The only defendant to plead guilty to taking part in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan was sentenced on Wednesday to six years and three months in prison.
Ty G. Garbin, 25, an airplane mechanic, was the first defendant to be sentenced for what prosecutors have described as an extremist plot driven by anger at the governor’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The 14 men arrested in October face charges in federal and state courts in one of the most significant domestic terrorism plots ever to come to trial in the United States. The defendants, many of them members of an antigovernment paramilitary group in Michigan called the Wolverine Watchmen, coalesced around protests against Covid-19 lockdown measures.
After initially weighing storming the State Capitol in Lansing, they decided to abduct Governor Whitmer from her vacation home, according to prosecutors. Their efforts were seen as a precursor to the violence unleashed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Mr. Garbin cooperated extensively with the prosecutors, who called his “wide-ranging insider’s view” a significant contribution to the case. Among other issues, he testified about plans to deploy a homemade explosive device as well as other illegal weapons. His testimony resulted in added federal charges being brought against three of the men in April. The extent of Mr. Garbin’s cooperation led officials to move him to a different prison from the others, prosecutors said in court papers.
On Wednesday, Mr. Garbin apologized to Ms. Whitmer and her family for the “fear and stress” that he caused.
The sentence on Wednesday in federal court in Grand Rapids, Mich., was just one part of the complex legal proceedings surrounding the case. Adherents of paramilitary movements from as far away as Delaware and Wisconsin are among the accused, with the six defendants facing federal charges set to go on trial on Oct. 12. The remaining eight, who are charged with assisting them, will be tried in two different state courts.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a nine-year sentence for Mr. Garbin. Mr. Garbin and most of the men in the Michigan case were inspired by the so-called boogaloo movement, the authorities say.
Boogaloo followers — the name is drawn from a cult film — believe that the United States is on the brink of a civil war that devotees seek to accelerate.
“Such accelerationist groups are widespread and proliferating,” federal prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum, using the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 as an example of the potential for chaos.
A strong sentence would discourage imitators, the prosecutors wrote, while “an insufficient sentence will encourage such groups to plot and prepare.”
Several people associated with the loosely affiliated boogaloo movement have been arrested around the country on charges linked to different plots.
In California, Steven Carrillo, an active-duty Air Force sergeant, pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in the shooting death of a federal security officer outside a courthouse in Oakland in May 2020 as well as the killing of a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Cruz County a few days later.
During the shootout that led to his arrest, Sergeant Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl “Boog” and other phrases linked to the movement on the hood of a car he had stolen. On Monday, one of four members of the antigovernment Grizzly Scouts paramilitary group linked to Mr. Carrillo pleaded guilty in federal court in California to destroying evidence in the case.
In Las Vegas, three boogaloo followers who were arrested in May 2020 are expected to go on trial in January. They are accused of trying to incite violence after plotting to throw firebombs during a Black Lives Matter protest. They also face state terrorism charges.
Mr. Garbin, frustrated by pay cuts during the pandemic, struggled between considering himself a patriot taking concrete action against the government-mandated shutdown and telling himself that he had done nothing illegal, his lawyer, Gary K. Springstead, wrote in court papers. Mr. Garbin recognized after his arrest that casing the governor’s vacation home went beyond free speech protests, his lawyer said.
Nine years was a reduction from the sentencing guidelines of about 14 to 17 years.
Mr. Garbin’s lawyers had argued for an even more substantial reduction, citing his quick acceptance of responsibility for his actions; the fact that he might face retribution in prison for cooperating with the federal authorities; his lack of any prior criminal record; and a history of being physically abused by his father. In addition, he had joined a deradicalization program, they noted.
For the men still facing trial, the central argument used by defense lawyers in court papers thus far has been entrapment, accusing the main F.B.I. informant who penetrated the group as well as various other informants or undercover agents of pushing the plot along.
Lawyers for three defendants who first appeared in state court in Jackson County last March made similar arguments. The trial of five others in Antrim County has yet to begin.
Based on his participation so far, it appears the government will rely heavily on what Mr. Garbin said to try to dispel any entrapment arguments made by the defense lawyers for the others facing trial. “He confirmed that the plot was real; not just ‘big talk between crackpots,’ as suggested by co-defendants,” government prosecutors said in court documents. They also said that he “dispelled any suggestion that the conspirators were entrapped by government informants.”