Wolverine Watchmen militia linked to Whitmer kidnap plot has Boogaloo ties

"We’re at a place where if we don’t fight, we’re definitely gonna lose," Barry Croft of Delaware, the lone out-of-state resident facing federal charges in the Whitmer kidnapping plot, said in an undated video circulating online. (Screen shot)

Ongoing updates: Plot to kidnap Whitmer | Who's charged, what's next?

Michigan has deep ties to the militia movement, but experts say the Wolverine Watchmen group linked to plots to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, target police and storm the state Capitol appears to be part of the  increasingly extreme Boogaloo movement preparing for civil war.

Alleged Wolverine Watchmen ringleaders charged Thursday under state antiterrorism laws identify as “Boogaloo Bois” and were preparing for “a violent uprising against the government or impending politically-motivated civil war,” according to police affidavits. Joseph Morrison, a founding member of the group, went by the name Boogaloo Bunyan online.

Morrison and Pete Musico, who investigators say founded the Watchmen and hosted training exercises at their shared home in Munith in Jackson County, allegedly began recruiting members through Facebook as early as November 2019, but then used private and encrypted channels to communicate and set up paramilitary training operations.

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The Wolverine Watchmen appears to have grown this year "specifically in response to the [coronavirus] pandemic and… Whitmer's state lockdown,” said Amy Cooter, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who has spent years studying militias, particularly in Michigan. 

“I don’t think the charges are all that shocking, given our political moment and given how Michigan has always been a hotbed of militia activity.”

"See that hat right there. I hope that triggers a whole lot of people,” Pete Musico, an alleged founder of the Watchmen Wolverine militia group charged in an antiterrorism plot, said in a 2018 YouTube video. (Screen shot)

Of the 13 men charged by state and federal officials, it’s not immediately clear how many of them were members of the group. An FBI affidavit detailing the alleged plot against Whitmer does not name the Wolverine Watchmen, but describes plotters meeting with members of “a militia group,” including for “tactical training exercises” in Munith. 

Michigan Attorney Dana Nessel alleges that Morrison, Musico and five other Wolverine Watchmen attempted to identify home addresses for potential attacks against police officers, sought to instigate a “civil war” and plotted to storm the state Capitol and take hostages, including Whitmer. 

At least two suspects, William and Michael Null, had previously identified themselves as members of a separate group, the Barry County-based Michigan Liberty Militia. 

Its Facebook page was pulled down Thursday, and self-described co-founder Phil Robinson did not respond to messages seeking comment. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified the Michigan Liberty Militia as one of 14 "extreme antigovernment groups" that were active in Michigan as of 2019. 

Shelly Gregoire, a member of the Home Guard militia who recently ran for state House as a Republican in Battle Creek, called the Wolverine Watchmen a fringe group that “nobody’s ever heard of.” 

“That’s not us,” she said. “This is some outside group. We don’t know what they were plotting. This is all news to us, because our intention is not to overthrow the government at all.”

Gregoire said her militia, which is spread out over Michigan, is "nonviolent" and that its members are "not these radicalist right-wing extremists that everyone says we are."

Watchmen

Michigan is “the birthplace of the modern militia,” said Daryl Johnson, a former counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security who now consults law enforcement agencies on domestic terrorism.

But militia groups in Michigan and elsewhere began to thin after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and was partially plotted on a farm in Michigan’s Thumb.

Groups like the Boogaloo and the Watchmen are part of a new wave of militia activity that emerged in response to the election of Barack Obama and the economic downturn of the early 2000s. The groups are largely right-wing, but leftist groups including the John Brown Gun Club, the Not F***ing Around Coalition and Redneck Revolt have begun to emerge.

“Most militias are defensive in nature,” Johnson said. “They tend to want to prepare for the worst-case scenario and then act whenever that event happens, whereas groups like the Watchmen are a little more into the planning and the offensive aspects, such as practicing police ambushes.”

Nesselt told MSNBC the Wolverine Watchmen “traffic in the politics of extremist … some of them oddly do have pro-Trump stances, but many of them are just antigovernment all together, no matter who's in the government.”

Johnson said there are hundreds of militia groups in the country with tens of thousands of members, but establishing concrete statistics is difficult. The upper Midwest, including Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, remains a hotbed of activity, he said.  

The common themes include an “ultra-nationalistic” point of view, antigovernment beliefs, Islamaphobia, passion for Second Amendment gun rights and “a willingness to take up arms,” Johnson said.

He said recent civil unrest over police brutality and racism, political vitriol over the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns about the upcoming presidential election have led to “a period of high risk,” with greater risk of violent activity from self-styled militias. 

At least four of the men charged Thursday had attended anti-Whitmer or pro-militia rallies this year at the Michigan Capitol, including the Null brothers, identical twins who were photographed carrying long guns in the Senate gallery on April 30. 

Null had previously called himself a co-founder of the Michigan Liberty Militia, which has "had some squabbles with other militia groups" but has generally painted itself as "more mainstream than the Wolverines," said Cooter, the Vanderbilt professor.

It’s not immediately clear if the Nulls splintered off to join the Watchmen or also remained active in the Michigan Liberty Militia. 

“Facebook and a few other places have shut down their forums, so it's a whole lot harder to track them now," Cooter said.

Espousing on social media

Facebook in June removed hundreds of Boogaloo accounts and groups, including one for the Wolverine Watchmen, according to the Washington Post, telling the newspaper it "proactively reached out and cooperated with the FBI early" in the Michigan investigation. 

But traces remain online.

Musico, identified by state police as a founding member of the Wolverine Watchmen, appeared to largely suspend his social media activity in 2019 but had maintained several active accounts. 

In a series of since-deleted YouTube videos, Musico suggested he tried to interview Whitmer about high auto insurance prices, argued seat belt laws unfairly restrict personal freedom and complained about President Donald Trump’s critics.

"I'm so sick of hearing about Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump," Musico said in one video before putting on a Trump 2020 campaign hat and smiling for the camera. "See that hat right there. I hope that triggers a whole lot of people."

Musico also appeared to maintain a profile on Gab, a far-right social media site, under the handle Patriotpete77. He had not posted since 2018 but that year suggested U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, "needs to be hung for treason or at least arrested for treason."

In another post, Musico alleged that “they are killing white people” in South Africa, echoing what the Anti-Defamation League has labeled as a longstanding and false claim circulated by white supremacists. 

Barry Croft of Delaware, the lone out-of-state resident facing federal charges in the Whitmer kidnapping plot, reportedly praised Trump on Twitter and in a video espoused extremist views, telling followers "we’re at a place where if we don’t fight, we’re definitely gonna lose."

But Brandon Caserta, charged by the FBI in the main plot, reportedly called Trump a “tyrant” in a recently deleted social media video that circulated online Thursday.  In another, he wore a Hawaiian shirt, the uniform of the Boogaloo movement. 

“Trump is not your friend, dude,” a man who appears to be Caserta says in one video. “Every single person that works for the government is your enemy.”

Tip of the iceberg?

Federal charging documents indicate plotters met and formed a dangerous alliance at an American Patriot militia rally at the Michigan Capitol on June 18.

Adam Fox, a suspected ringleader in the Whitmer kidnapping plot, allegedly met militia leader Ty Garbin there and told him “he planned to attack the Capitol and asked them to combine forces.” according to an FBI affidavit.

Gregoire, the Battle Creek militia leader, was at that rally, where the Michigan Liberty Militia “ran security,” she said.  

The Null brothers, accused of helping surveil Whitmer’s vacation home with kidnapping plotters,  also appeared to be at the rally, according to photos from the Lansing State Journal. 

Gregoire said she knew Fox from a previous encounter but did not see him at the rally.

“I met Adam once, a long time ago, and I didn’t like the guy then,” Gregoire said. He seemed a “little off”  and gave off “a weird vibe,” so Gregoire kept her distance, she said. 

In television interviews Thursday and Friday, Nessel said the Michigan charges could be “the tip of the iceberg.” 

“It’s not just a Michigan problem,” she said on MSNBC. “It’s an American problem, and I think there’s going to be more incidents to come.”

More than 200 state and federal law enforcement officials  were involved in the Michigan investigation, according to Nessel’s office. Search warrants and arrest warrants were issued in more than a dozen cities, including Belleville, Cadillac, Canton, Charlotte, Clarkston, Grand Rapids, Luther, Munith, Orion Township, Ovid, Portage, Shelby Township and Waterford.  

Evidence collected from suspects this week is “is still being reviewed,” Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, told Bridge on Friday. “So this matter is still ongoing.”

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Comments

Jac Munro
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 11:59am

Goofy Gretchen blames Pres. Trump that these people were supporters but again she is wrong!

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 11:17am

Sure, the guy pictured wearing a Trump hat was probably doing so "ironically."

water2Wine
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 12:26pm

No one comments anymore because you have no way to go back and see when or where anyone responded to what you said. Part of the reason people comment is to get feedback. Sometimes they have experienced the same thing that the person writing has experienced.
For example did you know that they have already thrown out 800 ballots because they "felt" that the signatures did not match? Do you also know that there is no way for you to check and see if one of them was yours?

Craig Reynolds
Wed, 10/14/2020 - 3:44am

"did you know that they have already thrown out 800 ballots because they "felt" that the signatures did not match?" Who's this "they"? And where's the basis for your claim? By the way, ANY person voting absentee can check the status of their submitted ballot through this utility:
https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/Voter/Index
Try it out. Maybe it'll make you feel a little better.
Of course, if you vote in person, you'll know immediately if there's any question about your ballot.

Matt
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 1:45pm

If people saying stupid stuff is reason for arrest, there's a lot of people on all sides of the aisle that should be worried. What about Samantha B and her decapitated Trump stunt? God knows how many others after that. At this point we have seen nothing that conclusively takes us beyond that point. Our Governor and the Left in general's constant seeking the limelight and reasons to paint her opponents as extremists while their allies burn and loot our cities are, if even mentioned, are righteous protestors, should give pause and some skepticism. But given our almost violent levels of partisanship... forget it.

middle of the mit
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 5:39pm

Ohh how quick conservatives are to forget how they acted when they didn't have the Presidency.

https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/the-administration/335915-conserv...
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/obama-effigy-hanged-outside-church_n_1581272
https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/effigy-of-obama.html
https://www.revelist.com/politics/america-responds-obama/5855
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRMqC2yiuk0

And of course it was Bernie Sanders hyperbole that encouraged the person who shot the congressmen at the baseball field? Interested how the Republicans went out of their way not to blame Sanders and now the shoe is on the other foot.
_____________________________________________________________

I would like to hear when and where Bernie Sanders ever told a milita group or anyone to "Stand back and stand by"

I don't think you can do that. There is one side that uses military, law enforcement and other "tough language" to project their "manliness". It isn't Bernie.

This is sad, and sickening. And it needs to stop. The problem? America doesn't have a parent to tell us to behave. And the party of morality thinks that they own the country and the rest of us are just commie, Kenyan, Muslim usurpers.

When I see this President offer his tax forms, as opposed to bullying the last President for his birth certificate? Then we can say it's all the same.

Instead? My local gun store can't sell guns anymore. NOT because of the Governor.........but one side has bought them all.....and the ammo too!!!

What are they doing with it all?

Ouchez
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 8:23pm

These men in reality were nothing more than Facebook Group, not a "militia"! The real terrorists are anti-fa and BLM, they are burning, looting, beating and killing people. I condemn what these men were talking about but Whitmir, through her incendiary rhetoric, causes this type of behavior.

Craig Reynolds
Wed, 10/14/2020 - 3:48am

Whitmer's "incendiary rhetoric"? Would really like to know what you find "incendiary". Kindly advise with specific exaamples.

Also Matt
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 9:45pm

Hey, you should read the affidavit and then tell me again if all they were doing is "saying stupid stuff"

But no, it's to convenient for you to just make comments without thinking instead.

Bryan Watson
Sat, 10/10/2020 - 8:18pm

The correct term is “terrorist”, “terrorism group”, or “domestic terrorist”.

These people call themselves “militia” because that makes it sound official, authorized, and legal. The Constitution says you can “bear arms” if you are part of a “well-regulated militia”, so these terrorism groups adopt that term. But they are not constitutionally lawful. Rather, they are organized for the purpose of criminal activities - threatening, conspiring, kidnapping, murder, political violence.

WDIV in Detroit has made this choice, saying “After much discussion in our newsroom, we've decided that moving forward, we will be using the term "domestic terrorism" or "domestic terrorist," rather than militia. We feel these words better define the subjects of the investigation.”

It would be appropriate and journalistically correct for Bridge to follow the lead of WDIV.

https://twitter.com/Local4News/status/1314648097725743104?s=20

Don
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 8:03am

The FBI needs to check on how many of these republican traitors were at one of trumps rallies!!! AND watch Barr have all charges dropped!!!

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 11:31am

Trump's call to muster the Proud Boys and his continuing refusal to actively and definitely decry extremist hate groups only gives whacko fringe groups like the Wolverine Watchmen the false legitimacy they need to "feel accepted"
come out from under their rock and plot to kidnap the Governor.
Trump is complicit in that plot because of his lack of opposition to such fringe groups even going so far as to call them "good people" and ordering them like a general to "stand down and stand by".
Trump's refusal to act decisively in this situation is just another example of his lack of leadership and pandering to violent extremists to generate the anger and uncertainty that is a major sorce of his political power.

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 11:32am

Trump's call to muster the Proud Boys and his continuing refusal to actively and definitely decry extremist hate groups only gives whacko fringe groups like the Wolverine Watchmen the false legitimacy they need to "feel accepted"
come out from under their rock and plot to kidnap the Governor.
Trump is complicit in that plot because of his lack of opposition to such fringe groups even going so far as to call them "good people" and ordering them like a general to "stand down and stand by".
Trump's refusal to act decisively in this situation is just another example of his lack of leadership and pandering to violent extremists to generate the anger and uncertainty that is a major sorce of his political power.

William C. Plumpe
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 11:32am

Trump's call to muster the Proud Boys and his continuing refusal to actively and definitely decry extremist hate groups only gives whacko fringe groups like the Wolverine Watchmen the false legitimacy they need to "feel accepted"
come out from under their rock and plot to kidnap the Governor.
Trump is complicit in that plot because of his lack of opposition to such fringe groups even going so far as to call them "good people" and ordering them like a general to "stand down and stand by".
Trump's refusal to act decisively in this situation is just another example of his lack of leadership and pandering to violent extremists to generate the anger and uncertainty that is a major sorce of his political power.

Anonymous
Sun, 10/11/2020 - 4:47pm

Republicans feign outrage but these bottom dwellers are a big part of their base. Don't be fooled by what they say, just watch what they do!

Evel Knievel
Mon, 10/12/2020 - 11:26am

Up until recently I had thought the Bridge was fair, unbiased nonpartisan news. Sadly it has become obvious that is no longer the case.

mw
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 11:26am

I would really love to know what parts of this article are "unfair", "biased", or "partisan."

Did you even read the article or did you just see the picture of the guy in a Trump hat and assumed it was a "hit piece" on Trump?

Craig Reynolds
Wed, 10/14/2020 - 3:53am

"non-partisan news" - ? What, pray tell, is that? A column on housecleaning products?

George H
Tue, 10/13/2020 - 1:22pm

Please stop calling these groups "militias". They may call themselves that, but they aren't legit militias. Under the Constitution and the state and Federal law, only state governments and the Federal government have the authority to call up militias. These are gangs, or armed mobs. At least put quotes around "militia" to show you don't recognize that status. More here, from a serving US Army officer. https://angrystaffofficer.com/2020/01/20/stop-calling-armed-mobs-the-mil...