Three men are accused of aiding terrorism in conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor were convicted of all charges on Wednesday in a trial focused on paramilitary exercises and violent contempt for the government ahead of the 2020 election.
Joe Morrison, his father-in-law Pete Musico and Paul Bellar were found guilty of providing “material support” to a terrorist attack as members of a group called the Wolverine Watchmen.
They conducted target practice in rural Jackson County with a kidnapping program leader, Adam Fox, who was disgusted by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials and said he wanted to kidnap them.
The state court trial was an offshoot of the main federal court trial, which yielded mixed results: conspiracy convictions for Fox and three others, but also two acquittals.
Jackson, Michigan jurors read and heard violent, anti-government screeds and support for the “boogaloo,” a civil war that could be sparked by a shocking kidnapping. Prosecutors said the COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Whitmer have proved fruitful in recruiting more people to the Watchmen.
“The facts are starting to trickle out,” Assistant State Attorney General Bill Rollstin told jurors, “and you start to see — wow — there’s things that happened that people knew about. … When you see how close Adam Fox came to the governor, you can see a very bad event foiled.”
Morrison, 28, Musico, 44, and Bellar, 24, were also convicted of a gun crime and gang membership. Prosecutors said the Wolverine Watchmen was a criminal enterprise.
Morrison, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, and Musico were emotional as they watched the verdicts via video outside the courtroom. Judge Thomas Wilson ordered all three to be held in jail while awaiting sentencing on December 15.
The verdicts “are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics,” said Whitmer, who did not witness or observe the state or federal trials. “Those who attempt to sow discord by pursuing violent plots will be held accountable under the law.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat in a close race for re-election, welcomed the result and commended the prosecution.
“Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are not spontaneous events. They are the result of planning, conspiracy and accumulation of resources in advance of acts of violence,” she said.
Defense attorneys argued that Morrison, Musico and Bellar had severed ties with Fox by late summer 2020, when the Whitmer conspiracy came into focus. Unlike Fox and others, they did not travel to northern Michigan to scout the governor’s vacation home or attend an important weekend training session at a “shooting house.”
“In this country, you’re allowed to talk, but you’re only judged if you walk your way,” said Kareem Johnson, Musico’s attorney, in his closing remarks.
Defense attorneys could not argue that it was a captivity. But they attacked the tactics of Dan Chappel, an Army veteran and undercover informant. He took orders from FBI agents, secretly recorded conversations, and created a deep cache of messages exchanged with the men.
Whitmer, who is seeking re-election on November 8, was never physically injured. Undercover agents and informants have been with Fox’s group for months. The scheme was disbanded with 14 arrests in October 2020.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted in federal court in August of kidnapping conspiracy. Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were acquitted last spring. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty.
Five of the 14 men will be charged in state court in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s second home is. A judge there has yet to determine if there is probable cause to try her.
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