Michigan governor kidnap plot ringleaders sentenced, Proud Boy trial: The week in extremism

Will Carless

Two ringleaders of a plot to kidnap Michigan's governor were sentenced to long prison sentences this week. A historic trial of Proud Boys related to the Jan. 6 insurrection is underway, and a Department of Homeland Security memo warns of domestic extremism related to the end of Title 42.

It's the week in extremism.

Ringleader sentenced:In Michigan, Whitmer kidnap plot leader Adam Fox spared life sentence, gets 16 years

Kidnap plot:3 men sentenced seven to 12 years in kidnap plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer celebrates her reelection in Detroit on Nov. 8, 2022.

Whitmer kidnap plot leaders sentenced

Two ringleaders of a 2020 conspiracy to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were sentenced to 16 years and more than 19 years of imprisonment respectively this week, bringing to a close a long and convoluted prosecution that at times looked shaky for the federal government.

  • The plot involved plans to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home and blow up a bridge to help the kidnappers escape authorities. The conspiracy was heavily infiltrated by undercover FBI agents from the start, who witnessed the suspects casing Whitmer's home and talking about civil war.  
  • Adam Fox, a 39-year-old unemployed vacuum repairman, was sentenced to 16 years on Monday, escaping the life sentence federal prosecutors had asked for. 
  • Barry Croft, Jr. a truck driver from Delaware who also faced a life sentence, was sentenced to more than 19 years on Wednesday. The judge issuing the sentence said: "I do think of Mr. Croft as more culpable — he gave Mr. Fox something to hang on to, a higher purpose."
  • The men planning to kidnap Whitmer appear to have been driven by the concept of "accelerationism" — seeking to foment civil war and ensuing dystopia to bring about a new global order. They were deeply steeped in conspiracy theories, including disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Context: The case is probably the country's highest-profile domestic extremism prosecution not related directly to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Two other men accused of participating in the plot were acquitted in a previous trial in April.         

Trial begins:Jury selection begins in trial for Proud Boys leaders charged with seditious conspiracy

Proud Boys recruitment:They joined the Wisconsin Proud Boys looking for brotherhood. They found racism, bullying and antisemitism.

Proud Boys Jan. 6 trial underway

The historic Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy trial of members of the extremist street gang the Proud Boys is underway. It's the highest-profile case to come out of the insurrection since Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and others were found guilty of seditious conspiracy last month. 

  • Former Proud Boys chairman Henry "Enrique" Tarrio and four other defendants are charged with seditious conspiracy and other serious felonies that could land them in prison for more than 20 years.
  • Tarrio himself wasn't in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, but prosecutors allege he was deeply involved in the conspiracy to attack the Capitol.
  • Background: Jury selection got started on Dec. 19 and will continue next week. USA TODAY has a good backgrounder on the case, and the defendants, here
Migrants crossed the Rio Grande and approach the Texas National Guard to enquire when they will be allowed to be processed by Customs and Border Protection to seek asylum in El Paso, Texas on Dec. 20, 2022.

Title 42 remains intact:SCOTUS blocks President Biden from ending the migrant expulsions of Title 42

Title 42 explainer:What is Title 42, when does it end, how does it impact US-Mexico border? Here's what to know

DHS: End of Title 42 could spark extremist activity

The Department of Homeland Security warned in a memo this month that the end of Title 42 — a mandate used by President Donald Trump's administration during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to deny entry to migrants — could result in an increase in domestic extremist activity aimed at the immigrant population. The Supreme Court kept Title 42 in place — for now — in a decision this week.

  • The memo from Dec. 23, first reported on by CNN, warns: "So far, we have observed calls for attacks targeting primarily migrants and critical infrastructure, but our insight into DVE plotting is constrained by these individuals’ use of online security measures to limit exposure to law enforcement." ("DVE" refers to Domestic Violent Extremism.)
  • Immigrants and people of color in the United States have often been the target of domestic extremists, including an attack in which 23 people were killed at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in 2019. 
  • Despite being continued by the Biden administration, support for Title 42 has been split between Republicans, who largely support it, and Democrats, who largely oppose it. Repealing the measure is extremely unpopular among conservatives, according to polling.