Accused neo-Nazi leader had manifesto, wanted race war, prosecutors say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

The leader of a white supremacy group was granted bond Friday as state prosecutors portrayed his gang as a dwindling crew committed to inciting a race war in the United States.

Accused leader of the Base, Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe, and associate Alfred Gorman, 35, of Taylor, represent the "last vestiges" of the neo-Nazi group that has been the target of repeated arrests and raids nationwide, Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani said.

“These are the last vestiges of this group,” the prosecutor said. “Their goal is to create a race war and white ethnostate,” a nation open only to white people.

The men, arrested Thursday during a continuing crackdown on extremism in Michigan, made brief appearances in front of 14A District Court Magistrate James Cameron, who presided over a virtual videoconference from Washtenaw County.

Justen Watkins

Cameron set bond at $100,000, or 10%, for Watkins during a hearing that provided new insight into a pair of FBI raids Thursday, including at a rural farmhouse in Bad Axe. The 3.5-acre farm is where prosecutors say Watkins ran a "hate camp" for members of the group to prepare to overthrow the government.

“I do believe there does exist some potential danger to the community,” Cameron said. “I am also concerned that there really is no permanent residence and some flight risk.”

Prosecutors sought an "extremely high" bond for Watkins, calling him a danger to the community and a flight risk.

Alfred Gorman

“(Watkins) has expressed a desire to die for the cause … and take as many people with him,” the prosecutor said.

Doddamani shed light on the raid at the camp, saying FBI agents seized 15 guns and found extremist propaganda throughout the home. Watkins has written a manifesto calling for genocide and urged followers to attack law enforcement personnel, the prosecutor added. 

“We believe the defendant is a great threat to public safety,” said Doddamani, noting he was engaged in harassing Black people in Detroit. “He is not just a member of the gang. He is a leader of this gang … that openly advocates for acts of violence.”

Watkins is a productive member of society with no record of violence, his court-appointed lawyer, Ashley Strawser, told the magistrate.

Watkins and Gorman also are linked to a December incident in Dexter in which a local family was terrorized by the men, who tried to intimidate a husband and wife and shared their address with members of the Base, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement Thursday.

Nessel's office charged Watkins and Gorman with several felonies, including gang membership, a 20-year felony, using a computer to commit a crime, and unlawful posting of a message. 

Law enforcement officials investigate the scene at a farmhouse on Sullivan Road in rural Bad Axe on Thursday.

Cameron set bond at $50,000, or 10%, for Gorman on Friday. He was released from the Washtenaw County Jail after the hearing.

Gorman is not accused of belonging to the Base. Instead, prosecutors say Gorman filmed firearms training by group members that was to be used as propaganda and to recruit new members, the prosecutor said.

Watkins and Gorman are due back in court for a probable cause conference on Nov. 12.

The 3.5-acre farm is where prosecutors say Justen Watkins ran a "hate camp" for members of the group to prepare to overthrow the government.

The hearing Friday continues a string of developments including arrests, raids and operations targeting far-right anti-government extremists and white supremacists this month. That includes accused members of a plot to kidnap and harm Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a shootout in suburban Detroit between FBI agents and a Madison Heights man who died 28 years after his family became embroiled in the infamous Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho.

The Base, operating as a paramilitary organization, has proclaimed war against minority communities within the United States and abroad, the FBI has said. Unlike other extremist groups, it’s not focused on promulgating propaganda — instead, the group aims to bring together highly skilled members to train them for acts of violence, Nessel said.

Prosecutors did not oppose either bond amount Friday.

Watkins is unemployed and itinerant. He has worked a series of short-term jobs in recent weeks at a plastics company in Bad Axe, a Walmart and one week at a golf course but lost the job due to pandemic-related cuts.

He was living in the Bad Axe farmhouse with friend Tristan Webb, whose family owned the property. Webb moved out a few weeks ago after becoming disillusioned with Watkins, Webb's father, Eric, told The Detroit News.

Watkins plans to move in with his parents in St. Clair Shores, his lawyer said Friday.

Gorman, meanwhile, has a stable home and union job, his lawyer, Gabrielle Lacy, said Friday.

Investigators did not find any weapons during his arrest and Gorman does not have a criminal record, Lacy said.

"The charges are terrible," she said. "We are not making light of the charges. We do not see the danger to the community."