FBI testimony: Militia member was willing to be a martyr

Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar are in Jackson County District Court before Judge Michael J. Klaeren.
FBI agent testifies about Whitmer plot
Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 7:25 AM EST
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JACKSON, Mich. (WILX) - Three men charged in connection with the plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appeared in court for the second straight day. Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar appeared in Jackson County District Court before Judge Michael J. Klaeren at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The plot the three were alleged to be a part of involved a Michigan militia calling themselves the Wolverine Watchmen. According to the complaint, the Michigan-based group attempted to recruit members for the operation through social media, with a plan that included storming the Capitol building in Lansing and taking hostages, including the state’s Governor.

Federal agents say the group met in Dublin, Ohio in June of 2020 to discuss creating a society that followed the U.S Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient. They discussed several ways from peaceful endeavors to violent actions. They talked specifically about Michigan and Governor Whitmer. Many in the group talked about “murdering tyrants” and “taking a sitting governor.”

Throughout 2020 it’s believed the group held several meetings- many of which were recorded by an FBI informant. Much of that evidence was played in court today, including two of the militia debating whether their goals could be accomplished with less than 200 people. Officials say they have evidence of dozens of conversations that claim members of the group took photographs and video of the governor’s vacation home.

“There has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies,” Attorney General Nessel said. “These groups often seek to recruit new members by seizing on a moment of civil unrest and using it to advance their agenda of self-reliance and armed resistance. This is more than just political disagreement or passionate advocacy, some of these groups’ mission is simply to create chaos and inflict harm upon others.”

Pete Musico, 42, and Joseph Morrison, 42, who live together in Munith, face the following charges:

  • Threat of Terrorism, a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Gang Membership, a 20-year felony that may be served as a consecutive sentence
  • Providing Material Support for Terrorist Acts
  • Carrying or Possessing a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony
  • Felony Firearm, a two-year mandatory prison sentence

Paul Bellar, 21, of Milford, faces these charges:

  • Providing material support for terrorist acts – a 20-year felony and/or $20,000 fine
  • Gang membership – a 20-year felony, which may be served as a consecutive sentence; and Carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.
  • Felony firearm – a two-year mandatory prison sentence to be served consecutively.

The testimony was a continuation of Wednesday, when a special agent with the FBI’s Flint office testified about the group’s use of social media. Agent Henrik Impola spoke of the group using Facebook and Wire to recruit and communicate with members. Today he elaborated on the FBI’s assessment of the group’s plans. such as his belief that Pete Musico was willing to martyr himself to start a civil war.

“He talked about his past experiences,” Impola said. “He talked about making mistakes in the past, he talked about how he believed tyranny would happen. And he talked about how, as the oldest member of the group, he had the least to lose. And that if he could kick off the boogaloo [civil war] and be a martyr for the group, that’s all he was looking for, as long as he could be the spark to start the revolution.”

Thursday was another long day of testimony and cross-examination in Jackson County District Court. Special agent Henrick Impola is the only testimony the court has heard in the past two days. He leads the investigation into the Wolverine Watchmen and their plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer. On Thursday, attorney Andrew Kilpatrick who represents Paul Bellar finished his continued cross-examination from the day before. He questioned special agent Impola about Bellar’s statements regarding leaving the Wolverine Watchmen. Special agent Impola said Bellar planned on it but never actually did. Up next was defense attorney Nicholas Somberg representing 26-year-old Joseph Morrison. He challenged special agent Impola’s testimony. Somberg argues Morrison stayed within his second amendment rights to create a Facebook page. This is how the group formed.

“You’re allowed to create Facebook groups. Correct?” said Nicholas Somberg, Joseph Morrison’s attorney.

“Correct,” said Impola.

“You’re allowed to create militia groups and train in firearms?” said Somberg.

“Correct,” said Impola.

As part of his testimony on Thursday, FBI special agent Henrick Impola says Pete Musico, Joseph Morrison, and Paul Bellar were involved in the plot to kidnap the governor.

But despite this, the defense attorneys working to make a clear separation between the violence of the Wolverine Watchmen and their clients.

“He’s not an administrator on the Facebook page,” said Kareem Johnson, Musico’s attorney.

“Correct,” said Impola.

“He’s not in the bonfire chat,” said Johnson.

“Correct,” said Impola.

“He’s not in the QRF chat,” said Johnson.

“Correct,” said Impola.

“He’s not in the f*ck around and find out chat,” said Johnson.

“Correct,” said Impola.

Finally, Pete Musico’s lawyer Kareem Johnson began his cross-examination. He claims police killings within recent years influenced the men to take action. Johnson says the group went to a Black Lives Matter rally over the summer to protect the demonstrators from the police. But special agent Impola says that was illegal.

“In this particular instance, the QRF team was going to shoot at law enforcement if law enforcement was going to shoot at BLM protestors or anyone out there,” said FBI special agent Impola. “They didn’t have the authority to step in and act as police officers to police the police.”

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