justice since its founding, and we will continue to spare no expense to make sure we disrupt plots like these,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge told reporters outside of the court after the sentence.
Fox wore orange prison clothes with long, straight hair and a full beard. He showed little reaction when the sentence was read.
Daniel Harris, who was acquitted by a jury earlier this year for his part in the plot, sat next to Fox’s mother in the gallery and hugged her after the sentence was read. Fox looked around the gallery several times, often mouthing words.
He shook his head and smiled repeatedly as Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler spoke. Kessler said Fox’s smile was a sign he had no regrets.
Fox and Croft were convicted in a second trial in August, months after a different Grand Rapids jury failed to reach a verdict but acquitted Harris and another man. Croft, a truck driver from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced Wednesday.
In 2020, Fox and Croft met with like-minded provocateurs in Ohio, trained with weapons in Michigan and Wisconsin, and took a “eyeballing” trip to Whitmer’s vacation home wearing night vision goggles, according to the evidence
“People need to stop misplaced anger and put anger where it should go, and that goes against our … tyrannical government,” Fox declared that spring, teasing the COVID-19 restrictions and perceived threats to gun ownership.
Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI, which was secretly embedded in the group, broke things up in the fall.
“They had no real plan of what to do with the governor if they actually seized him. Paradoxically, that made them more dangerous, not less,” Kessler said in a court filing before the hearing.
At the time, Fox was living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area junk shop, the site of clandestine meetings with members of a paramilitary group and an undercover FBI agent. His lawyer, Christopher Gibbons, said he was depressed, anxious and smoked marijuana daily.
Gibbons said a life sentence would be extreme.
Jonker said there was nothing to make him think of Fox as a “natural leader,” but said conspiracies like the Whitmer kidnapping plot take “a lot of fuel” and that Fox “provided it.”
“It’s important to recognize that the likelihood of this happening, thank God, was low because law enforcement did it early,” Jonker said. “I think the chances of that actually happening were incredibly remote.”
Arguing Tuesday for a life sentence, Kessler said, “I think you could say that none of this would have happened if Mr. Fox wasn’t involved.”
“They wanted a second civil war or revolution,” Kessler said of the plotters before Jonker’s sentencing. “They wanted to ruin everything for everyone. It wasn’t about masks or vaccines. They were talking about overthrowing the government before the coronavirus pandemic. They had enough weapons and armor for a small war.”
Fox was regularly subjected to “inflammatory rhetoric” from FBI informants, particularly Army veteran Dan Chappel, who “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism,’ but also his need for male friendship, acceptance and approval,” Gibbons said in a court filing.
Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin is now free after serving 2 1/2 years in prison, while Kaleb Franks received a four-year sentence .
Three members of a paramilitary group that trained with Fox were convicted in October of providing material support for a terrorist act. Their sentences, handed down earlier this month in state court, ranged from 7 to 12 years.
Five others are awaiting trial in County Antrim, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.
When the plot fizzled, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear, hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump called the hijacking plan a “bogus deal.”
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