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Three men accused in alleged Whitmer kidnapping plot back in court

Bill Oxford

Three men accused of being part of a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer are due to be back in a Jackson County courtroom Monday.

A judge is scheduled to hear final arguments in the men’s pre-trial hearing and is expected to decide whether to bind them over for trial.

Michigan Radio reporter Steve Carmody joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to discuss the case. 

Doug Tribou: Who are the three defendents?

Steve Carmody: Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico were allegedly members of a group called the Wolverine Watchmen. It’s a militia group that trained on property owned by Morrison in Jackson County. They’re facing a variety of charges, including a threat of terrorism, providing material support for terrorist acts, and felony firearms.

The chief witness against them is a confidential informant known only as "Dan." Dan says he joined the Watchmen because he was interested in doing some military style training, but he grew concerned when he saw members of the group talking about attacking police officers.

“This was not training. This was wanting to do violence so I felt that was threat to law enforcement,” Dan said in earlier testimony. 

DT: On the stand, Dan testified that he brought his concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And they convinced him to become a confidential informant. Why was the FBI interested?

SC: Special Agent Henrik Impola testified at the pre-trial hearing that the agency has been watching the actions of several anti-government groups in recent years. He says the Watchmen were affiliated with the Boogaloo movement. Here's part of what Impola had to say in his testimony.

SPECIAL AGENT HENRIK IMPOLA: “Boogaloo is a term for civil war, which is complete collapse of society in which anarchy rules.” ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL SUNITA DODDAMANI: And what are the basic tenets and beliefs of the Boogaloo movement? IMPOLA: Well the belief is that you have to prepare for it, and you have to defend yourself proactively, and be engaged in the fight, and that the time is upon us. DODDAMANI: The fight against who? IMPOLA: Fight against the government.

Impola also testified about Bellar, Musico and Morrison allegedly being involved in a broader plan that involved not only kidnapping the governor, but also seizing the state capitol building in Lansing.

DT: A pre-trial hearing is not a trial. It’s the prosecutor’s chance to convince a judge that there’s enough evidence that a crime has been committed to send the case to trial. It’s also a chance for defense attorneys to raise questions about that evidence.

SC: That’s true. Defense attorneys for Bellar, Musico and Morrison say despite all their talk, none of the defendants actually committed any violence. A point that Pete Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, made when he cross examined the confidential informant known as Dan during the pre-trial hearing.

KAREEM JOHNSON: So if I sit here and I go, “I hate Governor Whitmer. I think she should die because I have a family member who lost his business because of her shutdown.” Am I wishing her dead or am I angry that this happened? DAN: Just saying that. You’re just saying that. JOHNSON: OK DAN: If you start training for it and continue on with that rhetoric, I think that’s a threat.

DT: There are 10 other men accused of playing a role in the alleged plot to kidnap the governor. Where do those other cases stand?

SC: Five of the men are facing state charges in another county. Five others are facing federal charges. One man has cut a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

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.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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