A federal judge sentenced a man to 16 years in prison Tuesday for his role in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — opting against the prosecution's request 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 failed to come to verdicts against Fox and co-defendant Barry Croft in April, 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 the 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 in which U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, the brother of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, sentenced Islamic State 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 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 Tuesday. "They wanted to ruin everything for everybody."
Kessler warned that Fox will still be dangerous 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, when she ordered lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid.
Far-right groups blasted Whitmer, and then-President Donald Trump appeared to back the opposition in an all-caps tweet.
Defense attorney Christopher Gibbons argued 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."
Even though Tuesday's sentence fell short of life, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said that the term holds Fox and other "perpetrators of such acts fully accountable under the law.”
“Responding to domestic terrorism has been a priority for the Department of Justice since its founding," Birge, the top federal prosecutor in the Western District of Michigan, said in a statement.
"Rest assured: we will spare no effort to disrupt plots like these and hold those responsible accountable to the law.”
Croft is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday.
Whitmer's office said Tuesday the governor had no comment beyond a statement she made when the men were convicted, insisting that "violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable."