A Michigan jury convicted three members of the Wolverine Watchmen of all charges related to a plot to kidnap and potentially assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
The guilty verdicts against Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico fall a little more than two years after the FBI and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) announced charges against seven people in a massive joint anti-terrorism operation.
Falling shortly before the 2020 presidential election and deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, the charges sharpened focus on threats against a prominent Democratic politician as the country braced for what promised to be — and ultimately was — a tumultuous race for the White House. Other criminal cases related to alleged threats to national and local politicians quickly cropped up in the following months.
The Whitmer kidnapping plot case, however, proved to be among the most controversial. A county judge tossed three terrorism charges against Morrison, Bellar, and Musico.
In the federal prosecution, the defendants made headway in their longstanding entrapment claims: A 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. The FBI was reportedly aware of the accused co-conspirators actions throughout the plot’s duration, and the defense alleged that the major points of the conspiracy were designed by the government. Former President Donald Trump called the case “fake.”
For Nessel, the convictions of Morrison, Bellar, and Musico showed that the plan was all too real.
“The prosecution of these cases prevented horrific acts from taking the lives of innocent people,” Nessel wrote in a statement. “Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are not spontaneous events, they are the result of planning, plotting and amassing resources in a build-up to violent acts. If prosecutors had known about the events leading up to the tragedy in Oxford, they could have intervened and prevented the massacre of innocent students.”
In international and domestic terrorism cases, law enforcement has often relied on so-called “preventative policing,” which often involves infiltrating extremist groups with informants and stopping violence before it happens.
“Instead of only reacting to known threats, it is imperative that law enforcement be proactive in order to save lives,” Nessel continued. “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.”
“Make no mistake, the quick actions of law enforcement saved lives. We are pleased the jury clearly understood that,” she concluded.
Morrison, Bellar, and Musico now stand convicted of three serious charges that could put them behind bars for decades: gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
The first two felony counts carry a maximum 20-year sentence and the final count carries a mandatory two-year prison term.
Their sentencing has been scheduled for Dec. 15 at 9 a.m. Eastern Time.
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