Updated: Three more men convicted of supporting plot to kidnap and kill Whitmer

By: and - October 26, 2022 11:59 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday during a campaign rally at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. | Ken Coleman

Three suspects charged with supporting a plot that sought to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been convicted on all charges.

A Jackson County jury rendered the verdicts Wednesday morning against Joe Morrison, 28, Pete Musico, 44, and Paul Bellar, 24, finding them guilty of providing “material support” for a terrorist act. They were also convicted of felony firearms and membership in a gang. 

That “gang,” according to prosecutors, was a paramilitary group known as the Wolverine Watchmen, which they described as a criminal enterprise that trained to attack Whitmer’s northern Michigan vacation home, open fire on her security detail and then kidnap her.

Wednesday’s verdicts bring to five the number of men convicted in the plot, with two others, Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, previously being found guilty in federal court. An initial trial found two others not guilty.

Two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal to testify for prosecutors. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

Testimony during the trial indicated the defendants held several practice raids in rural Jackson County alongside Fox, who targeted Whitmer in retaliation for her COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic.

Jurors also were presented evidence that the plotters sought to start a civil war that would create chaos in the days leading up to the 2020 general election. 

Defense attorneys argued that the three men had broken away from Fox prior to the plot taking shape and noted they were not among those who traveled to northern Michigan to scout Whitmer’s vacation home nor did they take part in a training session inside a “shoot house” located on property Garbin owned in Lake County.

They also attacked one of the undercover informants used by the FBI, Army veteran Dan Chappel, who said he had joined the group to maintain his firearm skills, but then went to authorities after discussion among the group turned to making plans for attacking police. 

Following the verdicts, Whitmer issued a statement. 

“Today’s guilty verdicts are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics,” said Whitmer. “Those who seek to sow discord by pursuing violent plots will be held accountable under the law.”

“This trial is another stark reminder that we must take an honest look at the state of our politics. Politically motivated plots, threats, and violence are increasingly common against public officials as well as everyday citizens. They are the logical, disturbing extension of radicalization, hatred, and conspiratorial thinking that festers in America, threatening the foundation of our republic.  

“I love Michigan. I always will. I will not let anyone get in the way of the work we do. No threat, no plot, no rhetoric will break my belief in the goodness and decency of our people.”

Whitmer is facing Republican nominee Tudor Dixon on Nov. 8. Dixon has made several statements mocking Whitmer over the kidnapping plot.

“The sad thing is that Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head and ask if you’re ready to talk,” said Dixon in September. “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel at the University of Michigan on Oct. 3, 2022 | Ken Coleman

During a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Dana Nessel called the convictions a “victory for the rule of law and the safety of all Michiganders.”

“My office will not simply sit idly by and watch while armed terrorists plan acts of civil unrest with the intent of causing mayhem.  … These are criminal conspiracies to conduct dangerous acts,” Nessel said.

“ … We’re talking about some very dangerous people who call themselves domestic terrorists, who engaged in, really, hero worshipping for the likes of people like [Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh, and the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

Nessel emphasized that five more defendants have yet to receive decisions on their charges in Antrim County: Shawn Fix, Brian Higgins, Eric Molitor, William Null and Michael Null.

“At the end of the day, we will never know how many lives you saved as a result of the work that you did on this case,” Nessel said while thanking Assistant AGs Sunita Doddamani, William Rollstin and John Pallas.

Nessel is facing Republican Matt DePerno on Nov. 8. DePerno has spread conspiracy theories about the kidnapping plot against Whitmer.

In April, DePerno tweeted that the “Whitmer kidnapping sham was entrapment by the FBI designed to create a false narrative before the [2020] election.” DePerno, a lawyer, has not provided evidence of this claim. 

If elected, DePerno would be in charge of representing the state of Michigan in future cases involving those arrested in the plot. However, DePerno has said he “can’t wait” to start investigating Whitmer.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.