JACKSON, Mich. (WOOD) — The preliminary hearing for three of the 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer continued Friday.
The FBI informant at the center of the investigation took the stand at a Jackson courthouse for the first time around 8:30 a.m. The informant was given the pseudonym “Dan” and did not appear on camera to protect his identity.
Defense attorneys for Pete Musico, Paul Bellar and Joseph Morrison stood before him.
The informant says he found the group, the Wolverine Watchmen, through a suggestion tab on Facebook in March 2020. He said the group was offering tactical training practice that sparked his interest. After joining the group’s Facebook page, he says he was invited to join them on an encrypted messenger app.
The informant said he soon learned through the messenger app that the group had plans of finding addresses of police officers and ambushing them at their homes. He said he also learned they planned violence against politicians.
“I just saw a potential threat that was being made by someone. I don’t know who. I didn’t know if it was a male or female but there was a threat on law enforcement,” the informant said of the exchanges between the accused men.
The informant says he took the information to a local officer. He was then contacted by the FBI to become an informant on the group’s whereabouts.
On the stand, he detailed members’ involvement in several protests last spring, including the Operation Gridlock protest in April and another event where people went inside the state Capitol. He said members like Joe Morrison used the events for recruiting.
“He would pass out flyers and use COVID-19 to say, ‘Hey, has a family member or someone you care about passed away from COVID? Well, we’re going to hold the governor accountable,’” he said. “They wanted to obtain an arrest warrant and indict her, murder her.”
Dan says the group, unhappy with Whitmer’s unilateral COVID-19 response, began tactical shooting practice at Morrison’s home as a part of an alleged plan to kidnap the governor.
“The state was losing money with unemployment, COVID started coming up, nursing homes and people were dying there and nothing was being done about it. So it was a lot of back and forth about action needing to be taken against the governor,” he recounted. “Pete (Musico) said that this was no joke. This was about putting rifles in front of politicians and police officers faces and pulling the trigger.”
Dan detailed surveillance missions of the governor’s three homes and said the group at one point planned to take her and possibly leave her in a nearby lake. He also briefly spoke of a plan to take the governor to Wisconsin for a makeshift trial.
The attorneys for the defense say this was all talk. They say their clients never had a concrete plan.
“When someone says something negative about Gov. Whitmer, how do you determine in your mind when they’re actually meaning it or when they’re just so angry at the perceived injustices going on that they’re spouting politic rhetoric?” one of the attorneys asked of the informant.
“That’s not my area of expertise,” Dan replied.
Paul Bellar’s attorney said his client left the group in August and moved to South Carolina with his father.
“He also said Pete was crazy as well,” replied the informant.
The defense for Pete Musico said he was known in the group as “Crazy Pete” and often said outlandish things. He said for that reason, no one in the group took him seriously.
Musico’s attorney also said his client was often under the influence during their meetings.
Representation for Morrison worked to establish the fact that though training took place on his property, he never explicitly said it was for the purpose of kidnapping the governor.
The preliminary hearing that continued Friday is to determine if there’s enough evidence to send these three to trial. The proceedings are scheduled to pick back up March 29.