A jury in the US state of Michigan has convicted three men for their roles in a 2020 plot to kidnap Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, which drew national attention as fears of political violence and threats to democracy have increased in the United States.
Joe Morrison, his father-in-law Pete Musico and Paul Bellar were found guilty on Wednesday of gang membership, firearm violations and providing material support for “terrorism” as members of a paramilitary group. They could face up to 20 years in prison.
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“These verdicts are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics,” Whitmer tweeted after the verdict.
“Now, hear me loud and clear: I will not let anyone get in the way of the work we do,” she said.
Today, three defendants were found guilty of material support for terrorism, gang membership, and possession of a weapon while committing a felony in support of the plot to kidnap and kill me.
Now, hear me loud and clear: I will not let anyone get in the way of the work we do.
— Governor Gretchen Whitmer (@GovWhitmer) October 26, 2022
The 2020 plot, planned by a group known as “Wolverine Watch”, drew concerns over the growing threat of far-right organisations in the US.
Musico, Bellar, and Morrison were among more than a dozen people who have been arrested in relation to the scheme to kidnap Whitmer over anger about public health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, which prosecutors said became a recruitment boon for far-right groups.
Prosecutors said the group hoped the kidnapping would instigate mass violence.
Two men, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr, also were convicted in August for their role in the scheme. Two other defendants, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, were acquitted last spring, and Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks both pleaded guilty.
Morrison and Musico were accused of hosting tactical training sessions on their property in a remote part of Michigan. Bellar was accused of providing plans for tactical manoeuvers, coded language for covert communication and ammunition.
The defence had argued that the three men had broken ties with the plot’s main perpetrators by late summer 2020 and did not take part in efforts to scout out the governor’s home or train at a “shoot house” with those who planned to carry out the kidnapping.
“In this country, you are allowed to talk the talk but you only get convicted if you walk the walk,” Musico’s lawyer, Kareem Johnson, said in his closing remarks.
The defence also attacked the methods of Dan Chappel, an informant who infiltrated the Wolverines in coordination with the FBI.
Prosecutors argued that Morrison, Musico and Bellar were members of a militia group that had planned to break into the governor’s vacation home, kidnap her at gunpoint and give her a sham trial for treason.
“The facts drip out slowly,” state Assistant Attorney General Bill Rollstin told jurors in Jackson, Michigan, “and you begin to see — wow — there were things that happened that people knew about.
“When you see how close Adam Fox got to the governor, you can see how a very bad event was thwarted.”