TThree men accused of supporting a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan were convicted on all charges on Wednesday, a triumph for prosecutors after months of mixed results in the main case in federal court.
Joe Morrison, his father-in-law Pete Musico and Paul Bellar were found guilty of providing “material support” to an act of terrorism as members of a paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen.
They held target practice in rural Jackson County with a leader of the plan, Adam Fox, who in 2020 was disgusted by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other officials and said he wanted to kidnap her.
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 proved fruitful in recruiting more people for the Watchmen.
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“The facts are slowly trickling out,” the state’s assistant attorney general Bill Rollstin told the jurors in Jackson, Michigan, “and you start to see — wow — things were happening that people knew about. … If you see how close Adam Fox got to the governor, you can see how a very bad event was foiled.”
Morrison, 28, Musico, 44, and Bellar, 24, were also convicted of a gun offense and gang membership. Prosecutors said the Wolverine Watchmen was a criminal enterprise.
Morrison, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, and Musico watched the verdict on video outside the courtroom. Judge Thomas Wilson ordered all three to prison while they await sentencing, which is scheduled for December 15.
Defense attorneys argued that the three men had severed ties with Fox by the end of the summer of 2020 when the Whitmer plot came into focus. Unlike Fox and others, they didn’t travel to northern Michigan to tour the governor’s vacation home or take part in an important weekend “shooting house” training session.
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“In this country you can talk, but you will only be convicted if you go ahead,” Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, said in his closing remarks.
Defense lawyers could not claim entrapment. But they attacked the tactics of Dan Chappel, an army veteran and undercover informant. He took instructions from FBI agents, secretly recorded conversations and produced a deep cache of messages exchanged with the men.
Whitmer, a Democrat who ran for re-election on Nov. 8, was never physically harmed. Undercover agents and informants were in Fox’s group for months. The settlement was broken in October 2020 with 14 arrests.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted by federal court in August of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were acquitted last spring. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty.
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