JACKSON, Mich. (AP) – A a scheme to kidnap the governor of Michigan another courtroom airs in 2020 when the three men go on trial Monday, weeks before voters decide whether to re-elect Gretchen Whitmer to a second term.
Fourteen people were arrested two years ago, foiling what one participant said was a plot to incite a civil war in the United States, known as the boogaloo. But not everyone was treated equally. Federal prosecutors focused on six believed to be key players, while Michigan authorities pursued the rest.
A look at the issues:
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2020?
The government said it uncovered a plot to kidnap Whitmer, a Democrat, from her vacation home in northern Michigan. For months, undercover FBI agents and informants were embedded among anti-government extremists who trained in Wisconsin and Michigan and traveled to uncover her assets.
Investigators have secretly recorded hate-filled conversations about Whitmer and other government officials they have labeled tyrants, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when businesses have been shuttered, people have been ordered to stay home and schools have closed.
Ty Garbin and Caleb Franks pleaded guilty in federal court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and testified against four others. The alleged ringleaders, Barry Croft and Adam Fox, were convicted in August, while two other men were convicted acquitted last spring.
WHO IS ON JUDGMENT NOW?
Joe Morrison, father-in-law Pete Musica and Paul Bellar are charged in Jackson County, Michigan with three felonies, including providing material support for an act of terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. They are accused of forming an alliance with Fox and others through their paramilitary group, the Wolverine Guardians.
Jackson County is where the drills and other training sessions with Fox took place.
“They did not come out or participate in the plan to kidnap the governor,” Assistant Attorney General Sunita Dodamani said in court in 2021. “Their group provided the motives, means and opportunities for those people who did it.”
Mark Chutkow, a former federal prosecutor in Detroit, said splitting cases between state and federal authorities makes sense.
“The state attorney general has cut out the part of the conspiracy that has three people working together in Jackson County,” Chutkov told The Associated Press. “It’s a story that can be digested, that a jury can take on board, and a story that’s easier to translate than to scoop everyone up” in federal court.
WHAT IS PROTECTION?
Attorneys for Morrison, Musick and Bellar say the men cut ties with Fox before the kidnapping plot accelerated in the summer of 2020; Bellard moved to South Carolina.
They plan to cross-examine a key witness, Dan Chappell, an Army veteran who said he joined the Wolverine Rangers to keep up his gun skills but was upset by talk of attacking police. He agreed to stay in the group and to become an FBI informant.
The men claim they were entrapped by Chappelle and his FBI handlers, although Garbin, another likely prosecution witness, will deny this.
Any weapons drills were simply to prepare for “potential civil unrest in the United States,” Bellard’s attorney, Andrew Kirkpatrick, said.
But a judge who found enough evidence to send the men to trial compared the Wolverine Watchmen to a minor league baseball team where players are being groomed to play in the “big leagues.”
“Unfortunately, the major leagues were something extremely vile and illegal,” Judge Michael Claren said last year.
COURT AND POLITICS:
Kidnapping plot not mentioned much in Michigan’s gubernatorial race for Republican candidate Tudor Dixon didn’t seem to be looking at it during the election campaign on September 23.
“The sad thing is that Gretchen is going to tie your hands and put a gun to your head and ask if you’re ready to talk,” Dixon said, apparently referring to Whitmer’s pandemic policy. “For someone who worries so much about kidnapping, Gretchen Whitmer sure knows how to take a business hostage and hold it for ransom.”
Whitmer’s campaign said threats of violence were “no laughing matter.”