Judge dismisses terrorism charges for men accused in Whitmer plot

The men, who planned to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are allegedly a part of the militia group called Wolverine Watchmen

A judge has decided not to pursue threat of terrorism charges for three men allegedly involved in the October 2020 kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer introduces Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks about health care at Beech Woods Recreation Center October 16, 2020 in Southfield,m Michigan. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jackson County Judge Michael Klaeren of 12th District Court dismissed the charges against two of the men and refused to charge a third.

Read More: Michigan GOP chair apologizes after calling women leading state ‘witches’

The men, Joseph Morrison, 26, Pete Musico, 43, and Paul Bellar, 22, are accused of being part of Wolverine Watchmen, the militia group that was identified as having spearheaded the kidnapping scheme.

Paul Bellar Richland County Public Information Office

According to Judge Klaeren, the nature of the conversations within the group’s encrypted chats is what helped him make his decision to drop the terrorism charges.

“There has to be some form of intent here to incite mayhem,” said the judge.

The group used Facebook to recruit members, but the encrypted communication network they used was not open to the general public, which, according to the judge was “in many respects no different than thinking the thought to yourself.”

Joseph Morrison Jackson County Sheriff Office

Bellar’s attorney claimed his client, “provided no training, no surveillance, no material support” of terrorism.

Read More: Michigan teen allegedly kills grandmother before fleeing

“I’m asking the court deny the bind over for my client, It’s not illegal to be a member of a militia. Many people in Michigan would be arrested if it were,” he said.

Pete Musico (Photo: Jackson County Sheriff Office)

The Michigan attorney general, who is prosecuting the case, compared the plot and the attack on Michigan’s Capitol back in April, where men with guns forced their way through the doors, to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

Musico’s attorney, Kareem Johnson, pushed back and said: “To compare that to what happened on Jan. 6 is highly improper.”

“How it happened in Michigan is how it’s supposed to happen: you stay in publicly accessible areas, you comply with law enforcement, and you express your grievances,” he continued.

Irrespective of Monday’s outcome, the men still face serious charges including gang membership and providing material support for terrorism. The charges ahead of them could land them 20 years in prison. They are also facing felony firearm charges which can result in two years in prison.

Back in October, the Governor blamed the kidnapping plot on then-president Donald Trump. As reported by theGrio, the FBI announced on Oct. 8 that the agency busted a coordinated effort by thirteen members of an anti-government group to storm the state capitol or Whitmer’s vacation home as part of their plan to ignite a civil war, NPR reported.

Whitmer confirmed in a statement that domestic terrorists “were preparing to kidnap and possibly kill me.”   

The governor also took aim at Trump for not denouncing white supremacists and right-wing hate groups. Whitmer has criticized his “stand back and stand by” comment about the Proud Boys. She said hate groups heard his remarks at the first Trump-Biden debate “not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” and ” a call to action.”

“When our leaders speak, their words matter.” Whitmer said. “They carry weight.”

Additional reporting by Ny Magee

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