The leader of a foiled plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was sentenced on Tuesday to 16 years in prison.
The sentence handed down to Adam Fox stemmed from his conviction at a second federal trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in August, for conspiring to abduct the Democrat and blow up a bridge so the kidnappers could escape.
Barry Croft Jr, who co-led the plot, was also found guilty at that trial. He is due to be sentenced on Wednesday.
Fox and Croft were accused of spearheading a conspiracy to foment anti-government extremists shortly before the 2020 elections. Their arrests, and the apprehension of 12 others, spoke to extensive social and political strife in the US that characterized 2020, a year of pandemic and protest, often in the shape of violent extremism.
Whitmer was not harmed. Federal agents embedded with the extremists ended the conspiratorial activities by autumn.
“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her,” Nils Kessler, a prosecutor on the case, wrote in a court filing. “Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less.”
Prosecutors said the men’s scheme was meant to spur a “second American revolution”. They said Fox was the mastermind behind the plan to enter Gretchen’s vacation home, capture her at gunpoint and then force her to stand “trial” on fake treason charges – and face the death penalty.
The men were angered by public health policies Whitmer put in place to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Whitmer also butted heads with the then president Donald Trump over such restrictions.
She claimed Trump fanned the flames of political extremism. At one campaign event in the state, his attacks spurred shouts of “lock her up”.
Fox and Croft convened with ideologically aligned extremists in Ohio. They carried out weapons training in Wisconsin and Michigan and surveilled Whitmer’s vacation residence using night-vision goggles, according to reports detailing evidence against the men.
“People need to stop with the misplaced anger and place the anger where it should go, and that’s against our tyrannical … government,” Fox said in spring 2020, referring to Covid-19 regulations and perceived affronts to gun owners.
Prosecutors requested a life sentence, arguing that while Croft brought bomb-making skills to the table, Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way”.
Fox’s attorney, Christopher Gibbons, argued that a life sentence would be excessive. Pointing out that secretive meetings with extremists and an undercover federal agent took place in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum store where Fox also lived, Gibbons claimed that Fox was anxious and depressed, smoking marijuana on a daily basis.
FBI informants routinely exposed Fox to “inflammatory rhetoric”, Gibbons said. The attorney drew attention to the US army veteran Dan Chappel, whom he claimed “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism’ but also his need for friendship, acceptance and male approval”.
Gibbons contended that the government overstated Fox’s abilities, claiming he was impoverished and was not capable of obtaining a bomb in order to effect the plan.
The judge, Robert J Jonker said a life sentence was “not necessary”.
“It’s too much,” Jonker said. “Something less than life gets the job done in this case.”
The judge added that 16 years behind bars was “still in my mind a very long time”.