Three men accused of supporting a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor were found guilty on all charges Wednesday, 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 one ringleader, Adam Fox, who was upset with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and other officials in 2020 and said he wanted to kidnap her.
Jurors read and heard violent and anti-government cries, as well as support for the “boogaloo,” a civil war that could be triggered by a shocking kidnapping. Prosecutors said the COVID-19 restrictions Whitmer ordered turned out to be fruitful in recruiting more people for the Watchmen.
“The facts are slowly coming out,” Assistant State Attorney General Bill Rollstin told jurors in Jackson, Michigan, “and you start 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 weapons offense and gang membership. Prosecutors said the Wolverine Watchmen were a criminal group.
Morrison, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, and Musico watched the verdict on video outside the courtroom. Judge Thomas Wilson ordered the three to be imprisoned while they await sentencing scheduled for December 15.
Defense attorneys argued that the three men had severed ties with Fox in the late summer of 2020, when the Whitmer plot came to light. Unlike Fox and others, they did not travel to northern Michigan to explore the governor’s vacation home or participate in a key weekend training session inside a “shoot house.”
“In this country, you can talk about what you say, but you only get condemned if you do what you have to do,” Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, said in his closing remarks.
Defense attorneys were unable to argue cheating. But they attacked the tactics of Dan Chappel, an Army veteran and undercover informant. He received instructions from FBI agents, secretly recorded the conversations and produced a deep cache of messages exchanged with the men.
Whitmer, a Democrat who is running for re-election on November 8, was not physically harmed. Undercover agents and informants were inside Fox’s group for months. The plot fell apart 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.
(With information from AP)