Mar 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Judge throws out terrorism threat charge for 3 accused in Whitmer kidnapping plot

Photo of Gretchen Whitmer wearing a mask, with the American flag as a backdrop
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

A Michigan judge ruled Monday that three men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) will stand trial for gang membership, felony firearm and providing material support to terrorism, but dismissed charges of threat of terrorism, the Detroit News reports.

Why it matters: Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico are three of the seven men accused of having ties to the Wolverine Watchmen, a militia group charged in the plot. Whitmer wasn't the only governor they allegedly planned to target, the FBI has said.

What they're saying: "There has to be some form of intent here to incite mayhem," said Judge Michael Klaeren of the 12th District Court, per Detroit News.

  • The threat charge was dismissed because the group communicated on encrypted platforms, which is "in many respects no different than thinking the thought to yourself," Klaern said.

The big picture: According to Klaeren, the group had a "multi-tiered vetting process, secret means of communication, required training and exclusive membership."

  • "They started a very big snowball that wasn't going to stop," Klaeren said. Though the plot didn't materialize, "even something stupid can be a plan," he added.
  • Klaeren called the three men "erratic" and said he has reason to believe a successful kidnapping would "result in injury or death or the commission of other violent crimes."

Go deeper ... DHS chief: Domestic extremism is "single greatest terrorism-related threat" in the U.S.

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