Trial begins for three men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan governor

FILE PHOTO: Ford Motors pre-production all-electric F-150 Lightning truck prototype

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A state trial was set to start on Monday for three men accused of taking part in an elaborate plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 over her COVID-19 restrictions, with the hopes of starting a civil war.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin in a Jackson County courtroom where Joseph Morrison, 28, his father-in-law Pete Musico, 44, and Paul Bellar, 23, are charged with firearm violations, gang membership and providing material support for terrorism. They could face 20 years in prison if they are convicted.

The three are among 13 men who were arrested in October 2020 and charged with state or federal crimes in the alleged kidnapping conspiracy. Prosecutors say the plot was motivated by opposition to state coronavirus restrictions imposed by the governor and grievances related to the 2020 presidential election.

Attorneys for the men were not immediately available for comment.

Prosecutors said the men were members of the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group that planned to break into Whitmer's vacation home, kidnap her and take her away at gunpoint to stand trial on treason charges. They hoped that the abduction would lead to a violent uprising and instigate a civil war, prosecutors said.

Authorities in an affidavit said that Morrison and Musico hosted tactical training sessions on their property in remote Michigan while Bellar provided plans for tactical maneuvers, coded language for covert communication and ammunition.

The trial against Morrison, Musico and Bellar comes five weeks after a federal jury in Grand Rapids convicted Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr. of conspiracy in the plot. Two other defendants were found not guilty in the first federal trial.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge reduced the sentence of a man who pleaded guilty to participating in the plot after his testimony helped convict Fox and Croft. Ty Garbin, 26, was resentenced to 30 months in prison, less than half of the 75 months he was given in August 2021.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter)