One day after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced off against Republican challenger Tudor Dixon on the debate stage, a jury found three more men guilty of materially aiding a terrorist and being gang members in association with the plot to kidnap Whitmer in 2020.
As my colleague Arianna Coghill has reported, the two lead orchestrators of the plot, Barry Croft and Adam Fox, were found guilty in August of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer in a far-fetched plan intended to spark a civil war. Today, after a three-week trial, three more men—Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison, and Pete Musico—were found guilty of aiding either Croft or Fox, The Detroit News reports. They face up to 42 years in prison.
According to prosecutors, the three men were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a far-right militia group. In this capacity, they provided medical and firearms training to Fox and Croft and encouraged the two men to commit violence against Whitmer.
The defense argued that Bellar, Morrison, and Musico were simply exercising their freedom of speech. Per the New York Times:
Kareem Johnson, a lawyer for Mr. Musico, said that his client’s actions were protected by the First and Second Amendments and that he believed Mr. Musico was being punished for his belief system.
“In this country, you are allowed to talk the talk,” Mr. Johnson told the jury. “But you only get convicted if you walk the walk.”
That may be true, but statements like, “One, two, I’m coming for you, three, four, better lock your door,” “let’s grab that bitch while she comes out the back [through an emergency exit at a protest at the Michigan Capital],” and “I swear to God…I’m going to moltov [sic] her fucking house” arguably rise above “talking the talk” and begin to look more like a concerted plan to commit violence.
These types of messages, combined with copious audio recordings and private messages obtained by a confidential FBI informant, provided the basis for the prosecution’s argument that the three men’s conversations amounted to more than just idle chatter.
“Politically motivated plots, threats, and violence are increasingly common against public officials as well as everyday citizens,” Whitmer wrote in a statement responding to the verdict. “They are the logical, disturbing extension of radicalization, hatred, and conspiratorial thinking that festers in America, threatening the foundation of our republic.”