Three men accused of supporting a plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor were convicted of all charges today, a triumph for state 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” for a terrorist act as members of a paramilitary group, the Wolverine Watchmen.
They held gun drills in rural Jackson County with a leader of the scheme, Adam Fox, who was disgusted with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials in 2020 and said he wanted to kidnap her.
Jurors read and heard violent, anti-government screeds as well as support for the “boogaloo,” a civil war that might be triggered by a shocking abduction. Prosecutors said COVID-19 restrictions ordered by Whitmer turned out to be fruit to recruit more people to the Watchmen.
“The facts drip out slowly,” state Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin told jurors in Jackson, Michigan, “and you begin to see — wow — there were things that happened that people knew about. … When you see how close Adam Fox got to the governor, you can see how a very bad event was thwarted.”
Morrison, 28, Musico, 44, and Bellar, 24, were also convicted of a gun crime and membership in a gang. 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 by video away from the courtroom. Judge Thomas Wilson ordered all three to jail while they await sentencing on Dec. 15.
The verdicts “are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics,” said Whitmer, who has not participated as a trial witness or spectator in the state or federal cases. “Those who seek to sow discord by pursuing violent plots will be held accountable under the law.”
Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat in a tight race for reelection, hailed the outcome and praised law enforcement.
“Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are not spontaneous events. They are the result of planning, plotting and amassing resources in a buildup to violent acts,” she said.
Defense attorneys argued that Morrison, Musico and Bellar had broken ties with Fox by late summer 2020 when the Whitmer plot came into focus. Unlike Fox and others, they didn’t travel to northern Michigan to scout the governor’s vacation home or participate in a key weekend training session inside a “shoot house.”
“In this country you are allowed to talk the talk, but you only get convicted if you walk the walk,” Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, said in his closing remarks.
Defense lawyers couldn’t argue 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, who is seeking reelection on Nov. 8, was never physically harmed. Undercover agents and informants were inside Fox’s group for months. The scheme was broken up with 14 arrests in October 2020.
Fox and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of a kidnapping conspiracy in federal court in August. Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta were acquitted last spring. Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty.
Five of the 14 men are facing charges in state court in Antrim County, the site of Whitmer’s second home. A judge there still must determine whether there’s probable cause to send them to trial.