GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — The convicted ringleader of a group that plotted to kidnap Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer avoided a possible life sentence Tuesday for his role in the foiled plan after his relatives begged the judge for mercy.
Adam Fox of Potterville, Michigan, will spend 16 years in prison then be subject to five years of supervised release and fined $2,500 for his role in the busted scheme to capture the Michigan governor and execute her, driven by frustration over restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker methodically went through the facts of the sprawling case before he made his sentencing decision Tuesday morning.
Jonker, a George W. Bush appointee, did not attempt to water down the charges but was convinced that Fox did not embody strong leadership qualities and was more of a keyboard warrior who could rally his followers on social media.
“Nothing makes me think he was a natural leader,” he said.
The judge also made a point to praise law enforcement officials who infiltrated the group and extinguished the threat that could have impacted “our governmental system.”
“The fact that law enforcement was in early…the chances of this actually happening were incredibly remote,” he said.
Nevertheless, even though the physical aspect of the plan was halted, Jonker said the incident has created “emotional baggage that our governor will have to carry.”
Leading up to the hearing, Fox’s mother, sister and aunt filed character reference letters asking the judge for mercy. Fox’s mother Christina Badger blamed herself in her letter.
“I feel great shame…for causing…Adam to feel unwanted,” she wrote, describing herself as an “emotionally and sometimes physically abusive” mother.
She added: “Adam is not a violent person…he is not perfect…but he’s not evil nor is he a terrorist…nor does he deserve life in prison.”
Fox’s lawyer Christopher Gibbons spoke briefly before the decision and referenced the letters as a tool to explain Fox’s place in life. Fox was given the chance to speak in his defense but declined.
A sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors in early December called for Fox to go to jail for the rest of his life.
“He targeted not just any victim….but the head of a state. He was no follower, he was an active recruiter and prime mover. His goal was…a bona fide revolution,” prosecutors wrote.
The memo said a life sentence was necessary to send a message.
“[A] term of life in prison…sends a clear message…officials should never have to worry for their safety, or the security of their families, because of the hard decisions their jobs require," the filing states.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler used this time at Tuesday's hearing to reinforce that Fox was the “essential” leader of the group.
“None of this would have happened if Mr. Fox was not involved,” he said.
Kessler surmised that Fox had an “organizational drive” to recruit other members and used his actions to lead by example.
“They wanted to start a revolution,” the prosecutor said. “He wanted to inspire [others] to take up arms against fellow citizens.”
Kessler warned that Fox’s time in jail would most likely make him even more of an extremist and that life imprisonment was the safest option.
In August, Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were found guilty of kidnapping conspiracy and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction by a jury that deliberated less than a day, following a mistrial in April when the jury deliberated for a week but could not come to a consensus.
In October, another jury in Jackson County, Michigan, found three other men guilty of aiding the kidnapping plot.Pete Morrison, his father-in-law Joe Musico and their fellow militiaman Paul Bellar were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a group of so-called “boogaloo bois” who fantasized about an impending civil war and provided training to Fox.
When Whitmer locked down the state in April 2020 to slow the spread of Covid-19, right-wing activists — including some carrying assault rifles — descended on the Michigan Capitol soon after to protest her stay-at-home order in a scene that presaged the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.
FBI agent Timothy Bates, who was known as “Red” while undercover, testified about his contact with the accused and how he convinced them he had access to bomb-making materials. Bates said the explosives were coveted by Fox, who allegedly wanted to blow up a bridge near the governor’s home to slow the police response.
Ty Garbin, who pleaded guilty in January 2021, also testified and told the jurors what the “boogaloo” group represented.
“The boogaloo is a movement … the foundation of it is basically we need a second Civil War, another revolution,” Garbin explained.
Croft is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday.
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