Prosecutors in Whitmer kidnap plot say life sentence fits

Federal prosecutors told a judge Monday that a life prison sentence would be justified for the leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying his goal to turn the country upside down in 2020 was a forerunner of rampant anti-government extremism.

“If our elected leaders must live in fear, our representative government suffers. A plan to kidnap and harm the governor of Michigan is not only a threat to the officeholder but to democracy itself,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote.

Adam Fox “fanatically embraced the cause and persistently pushed his recruits to action,” Kessler said.

The court filing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, came a week before U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker is scheduled to sentence Fox for conspiracy crimes. He and co-defendant Barry Croft Jr. were convicted in August.

Fox’s attorney hadn’t filed a sentencing memo yet. At trial, Christopher Gibbons portrayed him as hapless and virtually homeless, a man with a loud, vile mouth who was living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop.

Jonker has much flexibility in determining Fox’s punishment, though Kessler noted that his sentencing score is “off the chart,” greatly enhanced by a conviction for conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction in the scheme.

“The guidelines provide for a life sentence because Congress recognized kidnapping is an extremely serious offense,” Kessler said. “When the aim of that kidnapping is to terrorize the people and affect the conduct of government, it is so pernicious that only the most serious sanction is sufficient.”

In 33 pages, the prosecutor highlighted what FBI agents and informants revealed at trial, repeatedly citing Fox’s own violent words, which were secretly recorded or plucked from text messages and social media.

“Fox’s plot was a harbinger of more widespread anti-government militia extremism,” Kessler said.

Fox and others trained with guns inside crudely built “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan and made trips to Elk Rapids to scout Whitmer’s second home. The strategy included blowing up a bridge to slow down police officers responding to an abduction, according to evidence. The FBI broke up the plan with arrests in October 2020.

The government said Fox’s rage at elected officials was fueled by Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“We want a revolutionary war,” he said in a June 2020 video. “We want to get rid of this corrupt, tyrannical … government. That’s what we want to get rid of.”

Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced on Dec. 28. Two more men pleaded guilty to the kidnapping conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft, while two other men were acquitted last spring.

In October, in state court, three members of a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were convicted of providing support for Fox.

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