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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Co-leader of Michigan governor kidnapping plot jailed for 16 years

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The co-leader of a plot to kidnap US governor Gretchen Whitmer has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for conspiring to abduct the Democrat and blow up a bridge to facilitate an escape.

Adam Fox, 39, returned to federal court four months after he and Barry Croft Jr were convicted of conspiracy charges at a second trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They were accused of being at the helm of a 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 end to a tumultuous year of racial strife and political turmoil in the US.

The government had pushed for a life sentence, saying 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”.

But Judge Robert J Jonker said that while Fox’s sentence was needed as a punishment and deterrent to future similar acts, the government’s request for life in prison was “not necessary to achieve those purposes”.

“It’s too much. Something less than life gets the job done in this case,” Mr Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “is still in my mind a very long time”.

Mr Jonker said he also considered the emotional baggage Whitmer would have to carry due to the plot.

“It undoubtedly affects other people who are in public office or are considering public office. They have to count the cost. That does need a forceful sentence from the court,” he said.

In addition to the 16-year prison sentence, Fox will have to serve five years of supervised release. But he will get credit for the more than two years he has spent in custody since his arrest.

Fox and Croft were convicted at a second trial in August, months after a different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, failed to reach a verdict but acquitted two other men.

Croft, a truck driver from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced on Wednesday.

Fox and Croft met with like-minded provocateurs at a summit in Ohio in 2020, they trained with weapons in Michigan and Wisconsin and took a ride to “put eyes” on Whitmer’s holiday home with night-vision goggles, according to evidence.

“People need to stop with the misplaced anger and place the anger where it should go, and that’s against our tyrannical … government,” Fox declared that spring, fuming over Covid-19 restrictions and perceived threats to gun ownership.

Whitmer was not physically harmed. The FBI, which was secretly embedded in the group, broke things up by autumn.

“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” assistant US attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing ahead of the hearing.

Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial sentencing mitigations: Ty Garbin is already free after serving a two-and-a-half-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

In state court recently, three men were given lengthy sentences for assisting Fox earlier in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s holiday home is located.

When the plot was quashed, Whitmer, a Democrat, blamed then-president Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division”. In August, 19 months after leaving office, Mr Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal”.

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