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Three Members of the Wolverine Watchmen Sentenced to Lengthy Prison Terms for Kidnapping Plot Against Michigan Gov. Whitmer


Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar

Three members of the Wolverine Watchmen have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms after being convicted of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), a politician turned into a lightning rod for rage from the political right in Michigan.

The trio, Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico, counted themselves among scores of people arrested and prosecuted shortly before the 2020 election for plotting to kidnap Whitmer. According to the Associated Press, their sentences represent the longest so far in the conspiracy: 12 years for Musico, 10 for Morrison, and seven for Bellar.

Their cases, and those of their peers, attracted nationwide controversy following reports that the FBI knew about the plot from its inception — with deep involvement from informants. In related federal court cases, multiple defendants raised entrapment defenses, some of which succeeded. A federal jury voted to acquit two of the men — Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — and deadlocked on another pair: Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., who were convicted on retrial.

Another man, Ty Garbin, received more than six years in prison after pleading guilty before trial.

Former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly vilified Whitmer before and after the 2020 contest, called the case “fake.” Trump stoked right-wing rage over coronavirus lockdowns with a tweet that blared in all caps “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” and Whitmer accused the then-president of giving “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) cited the heavy sentences to make the point that the plots were dangerously real.

“We see through the course of this case just how incredibly close we came to massacre of epic proportions in our capitol in Lansing,” Nessel said.

After the men were convicted, Nessel took the opportunity to defend what has become known as “preventative policing,” involving the use of government informants deeply involved in the planning of plots to stop attacks before they happen.

“Instead of only reacting to known threats, it is imperative that law enforcement be proactive in order to save lives,” Nessel said in October. “This office will not sit idly by and watch while armed terrorists plan acts of civil unrest with the intent of causing mayhem and murder. These are not merely acts of ‘harmless chatter’ and ‘wishful thinking.’ These are criminal conspiracies to conduct dangerous acts, and it is incumbent upon law enforcement to treat this activity as such.”

On Thursday, Nessel added that the sentencing shows that “domestic terrorism will be taken with the utmost seriousness and gravity by the criminal justice system.”

During trial, an FBI agent testified that the men trained in a so-called “kill house,” and Nessel suggested that the plot could have culminated in an assassination.

“It’s not just about this effort to kidnap the governor and I think we all know what would have come next if that were to have occurred,” Nessel said. “We’re talking about individuals who wanted to kill law enforcement and other officials as well.”

Jackson County Judge Thomas Wilson issued the sentence.

(Image via Wood TV8/YouTube)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."