The ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ Accused of Targeting Michigan Guv Spooked Their Neighbors
Photo illustration by The Daily Beast / Jackson County Sheriff's Office
MUNITH, MI - Seven Michigan men were arrested Thursday as part of a widespread right-wing conspiracy allegedly directed against the state government and, in particular, embattled Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The charges against the men who allegedly identified themselves as "Wolverine Watchmen" coincided with federal charges against six other men in an alleged conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer. The group's involvement - or lack of it - in those under federal charges was murky at the time of the announcements. However, social media posts and statements from neighbors of the Wolverine Watchmen suggest they had a troubling relationship with the far-right paramilitary movement.
Prosecutors said the Wolverine Watchmen group was planning a violent attack on the Michigan government and attempted to spark a civil war this summer with plans to kidnap elected officials. Some of the defendants, aged 21 to 42, had an online presence that indicated violence.
READ IT: The FBI's criminal complaint in the militia plans to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer
In a Thursday afternoon trial, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Gregory Townsend named defendants Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico "founding members" of the Wolverine Watchmen, which he described as a group "committed" to violence against the government and politicians.
Townsend said Morrison used his Munith, Michigan property for militia training. Townsend said members of the militia had participated in some of the same activities alleged against the federal defendants, including planning bomb bridges and monitoring Whitmer's home.
"There are several members of the Wolverine Watchmen," Townsend said. "Mr. Morrison was considered to be in command."
The property in question, a ruined house in rural Michigan, is flying a Confederate and "Original 13" flag. (The latter was sometimes adopted by racists, which in some cases sparked controversy about its intended use.) Trash - rusted cars, a shop, refrigerators - fill the yard.
Some of the couple's neighbors would not use their names for fear of retaliation from the militia. But they told The Daily Beast they heard some gunshots from the property. They described those who lived in the house as "disrespectful" and said that large groups would gather regularly on weekends and that "bullets would fly in all directions from their property."
The neighbors said they suspected the people were part of a militia because many visitors showed up on the weekends and many high profile rounds were fired, which referred to the household as "bothersome".
"I was in the army," a neighbor told The Daily Beast. "I have all kinds of guns in my house, some of them high-profile. But I don't shoot them around here."
Another neighbor said the household doesn't have many community connections. "You were the kind of neighbor you stayed away from," the neighbor told The Daily Beast. “You were mean. They knew they were involved in the militia. That was evident from the constant shooting. "
Social media sites for the alleged militia officers also suggested a less friendly stance.
A Facebook page for Eric Molitor, another Michigan man on trial in the case, lauded 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Molitor also reported on conspiracy theories related to the QAnon movement, posting the QAnon hashtag "Save Our Children" and pictures of conspiracy theories on human trafficking. Molitor had previously posted images suggesting belonging to three-center militias, a right-wing paramilitary movement.
Defendants Musico and Morrison, both 42-year-olds who lived together, had sparse online profiles and neither of them liked anything on Facebook except a Christian broadcasting group. But Musico was louder on YouTube, sharing rambling rants against taxes, gun control, and the “Deep State” - as well as a 2019 rant called “Gretchen Whitmer Interview,” in which he railed against their car ownership policies. In the video, he implied that he would be given a face-to-face interview with Whitmer.
A Pete Musico also has a page on the social media site Gab, popular with white supremacists and right-wing extremists, promoting the unsubstantiated claim that they "kill white people" in South Africa. Although many of the posts have broken images (a trademark of Gab), one of the user's favorite accounts was that of Joe Biggs, a Proud Boy organizer who has glorified violence against the left. Biggs and the anti-Semitic Infowars personality Owen Shroyer are the only reports he follows.
A Michigan-based Pete Musico also has a Twitter account with a Tea Party-style "Don't Tread On Me" banner as a profile picture and a series of posts from 2016 supporting Trump and the imprisonment of the then Democrats calls for party leader Hillary Clinton. It also contains unsubstantiated allegations that former President Bill Clinton fathered an "illegitimate black child" and that vaccines contain dangerous levels of mercury. Another post urges its 14 followers to visit the Infowars website of right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Michigan has been a hotbed of militia activity for decades, with over a dozen active militia groups. In 2010, members of a militia group called Hutaree were charged with sedition and gun-related charges on alleged conspiracy to bomb a law enforcement official's funeral. They were eventually acquitted of the most serious charges.
The state's militia movement returned to the limelight during the coronavirus pandemic, and militias joined other right-wing groups to protest Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions.
In April, armed men tried to break into the state capital's soil, only to be stopped by security. In May, armed militiamen gathered outside the capital to protest Whitmer's pandemic orders.
Molitor is charged with providing material assistance for acts of terrorism and carrying a firearm while committing a crime. Musico and Morrison face terrorism, gang membership, material support for acts of terrorism, and firearms crimes, respectively.
Photo illustration by the Office of the Daily Beast / Antrim County Sheriff's Office
Co-defendant Paul Bellar, 21; Shawn Fix, 38; Michael Null, 38; and Wiliam Null, 38, are all charged with providing material support for acts of terrorism and carrying firearms while committing a crime. Bellar is also facing a gang membership count.
It was not clear whether any of the men accused had kept lawyers.
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