‘Training for a race war’ - Gang leader resentenced in Washtenaw County

From left, Thomas Denton, Justen Watkins and Tristan Webb.
From left, Thomas Denton, Justen Watkins and Tristan Webb.(source: WJRT)
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 12:45 PM EDT
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WILX) - The leader of a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the United States has been resentenced by a Washtenaw County judge.

Justen Watkins is the self-admitted leader of The Base, a gang Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned is among those mixing violence with extremist ideology.

“Founded in 2018, The Base – which is the literal translation of ‘Al-Qaeda’ in English – is a white supremacy gang that openly advocates for violence and criminal acts against the U.S., and purports to be training for a race war to establish white ethnonationalist rule in areas of the U.S., including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” Nessel said. “The group also traffics in Nazi ideology and extreme anti-Semitism.”

He ran a “hate camp” for members of the group, where he led tactical and firearms training for participants with the goal of being prepared for the violent overthrow of the government. Watkins had been allowed out on bail, but it was revoked before his original sentencing when he violated it by contacting other members of the gang.

Background: Bond revoked for charged leader of white supremacist group The Base

Watkins was originally sentenced to 56 months to 72 months in prison for conspiring to train for a civil disorder and a mandatory consecutive two years for felony firearm by Judge Amy Gierhart of the Tuscola County Circuit Court. The charge of conspiring to train for a civil disorder marked the first time a defendant has faced the felony in Michigan’s history.

Judge Gierhart sentenced two other members of the gang earlier in 2022. Alfred Gorman pled guilty to gang membership felonies in January 2022 and was sentenced to four years of probation and a one-year jail term, which is suspended pending successful completion of probation. Another member of the gang, Tristan Webb, was sentenced earlier in August for gang membership, felony firearms and conspiracy to train with firearms for civil disorder, also receiving probation.

Related: Michigan teen sentenced to probation for felony firearms, gang charges

However, these cases represent the first time training for civil disorder charges have been prosecuted, which means the government is also tasked with setting precedent if guilt is established. Following Watkins’s original sentencing, attorneys for the United States filed a motion to correct an invalid sentence, which was granted by the courts.

Washtenaw County Judge Patrick Conlin has now increased the sentence for Watkins, the gang’s self-proclaimed leader. Conlin sentenced Watkins to 56 months to 240 months, after Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani cited Michigan’s established criminal law in their filing to expand the sentence.

Watkins pleaded guilty to gang membership felonies in connection to a December 2019 incident in Dexter, in which he and Gorman used intimidation tactics at a family’s home and posted messages to other The Base members targeting the home.

“I refuse to allow domestic terrorists to incite violence against our residents and communities,” said Nessel. “I am proud to work alongside law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels to safeguard the public from these serious threats and gratified to see justice served.”

The May convictions secured against Watkins and others in Tuscola County marked the first in Michigan history that conspiring to train for a civil disorder was charged. This Washtenaw County conviction is also the first time using the gang membership felony when charging a white supremacist terror cell under Michigan law.


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