Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison and Paul Bellar, three of the 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from June to Sept. 2020, participated in a hearing Wednesday morning to determine whether the case has enough probable cause to go to a trial court. Attorneys for the three men presented their case to state prosecutors and disputed the claim that the men were involved in terrorist organizations, specifically the Wolverine Watchmen group. 

At the start of the trial, FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola said the Watchmen is a “terrorist organization” dedicated to “political violence.” Impola also said Musico, Morrison and Bellar are also involved in the boogaloo movement, an extremist and anti-government movement that supports starting another American Civil War. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, Impola said all men had noted they would die for these causes. 

The plot came after months of backlash and criticism over Whitmer’s extensive COVID-19 restrictions, both from legislators and citizens. In April 2020, some of these citizens — many of whom were legally armed — protested in Lansing and entered the Michigan legislature. During the protests, former President Donald Trump criticized Whitmer and her restrictions, tweeting to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN.” 

So far, eight men, including Musico, Morrison and Bellar, have been charged at the state level and six others at the federal level. The federal trials for five men involved in the plot were postponed until Oct. 12 to give the defense time to examine the extensive evidence and prepare their argument.

One member of the Wolverine Watchmen, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty to kidnapping conspiracy and is cooperating with federal prosecutors. Musico, Morrison and Bellar are not named as conspirators in Garbin’s plea agreement. 

Andrew Kirkpatrick and Kareem Johnson, attorneys representing Bellar and Musico respectively, rejected the characterization by prosecutors that the men were part of a domestic terrorist organization and argued that there was no evidence that the Watchmen are associated with terrorism or terrorist attacks. 

Over the summer, the Watchmen trained together, built explosives and engaged in combat drills and firearm practice. The group communicated through code words and Wire, an encrypted messaging app. They also surveilled Whitmer’s vacation home to plan the kidnapping in an attempt to take Whitmer hostage prior to the November election and put her on trial.

Musico, Morrison and Bellar are being charged in Jackson County, Mich., where the militia training was held on Musico and Morrison’s shared property.

Bellar is facing charges of 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. Musico and Morrison are both facing these charges in addition to a charge of threatening terrorism.

The weapons charge is punishable by two years in prison and all other charges are punishable by 20 years. 

At a press conference in Oct. 2020, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said the threat of terrorism is the result of increased anti-government rhetoric and extremist ideologies.

“Our efforts uncovered elaborate plans to endanger the lives of law enforcement officers, government officials and the broader public,” Nessel said. “The multi-front operation to apprehend the suspects in question was carefully coordinated and skillfully executed.”

In an email to The Michigan Daily, LSA junior Ryan Fisher, chairman of the University’s Chapter of College Republicans, said he disapproves of political violence.

“We detest political violence, actual or prospective, including against the Governor,” Fisher said. “We hope for a fair and fast trial.”

The University’s Chapter of College Democrats did not respond in time for publication.

Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at kmwblue@umich.edu.

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