Accused militia members arraigned on domestic terrorism charges in Michigan
By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) - Six men arrested on suspicion of participating in a conspiracy by armed extremists to kidnap the Michigan governor have been charged with terrorism and gun charges, while a seventh is awaiting extradition from South Carolina, authorities said Friday With.
All seven identified by prosecutors as members or employees of an anti-government militia group called Wolverine Watchmen were taken into custody late Wednesday as part of a joint state-federal investigation.
They are accused of conspiring to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has come into conflict with Republican U.S. President Donald Trump over her COVID-19 health orders.
Prosecutors say the men also tried targeting law enforcement officers for intimidation, threatened violence to cause rioting, and trained for an operation to storm the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing and hold government officials hostage.
"This was clearly not just talking," Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel said in an interview with CBS News on Friday. "That was a lot of overt action. So we figured it was time to move in before someone lost their life."
Nessel said the governor had been briefed on the investigation and kept abreast of developments over the past few months.
"Sometimes she and her family moved because of activities that were known to law enforcement," added Nessel.
10 MILLION USD BOND
Each of the seven men named in the criminal complaints filed by Nessel's office are accused of providing material assistance to acts of terrorism and of possessing a firearm in the commission of a crime - both face up to 20 years in prison.
Two of them - Pete Musico, 46, and Joseph Morrison, 26 - were also accused of belonging to a criminal gang and of threatening terrorism. At their trial Thursday, Musico and Morrison were ordered to remain detained on a $ 10 million bond, the attorney general said in a statement.
The bond for each of the other four was set at $ 250,000. The Michigan District Attorney is working to extradite the seventh defendant from South Carolina, where he was arrested. He is also charged with gang membership.
Various additional legal proceedings have been scheduled for the end of this month, but no pleas have been mentioned.
In addition to the seven suspects held on state charges, six men have been arrested for conspiracy to kidnap the governor, which if convicted could mean life in prison.
Michigan, a major swing state in the 2020 presidential contest, was the focus of agitation earlier this year by Trump and his supporters, including various militia groups, who opposed strict instructions from Whitmer to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
At least three of the accused by the state were among hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom were carrying guns. They arrived in the Michigan capital on April 30 when lawmakers were debating Whitmer's motion to extend her public health agency. Photos show that all three men were armed.
Both Whitmer and Nessel accused Trump of inflammatory rhetoric that promoted a climate of racism and political extremism. Trump hit back by calling Whitmer the "lockdown queen" while denying promoting violence or racism.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, N. M .; editing by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O'Brien)
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