3 accused of assisting governor kidnapping plot stand trial

Postings in chatrooms by members of a paramilitary group connected to a 2020 anti-government plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer included instructions on how to make explosives, an FBI agent testified Wednesday.

Screenshots of excerpts from the 1971 counterculture book "The Anarchist Cookbook,” which contains instructions for making bombs and illicit drugs, among other things, were taken from the cellphone of a man who approached authorities with information about the Wolverine Watchmen militia, Special Agent Henrik Impola told a Jackson County Circuit Court jury.

“It’s an old book describing guerrilla warfare,” said Impola. “So, it’s used as a manual on how to train, how to build bombs, how to create booby traps. Basically, how to maim or harm people.”

Impola’s testimony came during the first day of the trial for Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar. The three were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a group that trained in Jackson County, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) west of Detroit.

They are not charged with directly participating in the kidnapping scheme involving Whitmer. Instead, they are accused of assisting others who did. Each man is charged with three crimes, including providing material support for a terrorist act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Prosecutors also told jurors about the formation and actions of the Wolverine Watchmen, alleging that the group trained as part of the kidnapping plot.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin described the group as a gang and said in his opening statements that its purpose “was to target law enforcement for violent action.”

“Everybody in the Wolverine Watchmen shared a very common ideology in that they hated our government, they wanted to kill law enforcement police officers, and that the gang gave them motive, means and opportunity to train Adam Fox knowing he was going to commit an act of terrorism," Rollstin said.

A jury convicted Fox and Barry Croft in August of two federal counts of conspiracy related to the kidnapping scheme and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. They face up to life in prison when they're sentenced Dec. 28.

But attorneys for Musico, Morrison and Bellar said their clients did not provide material or other support to those who plotted to kidnap Whitmer, and that they were only concerned about how the government was operating.

“This is a collection of guys who sat there and said ‘I’m tired. I’m frustrated,’” said Leonard Ballard, Morrison’s attorney.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, Bellar’s attorney, said in his opening statement that “the terrorists in this case are Adam Fox and Barry Croft.”

The FBI foiled the plot in October 2020.

Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks pleaded guilty to conspiracy in federal court. Two other men were acquitted.

The investigation began when Army veteran Dan Chappel joined the group and became alarmed when he heard talk about killing police.

Chappel alerted police in the Flint, Michigan, area, who contacted Impola. Until Chappel came forward, Impola said his office had no knowledge of the existence of the Wolverine Watchmen. Morrison, Musical and Bellar also were not on the agency’s radar.

Chappel agreed to become an FBI informant and spent the summer of 2020 getting close to members of the group, secretly recording conversations and participating in drills at “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The FBI turned it into a major domestic terrorism case with two more informants and two undercover agents embedded in the group. Evidence showed that group members had many gripes, particularly over stay-at-home orders and other pandemic restrictions imposed by Whitmer.

Impola said Morrison was the group's commanding officer and that Chappel served as its executive officer. Musico and Bellar also were in leadership positions.

While recruiting for the Wolverine Watchmen, Morrison would ask prospective recruits if they were “willing to be considered a domestic terrorist,” Impola testified.

“If you didn’t believe in tearing down the government, they wouldn’t allow you to be in the group,” he said.

The trial was expected to resume Thursday.

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Find more AP coverage of the kidnapping plot cases: https://apnews.com/hub/whitmer-kidnap-plot-trial.

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