©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer sits in a 2019 Chevrolet Traverse assembled in Lansing, Michigan at the General Motors show area during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 15, 2019. REUTERS/ re
By Kanishka Singh and Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – The leader of a foiled right-wing militia plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced to 16 years in prison by a US district court on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Adam Fox, 39, was found guilty in August by a federal jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on one count each of conspiracy to kidnap Democrat Whitmer and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction in a plan prosecutors said that it was intended to start a “second American revolution”.
Co-defendant Barry Croft Jr., 47, like Fox a member of the Three Percenters militia group, was convicted in the same trial on the same charges and was due to be sentenced Wednesday.
Prosecutors described Fox as the mastermind behind a conspiracy to break into Whitmer’s vacation home, kidnap her at gunpoint, and try her on false charges of treason, facing her execution.
US District Court Judge Richard Jonker said he didn’t think the life sentence prosecutors were asking for was appropriate, saying the crimes warranted a “significant sentence,” the Detroit News reported. Fox declined to speak during the sentencing hearing and had no reaction to the verdict, the report added.
The judge also imposed five years of supervised release in addition to the 192-month sentence, prosecutors said.
Fox’s attorney said prosecutors overplayed his role. The attorney added that Fox and Croft never used explosives and the group would never have been able to actually kidnap the governor.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy, sparked by the group’s opposition to public health measures Whitmer imposed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, aimed to push the country into armed conflict, as a contentious race for the presidency approached in November 2020.
The weapon of mass destruction involved was a bomb, which prosecutors say the conspirators intended to detonate to prevent law enforcement from responding to the hijacking.
Whitmer, co-chair of Joe Biden’s White House campaign this year, had publicly fallen out with then-President Donald Trump over their COVID-19 policies.
She accused Trump of fueling political extremism by repeatedly directing heated rhetoric on the issue, including at a campaign rally in Michigan where his criticism of Whitmer drew “lock her up” chants from the crowd.
Fox and Croft were among 13 men arrested in October 2020 as part of the kidnapping plot.
Two others tried them in federal court were found not guilty in April 2022. The same jury failed to reach a verdict for Fox and Croft, resulting in a mistrial for them.
Two other men who pleaded guilty to kidnapping charges of conspiracy testified for the prosecution at the first federal trial and during the retrial of Fox and Croft about four months later.
The two cooperating witnesses, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, were sentenced to 2 1/2 years and four years in prison, respectively.
Three other men were tried together in state court and convicted in October 2022 for supporting roles in the conspiracy, as members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia were recently sentenced to minimum terms of 10, 12 and 7 years in prison, respectively.