A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a man to 16 years in prison for his role in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — opting against the prosecution’s bid for life behind bars.
Adam Fox, 39, was convicted in August of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and to use a weapon of mass destruction to attack Whitmer, who had drawn the ire of far-right groups for her efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 in 2020.
Jurors in April failed to come to verdicts against Fox and co-defendant Barry Croft, forcing a judge to declare a mistrial before a second trial proved decisive.
U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker questioned whether Fox was a true “natural leader” of the plot, worthy of a life sentence.
“I don’t think life is needed to achieve the important public deterrent factors,” Jonker said in Grand Rapids, explaining the 192-month sentence.
While a terrorism enhancement set up Fox for a possible life term, Jonker said that harshest sentence isn’t automatic and that he had to carefully consider other factors.
Jonker said he leaned heavily on a 2018-19 Northern California case where U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, brother of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, sentenced ISIS sympathizer Amer Alhaggagi to 188 months in prison, more than 15 years short of the 33 years sought by prosecutors.
“You have to calibrate, as judges, the overall seriousness of wrongdoing and the overall seriousness of the defendant’s history,” Jonker said.
“I see nothing in the record … nothing that makes me think he’s (Fox) a natural leader and nothing that makes me think he’s the kind of person that anybody involved in this group was naturally going to follow.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler had said Fox was out to spark an all-out war and needed to be put away for life.
“They wanted a second Civil War or a revolution,” Kessler told the court on Tuesday. “They wanted to ruin everything for everybody.”
Kessler warned that Fox will still be a dangerous man when he someday walks free.
“The problem is this defendant, he’s going to go into jail and probably emerge more radicalized than when he went in and will remain a danger to the public, your honor,” the prosecutor said.
The plot was hatched in response to Whitmer’s actions during the start of the pandemic in 2020 when she ordered various lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of Covid.
Far-right groups blasted Whitmer, and then-President Donald Trump appeared to back that opposition in an all-caps tweet.
Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons argued on Tuesday that a life sentence would have been too much.
“That overstates the reality of the conduct that has been alleged and that was actually accomplished by Adam Fox in summer of 2020,” Gibbons said.
Fox declined an opportunity to address the court: “I’m satisfied with what my lawyer said.”
Croft is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.
A representative for Whitmer could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.