Joe Morrison, Pete Musico (who’s Morrison’s father-in-law), and Paul Bellar were all convicted of supplying “material support” for a terrorist act. They were also found guilty on gun and gang charges, with prosecutors successfully arguing that the group they were a part of, the Wolverine Watchmen, was a criminal enterprise. A judge ordered the three men to be sent back to jail while they await sentencing on Dec. 5.
Though the trio was not accused of directly plotting to kidnap Whitmer in 2020, prosecutors argued they were key members of the Wolverine Watchmen. They said the three defendants supported “the boogaloo” (a phrase used in militia groups to describe another American civil war or uprising), and used evidence like social media posts, text messages, and secretly recorded conversations to paint the trio as dangerous anti-government extremists pushed over the edge by Covid-19 lockdown safety measures.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, argued that the three men had distanced themselves from the primary plotters as the planning ramped up. They stressed the trio didn’t take part in a trip to scout Whitmer’s vacation home, nor were they involved in a training session inside a “shoot house.” Additionally, their lawyers said the men’s comments were protected by free speech.
The defense was also prevented from arguing that Morrison, Musico, and Bellar were entrapped by undercover FBI agents who infiltrated the group.
Following the verdict, Musico’s public defender, Kareem Johnson, told Rolling Stone, “We are disappointed in the verdict. I still believe Mr. Musico is innocent. His speech and political beliefs were criminalized. The biggest issue in the case is the inability of defense attorneys to acquire immunity for exculpatory witnesses. There were numerous witnesses that believed in the innocence of Mr. Musico. But out of fear of prosecution they indicated they would plead the fifth of called to testify.”
Leonard Ballard, an attorney for Morrison, said, “I would state that while disappointed with the verdict, it is understood and accepted. I commend the other defense counsel in putting up extremely well-fought defenses, but our system rightfully entrusts the jury to render a just verdict. There are certainly issues that arise in any case that make one look back and question certain aspects, but the defense(s) panned out, and I will remain committed to the thought that reasonable doubt was, at the very least, presented. My client has an automatic right to appeal, and that will be my advice to my client post-sentence.”
A lawyer for Bellar did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
Michigan’s Attorney General, Dana Nessel, praised the verdict, saying, “Terrorist attacks and mass shootings are not spontaneous events. They are the result of planning, plotting, and amassing resources in a buildup to violent acts.”
The convictions of Musico, Morrison, and Bellar follow the August guilty verdict for Adam Fox and Barry Croft, Jr., the two alleged ringleaders of the kidnapping plot. Both were found guilty (after an initial mistrial) of conspiracy to kidnap and obtain a weapon of mass destruction (the latter being a bomb they allegedly planned to use to blow up a bridge leading to Whitmer’s summer home).