GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the men convicted of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will spend 16 years in a federal prison.
Adam Fox, 39, was sentenced by Judge Robert Jonker on Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids. In addition to the 192 months in prison, the judge imposed five years of supervised release, $2,000 in fines and fees and ordered Fox to participate in a substance abuse recovery program.
“This is incredibly serious activity and there is no doubt about that in my mind,” Jonker said.
He said Whitmer will have to bear the trauma of the plot and it will weigh on other government officials as they consider their careers.
“That does need a forceful sentence from the court,” Jonker said.
Investigators say Fox, of metro Grand Rapids, and another man, Barry Croft Jr. of Delaware, led a militia that planned to kidnap Whitmer before the plot was busted in October 2020. In court, prosecutors presented evidence that the men intended to snatch her from her vacation home near Elk Rapids and blow up bridges to slow down the police chasing them. Investigators say the men tried to buy explosives — though the sellers were actually undercover FBI agents. Two of the conspirators ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges. Two other co-defendants were acquitted in the spring; the same jury deadlocked on Fox and Croft. They were retried and convicted in August.
Federal prosecutors had argued Fox should be sentenced to life in prison under a terrorism enhancement that they said was appropriate because he planned to blow up bridges. They also said that his sentence should be severe because the victim in the case is a government official and because Fox was a leader in the plot.
“…Mr. Fox was really the driving force,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said. “I think it’s fair to say that none of this would have happened if Mr. Fox had not been involved.”
He said Fox was an active recruiter and told others he would lead by example. Kessler referenced all of the preparation the group did, including training at a “kill house” they built.
He condemned Fox’s motive for the alleged kidnapping, saying he wanted to start a revolution or “second Civil War.” He recognized the “outrageous” nature of the plot, but said that the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was evidence that Fox was not alone in his line of thinking. Kessler said that Fox’s sentence should serve as an example for others who might have similar aspirations.
Kessler called Fox remorseless, adding that Fox was “smirking” at him in the courtroom as he went through his sentencing arguments.
Defense attorneys disagreed with a life sentence, saying Fox and his group would never have been able to actually kidnap the governor. Fox’s attorney Christopher Gibbons spoke only briefly at sentencing, saying that prosecutors were overstating Fox’s role.
Asked by the judge if he would like to make a statement, Fox said only that he was satisfied with what his lawyer had put forth.
Whitmer did not attend the hearing, nor did she send a statement to be read aloud in open court.
Jonker acknowledged Fox as someone who was driving the plot forward, though he noted Fox was lacking in tactical knowledge and questioned whether anyone would have actually followed him into battle. He also made it clear he disagreed with the defense’s argument that Fox and his group were entrapped by FBI agents, saying he saw criminal intent from the defendants.
“We can all be thankful they (the FBI agents) were there early,” Jonker said.
But Jonker said that while the case was serious, he did not think a life sentence was necessary to serve as a deterrent.
Daniel Harris, one of two men acquitted in the spring, sat next to Fox’s mom in the courtroom. Both refused to comment after the sentencing.
After the hearing, former U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge defended his office’s request for a life sentence.
“We stand by our recommendation,” he said. “The judge has the discretion to disagree with the sentencing commission. We try to be consistent across defendants and across cases, but the judge did a thorough job of explaining his reasoning.
“He’ll be serving a long term in prison. I don’t know anyone who thinks that 16 years that they’re serving is a short sentence.”
“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 — and to holding the perpetrators of such acts fully accountable under the law,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a release.
In her own statement, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose office is prosecuting some of plot suspects at the state level, said the sentencing “sends a clear message that domestic terrorism will not be tolerated.”
“Adam Fox’s actions undermined the security of every Michigan resident,” Nessel’s statement continued. “I remain deeply grateful to Judge Jonker, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the Michigan State Police and every person who worked together to ensure justice was served.”
Gibbons, Fox’s attorney, said the conviction will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“I think the judge did what he thought was right, and the Court of Appeals will have to review the trial after this,” he said after the sentencing.
Sentencing for Croft — described by Kessler as the “ideas guy” of the conspiracy — is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.