After it was revealed that the FBI stopped an attempt to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday, a group called the "Wolverine Watchmen" militia became a source of immediate public attention. Now, 13 people associated with a militia plot to attack Whitmer and overthrow the government have been charged by the state of Michigan.
According to the FBI investigation, the group of men began hatching a government takedown plot earlier this year — making their own explosives, practicing combat drills, and shooting. The goal was to end Michigan’s lockdown, which has been in place to protect the state's residents during the pandemic. Though Whitmer is currently safe, she has since spoken out against the group who attempted to devise this plan, as well as denouncing President Trump who emboldened them with his calls to "liberate Michigan."
This isn't the first time the Wolverine Watchman has attempted something like this — the group has a terrifying history of plotting attacks. According to The Detroit News, the group of men involved in the plot against Whitmer began meeting in June, even attending a Second Amendment rally and congregating in a shop basement. Their hope was to create a “self-sufficient” society free from what they see as “unconstitutional state governments.” Michigan Assistant Attorney General Gregory Townsend has since called the group “committed to violence” against the government and government officials.
“Wolverine Watchmen is a relatively new group that was spurred to action specifically by the pandemic and by Whitmer's response to it,” Amy Cooter, a sociology professor and militia expert at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News.
Seven of the plotting group’s members, including Paul Bellar, Shawn Fix, Eric Molitor, Michael Null, William Null, Pete Musico, and Joseph Morrison, are linked to the Wolverine Watchmen militia. Since March, the FBI has been tracking them, after a local police department learned that members were attempting to obtain cops’ addresses. Extremism experts, however, say that they’ve largely flown under the radar, only communicating through private channels.
But a now-deleted website seems to connect the Wolverine Watchmen to the larger Michigan Militia, a paramilitary organization started in the 1990s, according to ABC News. A handbook on the website detailed that the group consists of all citizens that are capable of bearing arms, and that they train with weapons to defend themselves, their families, communities and their state.
So far, testimonies from neighbors and those following members of the group on social media have revealed their connection to the far-right paramilitary movement, saying they regularly gathered on weekends to practice shooting, and that bullets were constantly flying on their property. Initial investigations into members’ social media pages have found tirades about gun control, taxes, and the “Deep State.”
Information from their social media profiles has also connected the militia to the Boogaloo movement — another extremist group dedicated to eradicating the government that has taken on larger roles in both anti-lockdown and Black Lives Matter protests. Like the Wolverine Watchmen, the Boogaloo Bois stoke violence around the country, attempting to kill police officers and showing up in public spaces with guns in hopes of inciting a "second civil war."
Brandon Caserta, one of the men involved in the plot, posted videos to TikTok in which he donned a Hawaiian shirt, the mark of the Boogaloo Bois. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And indifference to this notion is the means by which the people can and will secure their own oppression. Wake the fuck up,” Caserta said in a video.
In the months since the pandemic started, Michigan has become home to multiple right-wing militias like the Wolverine Watchmen and Boogaloo Bois. In April, armed men attempted to break into the state capitol and in May, militia members toting guns rallied outside of the capitol in protest.
With continued dog whistles from Donald Trump calling for an “army” to defend the election and for extremist groups to “stand by,” this is likely only one of many right-wing groups that will attempt to take matters into their own hands. "The individuals in (state) custody are suspected to have attempted to identify the home addresses of law enforcement officers in order to target them, made threats of violence intended to instigate a civil war, and engaged in planning and training for an operation to attack the capitol building of Michigan and to kidnap government officials, including the governor of Michigan," Attorney General Dana Nessel said at a press conference on Wednesday.
The Watchmen members connected to the Whitmer plot now face a slew of charges from the state, including threat of terrorism or material support of terrorist acts.