Three men jailed for at least seven years over plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer

Three men were given lengthy prison sentences on Thursday for their role in a 2020 plot by right-wing militiamen to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in retaliation for her anti-Covid measures.

Paul Bellar, 24; Joseph Morrison, 28; and Pete Musico, 45, will each serve at least seven years in prison on state charges of firearms violations, illegal gang membership, and providing material support for a terrorist plot. Musico could serve upwards of 12 years.

“Like all Michiganders, these three defendants are free to disagree, vote or campaign against me,” Governor Whitmer said on Thursday in a video impact statement to the court. “Instead, they took a different path, and supported a violent conspiracy, and provided material support for terrorism. They chose actions that are antithetical to what makes our nation strong and safe.”

From left, Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico (Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and Jackson County Sheriff's Office)
From left, Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico (Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and Jackson County Sheriff's Office)

The trio are not accused of a commiting a terrorist act itself in the Whitmer plot, but rather aiding those who intended to do so. The men organised a gun training with Adam Fox, the leader of the conspiracy to kidnap the governor.

(Fox and a co-defendant were convicted in federal court in August and could face up to a life sentence.)

“The defendants’ ultimate goals were to kill police and elected officials and kidnap the Governor of Michigan,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement of Thursday’s sentencing, MLive reports. “These extraordinarily violent ends, coupled with the unequivocal conviction from the jury, demand the maximum sentence.”

Defence attorneys argued Bellar, Morrison, and Musico, were only peripherally involved in the Wolverine Watchmen militia group which intended to kidnap Ms Whitmer, a plan which never came to fruition.

“Mr Bellar is clueless about any plot to kidnap the governor," attorney Andrew Kirkpatrick said again in a court filing last week,” CBS News reports.

Bellar moved to South Carolina in July, long before the planned election-season plot.

Ms Whitmer described the pain and fear of the plan to kidnap her during the trail.

“I cannot tell (my family) honestly that I am unphased,” Ms Whitmer said on Thursday in her video statement. “I now scan crowds for threats; I think carefully about the last thing I say to people when we part; I worry about the safety of everyone near me when I’m in public; and I’m reluctant to share too much because I worry that it could endanger a loved one, a staff member, or a police officer on my security detail.”

Thursday’s convictions mark the longest sentences secured thus far in prosecutors’ attempts to punish the Michigan plotters, whose plans were foiled by FBI informants.

So far, officials have only had mixed results in court, securing the convictions of Fox and a co-conspirator in federal court, as well as the guilty pleas of two other men.

Alleged plotters Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris were acquitted in April.