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FBI informant testifies three men plotted to kidnap Gov. Whitmer

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A man who joined a group of secretive Michigan militia men testified Friday about how they talked about kidnapping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The man, identified only as "Dan," became a confidential informant for the FBI not long after he joined the Wolverine Watchmen.

Dan is a U.S. Army veteran. He says he learned about the Watchmen from Facebook. Dan says he joined the militia group because he was interested in military style training.

But on the witness stand Friday, Dan testified he reported his concerns to law enforcement after hearing group members talking about killing police officers.

The confidential informant’s testimony came on day three of the pre-trial hearing for three members of the Wolverine Watchmen. 

Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison and Paul Bellar are charged with  providing material support to terrorist acts, committing or attempting to commit a felony as a gang member, and carrying a firearm in the commission of a felony.  The defendants are among 14 men arrestedlast fall by state and federal authorities on charges related to plots to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and storm the state capitol building in Lansing.

On Wednesday and Thursday, FBISpecial Agent Henrik Impola testified about the investigation into the group and its anti-law enforcement views. Impola says the investigation connected the Michigan militia men with extremists in other states, linked by the boogaloo movement, a loose association of anti-government groups.  

Friday, Dan testified the watchmen believed they were training to kidnap and kill politicians and law enforcement officers.

But defense attorneys argue their clients were all talk and did not actually plan on carrying out political violence. 

During Friday’s hearing, defense attorneys pressed Dan to admit their clients were absent during leadership discussions about kidnapping the governor or storming the state capitol building.

One defense attorney also asked the state’s key witness about memory loss he suffered while serving in the U.S. Army.  Dan says he was honorably discharged after suffering a traumatic brain injury which has affected his memory. He also says he has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Defense attorneys also questioned Dan about tens of thousands of dollars he was paid by the FBI. Dan says the payments were reimbursements for costs he incurred during his time with the Watchmen, as well as to cover losses he incurred, including selling his home at a loss, as he has entered witness protection.

The three-day pre-trial hearing was livestreamed on YouTube. But District Court Judge Michael Klaeren ordered the camera’s turned off during Dan’s testimony to protect his identity from being revealed.

Judge Klaeren has scheduled final arguments in the pre-trial hearing for March 29th. He also promises to decide that day on whether to bound the three men over for trial. 

On the bench this week, the judge said an issue he must decide is “where’s that line where an idea becomes a plan.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.