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 Democratic politician and blow up a bridge to facilitate the escape.
Adam Fox had been convicted by a jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Also convicted on the same charges was Barry Croft Jr, another member of the far-right Three Percenters militia. His sentence will be imposed on Wednesday.
Both were accused of being at the forefront of a harebrained plot to whip up anti-government extremists just before the 2020 presidential election. Their arrest, as well as the capture of 12 others, was a stunning close to a tumultuous year of racial strife and political turmoil in the US.
The government had pushed for a life sentence, saying Croft contributed bomb-making skills and extremist 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 deterrence for future similar acts, the government’s request for life in prison “is not necessary to achieve those purposes.”
“It’s too much. Something less than life imprisonment will do in this case,” Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “still seems like a long time.”
In addition to the 16-year prison sentence, Fox must serve five years of supervised release.
They had no real plan if they kidnapped Whitmer and that made them more dangerous
Fox and Croft were convicted in a second trial in August, months after a different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, could not reach a verdict but acquitted two other men.
In 2020, the two met with like-minded provocateurs at a summit in Ohio, trained with guns in Michigan and Wisconsin, and took a drive to “lay eyes” on Whitmer’s vacation home with night-vision goggles, according to evidence.
“People need to stop expressing their anger misplaced and put it where it needs to go, and that goes against our tyrannical…government,” Fox declared that spring, speaking about covid-19 restrictions and perceived threats to gun ownership.
Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI, which was secretly embedded in the group, disbanded the operation by the fall.
” They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually captured her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing before the hearing.
In 2020, Fox, 39, lived in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum cleaner store, the site of clandestine meetings with members of a paramilitary group attended by an undercover FBI agent. His attorney said he was depressed, anxious and smoked marijuana daily.
Christopher Gibbons testified that a life sentence would be extreme
Fox was regularly exposed to the “inflammatory rhetoric” of FBI informants, especially Army veteran Dan Chappel, who “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism,’ but also his need for friendship, acceptance and male approval,” Gibbons said in a court filing.
He added that prosecutors had exaggerated Fox’s capabilities, saying he was poor and lacked the ability to obtain a bomb and carry out the plan.
Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received significant sentence reductions: Ty Garbin is now free after two and a half years in prison, while Kaleb Franks received a four-year sentence.
In state court, three men recently received lengthy sentences for aiding Fox in early summer 2020. Five more await trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.
When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer, a Democrat, blamed then-President Donald Trump and said he had given “comfort to those who spread fear, hate and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the sequester plot was a “bogus deal.”
With information from Univision