Leader in plot to kidnap US governor sentenced to 16 years

One of the men accused of masterminding a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been sentenced to 16 years in prison, four months after he was found guilty in a Michigan court room.

Adam Fox was convicted in August of conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, a prominent figure in the Democratic Party, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in the scheme. He had faced a life sentence.

Prosecutors allege that Fox, along with his co-defendant Barry Croft Jr, were the ringleaders of the thwarted operation that was designed to ignite a “second American revolution”.

“Today’s sentence reflects the Department of Justice’s unwavering commitment to protecting our elected officials, law enforcement officers, and dedicated public servants from criminal threats and violence,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a statement on Tuesday.

But in advance of the hearing, Fox’s defence team argued for leniency, saying he had been “manipulated” into “extremism” partly through the intervention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which had informants among the conspirators.

Fox and Croft were among 13 men arrested in October 2020 as part of the kidnapping plot, which prosecutors say aimed to foment unrest before that year’s US presidential election.

According to prosecutors, both men had ties to a far-right militia group called the Three Percenters, named after the unfounded claim that only 3 percent of early US colonists participated in the American Revolution.

Fox’s defence team sought to depict his mental state as precarious at the time: In 2020, they said, Fox was anxious and depressed, smoking marijuana daily in his apartment in the basement of a Michigan vacuum shop.

They also claimed he was poor and incapable of obtaining the materials needed to carry out the plot.

The defence team sought to point the finger instead at the FBI, which had informants and undercover agents embedded in the group. They described individuals like Fox as “big talkers” who were pushed to action by the undercover operatives.

Fox’s lawyers said he particularly sought friendship and acceptance from individuals like Dan Chappel, an Army veteran who joined the Wolverine Watchmen militia group in 2020. Chappel became an FBI informant after he claimed the group’s rhetoric turned violent, and he helped to build the case against Fox and his co-defendants.

When questioned by Assistant US Attorney Nils Kessler, Chappel identified Fox as the leader of the scheme.

A headshot from jail of Adam Fox
Adam Fox faced a life sentence on conspiracy charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction [File: Kent County Jail/AP Photo]

But in the criminal complaint against Fox, US authorities described him as a recruiter and organiser of the scheme, and accused him of encouraging others to participate in the plot to kidnap Whitmer.

The Michigan governor had gained national attention in 2020 for implementing state-level COVID-19 restrictions, including a blanket stay-at-home order. That policy prompted then-President Donald Trump to tweet, in all caps, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

She also served as campaign co-chair for Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, who was running for the presidency at the time of the kidnap plot.

According to the criminal complaint, Fox considered Whitmer a “tyrant”. He proposed abducting her in order to put her on trial for “treason” at a secret location in Wisconsin, just before the 2020 elections were scheduled to take place, in the hope of sparking armed conflict.

It would be a “snatch and grab” operation, Fox allegedly said, targeting the governor at her lakeside vacation home in the northern part of the state.

Prosecutors said Fox led efforts to coordinate nighttime surveillance around the home, gathering intelligence using two-way radios and night-vision scopes.

Fox and his co-defendant Croft also are accused of planning to plant a bomb under a highway bridge leading away from the vacation home. In September 2020, prosecutors said Fox approached an undercover FBI agent to bue $4,000 worth of explosives while Croft tested improvised explosives as a field-training exercise.

A few weeks later, Fox also bought a high-voltage Taser. A final training exercise was planned for late October, according to the criminal complaint. The group was arrested before the plot could take place, and Whitmer was unharmed.

The government said Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way”.

After the arrests, a federal court jury in Michigan acquitted two men accused of being involved in the plot but failed to reach a verdict in the charges against Croft and Fox, leading to a mistrial.

A jury later found both Croft and Fox guilty in August after a second trial.

Prosecutors used two cooperating witnesses at that trial, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, both of whom had previously pleaded guilty for their role in the abduction plot.

Garbin is already free after serving two-and-a-half years in prison. Franks, meanwhile, is serving a four-year prison term.

Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, is set to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Three more men were convicted and sentenced to prison terms earlier this month for their roles in the kidnapping plot.

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