Advance Notice: Briefs

Sentence upheld for Michigan leader of white supremacist group 

By: - November 17, 2023 4:11 pm

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The Michigan Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld the original sentence handed down to the leader of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that the Court of Appeals’ opinion determined that the plea agreement and subsequent sentence evaluation of Justen Watkins, 26, of Bad Axe were not ambiguous and Watkins’ plea to conspiring to train for a civil disorder and felony firearm was not involuntarily made, and thus reversed a May 2023 order of the Tuscola County Circuit Court that granted Watkins’ motion for re-sentencing. 

Michigan white supremacist leader sentenced on civil disorder charge

Watkins’ sentences of 32 months to 4 years in prison for conspiring to train for a civil disorder and a mandatory consecutive two years’ incarceration for felony firearm were thus left intact. 

“I am relieved to see this sentence upheld for the leader of a domestic hate group here in our State,” said Nessel. “This organization goes far beyond speech in training for violence to advance their racist agenda. Securing this conviction to train for civil disorder established an historic precedent in the Michigan court system.” 

That case resulted from joint investigations by the Michigan State Police (MSP) Caro Post and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). 

Authorities say Watkins and two other members of The Base – Thomas Denton and Tristan Webb – entered two former and vacant Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) sites in Caro to assess them as potential future training grounds for “hate camps”, which is what the group named their paramilitary firearms training exercises.

Watkins was also sentenced last year by a Washtenaw County judge to 56 months to 20 years following his guilty plea to gang membership felonies brought in connection to a December 2019 incident in Dexter. Watkins and a co-defendant were convicted of using intimidation tactics at a family’s home and posting messages to other members of The Base targeting the home.    

Founded in 2018, The Base – which is the literal translation of “Al-Qaeda” in English – is a white supremacist group that purports to be training for a race war in order to establish white ethno-nationalist rule in areas of the U.S., including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

According to Nessel’s office, the group also traffics in Nazi ideology and extreme antisemitism. 


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and 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 2022 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.