More than two years after his arrest, Adam Fox was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison for plotting the kidnap of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in what the government has described as one of the biggest domestic terrorism cases in recent American history.
The government had sought a life sentence for Fox, arguing he was part of a violent extremism movement that sought not only to kidnap the governor, but to spark a civil uprising.
But U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker in Grand Rapids gave 39-year-old Fox the mercy he was looking for as his lawyer, Christopher Gibbons, had long argued against a life sentence. Gibbons maintained Fox was a follower, not a leader, and looked up to FBI informants and undercover agents who cased Whitmer’s vacation home alongside Fox, and accompanied him and others during training sessions.
“(T)he Government … employs exaggerated language to create the false narrative of a terrifying paramilitary leader,” Gibbons argued in court documents. “Adam Fox is described as creating an army with a cadre of operators. … These histrionic descriptions of Adam Fox do not rationally address his actual conduct and they do not accurately reflect either his actual intentions or his actual capabilities.
“Adam Fox was an unemployed vacuum repairman who was venting his frustrations on social media but abiding by the laws of the State of Michigan,” Gibbons argued. ” Adam Fox is not the leader of a multistate ‘army’ of domestic terrorists.”
U.S. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Nils Kessler argued otherwise, calling Fox a “willing and able operations leader.”
“This was no ‘run of the mill’ kidnapping plot,” Kessler argued in court documents. “He targeted not just any victim, but an official victim; and not just any official, but the head of a state. He was no follower; he was an active recruiter and prime mover.”
Jonker agreed with much of what prosecutors argued: that Fox was the leader of the group, that the kidnap plot was defined with a clear target and deadline and that the defendants were not entrapped as they had long argued, but willing participants in a serious crime.
Jonker concluded, though, that Fox’s crimes did not warrant a life behind bars.
Fox chose not to speak at his sentencing hearing, though three of his relatives, including his mother, previously pleaded with the judge in letters to grant a lenient sentence.
“I want you to know him for the man that he truly is, not the counterfeit version portrayed to you by the federal government and media,” Fox’s mother, Christine Badgero, wrote in a letter on file in federal court, in which she described Fox as a loyal and loving person who was wronged by his family, especially her.
“I failed as a loving and nurturing mother but succeeded as an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive one instead,” Fox’s mother wrote to the judge, stressing Fox was rejected by the three key people in his life: her, his father and his grandfather.
“I believe it was this void that created a lifelong need to belong and fit in,” his mother wrote, echoing Fox’s repeated argument that Fox was not a militia leader, but a wounded and lonely person just longing for friends.
“He only wanted to see the good in people,” his mother wrote.
There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system, though Fox could qualify for good behavior credits and get a few years trimmed off his sentence.
Fox is one of four men arrested in an FBI sting in October 2020 outside an Ypsilanti warehouse, where prosecutors say the group was headed to put a down payment on explosives and picking up free military gear. Instead, FBI agents lay in wait for them.
A fifth defendant, Barry Croft, Jr. of Bear, Delaware, was arrested the following day in New Jersey.
A jury found Fox and Croft, Jr. guilty in August. Two others pleaded guilty to charges, while two other men, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, were found not guilty in a separate trial in April. A first trial resulted in hung juries for both Fox and Croft.
Prosecutors argued at both trials that defendants plotted to kidnap Whitmer in large part out of anger over her handling of the pandemic. The government’s star witness who helped the FBI build the case is a former militia member who joined a group called the Wolverine Watchmen and learned of their plot to target police officers, so he contacted the FBI and agreed to go undercover.
The defendants have long argued that this was a case of entrapment – that rogue FBI agents and informants were trying to build their own careers, concocted the kidnapping idea and then enticed the defendants to say and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
A jury in the first trial appeared to agree with that defense theory if the outcome of that case is any indication: No one was convicted. Two men were acquitted on all counts. And the jury deadlocked on counts for Fox and Croft, who were retried and convicted on all counts at a second trial.
Fox and Croft pushed for a third trial and asked that the convictions be overturned, but the judge denied those requests in November.
Croft, Jr. will be sentenced Wednesday.
In a separate state trial, three other men were found guilty in late October of providing support for a terrorist act for their roles in the plot. Earlier this month, five other men were ordered to stand trial for similar charges.
Free Press staff writer Arpan Lopo contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer kidnap plot leader Adam Fox spared life term, gets 16 years