Fox avoids life sentence in Whitmer kidnapping plot, ordered to serve 16 years

By: - December 27, 2022 12:05 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs a stay at home order to fight COVID-19, March 23, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

The man called the “driving force” behind a plot to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 has been sentenced to prison, although not nearly as long as prosecutors had sought.

Adam Fox, 39, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker on Tuesday to serve a term of 16 years in prison, with five years of supervised release.

While Fox declined to speak on his own behalf before the sentence was handed down, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued for a life term, telling the court that the plot was not about COVID protocols but instead about overthrowing the government.

“This is about something completely different and it’s serious,” Kessler said, adding that Fox and co-defendants “had enough guns and armor for a small war.

“They spent all their free time and money training for it, and they went to the governor’s house in the middle of the night,” Kessler continued. “For anyone who’s a public servant, you have to try and imagine the idea of armed gangs, of private soldiers showing up at your house in the middle of the night. We’ve seen in other countries, that’s how it is. Nobody decent wants a job of being a public servant because they’re afraid. Once we start down that path, it is hard to come back. And I think this sentence needs to say to the public and to everyone who might be deterred, that that is not how things are going to work in America.”

However, Jonker said while Fox’s actions were indeed serious, they didn’t rise to the level of a life sentence, noting among other factors the lack of a previous criminal history. He also said the intervention and quick actions by law enforcement made it unlikely that Fox and his co-defendants would actually have been able to carry out their plan.

The sentence followed the guilty verdict handed down in August by a federal court jury in Grand Rapids on conspiracy charges connected to a plot to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan in retaliation for her COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic. 

Also found guilty was Barry Croft Jr., 46. He is set to be sentenced on Wednesday.

It was the second trial for both after a jury in April could not reach a verdict, while acquitting two others, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Authorities say the plotters sought to create chaos in the days leading up to the 2020 general election. 

Fox and Croft were also found guilty of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction, related to their attempt to purchase explosives that could be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home in order to slow police responding to the kidnapping.

Evidence presented during both trials indicated Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout out the area around Whitmer’s second home with Croft and an undercover agent coming along on one of the trips.

Croft, a trucker from Delaware, was also convicted on an additional explosives charge.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a statement after the sentence was announced. 

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that domestic terrorism will not be tolerated,” said Nessel. “Adam Fox’s actions undermined the security of every Michigan resident. 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.” 

Assisting the prosecution was testimony from two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

The investigation began when a U.S Army veteran, Dan Chappel, agreed to become an informant after joining a group whose members called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen. He said he did so to maintain his firearm skills, but agreed to assist the FBI after discussion among the group turned to making plans for attacking police.

The FBI then placed a pair of informants and another pair of undercover agents in the group, finally deciding to arrest the plotters in October 2020, after authorities say they discussed raising $4,000 to purchase the explosive to blow up the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home.

Garbin, an airplane mechanic, said the men trained at his other property near Luther, Michigan, constructing a “shoot house” to resemble Whitmer’s vacation home and “assaulting it with firearms.”

Franks backed up Garbin’s testimony, saying the men willingly entered into the plot, the goal of which was to kidnap Whitmer.

In a filing ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing, Kessler said that had the plotters succeeded, Whitmer’s life would have been in great jeopardy.

“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” said Kessler, adding that Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”

Defense attorneys presented a different view, focusing on the approximately $50,000 Chappel was paid for his services and the hours of recorded conversations he had with Fox, described by the government as the group’s leader.

Fox was described at trial by his own attorney, Joshua Gibbons, as lacking those skills, saying, “Adam Fox is not the leader the government wants him to be.“ He was also referred to by his co-defendants as “Captain Autism”

Instead, Gibbons said Fox was usually high from smoking marijuana while living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop. Gibbons also said Fox sought the approval of Chappel, known as Big Dan, who he said led his client on.

While that portrayal was effective in the first trial, it failed to make an impact on the second jury, which convicted both Fox and Croft on all charges.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.