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Whitmer kidnapping plotter says he wants to prevent others from turning to extremism

Six years and three months.

That is how long Ty Garbin has been sentenced to serve in federal prison for his role in the alleged plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Garbin is one of 14 men charged with taking part in the plot. He was the first to plead guilty, and the first to be sentenced.

At a sentencing hearing Wednesday in Grand Rapids, Garbin sat in a dark green jump suit, with his hands shackled and spoke publicly for the first time since the charges were announced. He apologized to Governor Whitmer and her family for his role in the plot. He said he never took into consideration how his actions would affect her or her family members.

“And for that I’m truly sorry,” Garbin said to federal judge Robert Jonker, who is overseeing the case.

Garbin also apologized to his family and told the judge he hopes to use his experience “to help others from becoming radicalized.”

Garbin had been facing up to life in prison for his role, but after agreeing to plead guilty, he worked with prosecutors to tell an insider’s account of the plot.

“It’s hard to overstate how significant Mr. Garbin’s cooperation was,” said assistant U.S. attorney Nils Kessler Wednesday in court.

Kessler told Judge Jonker he expects Garbin to be a “star witness” in the prosecution of the other five men who have been charged in federal court for their alleged roles in the plot. Eight other men face charges in state court.

Prosecutors had asked Judge Jonker to go easy on Garbin, suggesting a nine year prison sentence. Garbin’s attorney’s asked for six years.

Jonker said he agreed with Garbin’s attorneys that he’s taken significant steps since his arrest to take responsibility for his actions, and make amends.

“He’s changed his behavior, and I think he’s changed his heart and mind too,” Jonker said.

In particular, Jonker cited a letter filed on Garbin’s behalf by a group called Parents for Peace, which works to prevent people from being radicalized.

Gary Springstead, one of Garbin’s attorneys, says Garbin plans to continue working with Parents for Peace to reach out to others involved in extremist groups.

“And I think that’s a great example for people to have an insider say, ‘Look, I was there, I know what it’s like to have those feelings, and to act on them even.’” Springstead says. “So I hope that he not only makes an impact here in West Michigan, but throughout the country working with Parents for Peace.”

Before Wednesday's sentencing, Governor Whitmer submitted a victim's impact statement to the court, in which she acknowledged Garbin for taking responsibility and for working with prosecutors to bring others involved in the plot to justice. 

"I am not the only one who has been impacted by this kidnapping plot," the governor wrote, according to excerpts of the statement provided by her office.  "It is like throwing a pebble into a pond. The ripples expand to include my family and loved ones, the state I love, the citizens I serve, the country I have always believed in and the idea of democracy itself."

The statement also thanked law enforcement officers for their role in stopping the plot, but the governor said she was forever changed by the threat she and her family faced. She said the threats posed by violent extremist groups continue to threaten the nation.

"The damage this will do to us is hard to predict, but I am certain that there must be consequences for those who try to take us down this dark path," Whitmer wrote. "The rise in violent extremism in America is one of the gravest threats we face… The violent insurrection we witnessed on January 6 is not an anomaly, it is our future if we do not work to address how we got here."

The trial for the remaining five men facing federal charges is scheduled to begin in Grand Rapids on October 12.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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