BELLAIRE, Mich. — A judge handed down the last sentences Thursday in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, sending one man to prison and putting another on probation, the climax to a remarkable investigation that became public on the eve of the 2020 presidential election but produced mixed results in court.
Judge Charles Hamlyn offered his own conclusion, describing political polarization in the U.S. as “mind-boggling” and “terrifying.”
“People hate other people because of what they believe. ... That's a dangerous place to be,” Hamlyn said.
Whitmer, a Democrat, was targeted as part of a broad effort by anti-government rebels who were hoping to trigger a civil war around the time of the 2020 election, investigators said. Her COVID-19 policies, which shut down schools and restricted the economy, disgusted her critics.
Shawn Fix and Brian Higgins were not key figures in the investigation. But Higgins, a resident of Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, acknowledged he went on a night ride to scout Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan with a camera rigged to his pickup truck.
The judge sentenced him to probation for three years, noting Higgins had spent 217 days in jail after his arrest and was addressing mental health needs. He had pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support for terrorism.
“I'd like to apologize to the governor and to her family. Generally remorseful of the actions that took place that evening,” Higgins said Thursday.
Fix was sentenced to three years in state prison after pleading guilty to providing material support for terrorism.
The suburban Detroit man admitted he assisted leader Adam Fox in pinpointing Whitmer's address for an earlier drive. Prosecutors said they had other evidence against him, including participation in militia-style drills and hosting a key meeting of allies at his home.
“From the deepest of my heart, I want to say sorry about all this,” Fix told the judge.
Hamlyn said Fix had opportunities to get out.
“You wanted to be involved in this,” he said.
Whitmer was not physically harmed. A raft of informants and undercover FBI agents was inside the group for months, leading to arrests in October 2020.
If the kidnapping plot had succeeded, “we’d be talking about it 100 years from now,” Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin told the judge.
Fourteen people were charged in three different courts in Michigan. Nine people were convicted. But in cases that went to trial, prosecutors lost five and only won five.
Three of those acquittals happened in September in Antrim County among Fix's and Higgins' co-defendants.
After the plot was thwarted, Whitmer blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” Trump, out of office, called the kidnapping plan a “fake deal” in 2022.
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Ed White, The Associated Press