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Confidential FBI informant details how he infiltrated group accused in Whitmer kidnap plot

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Three men charged in Jackson County in an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will return to court on March 29.

Jackson County District Court Judge Michael Klaeren said he expects to rule from the bench that day on whether suspects Paul Bellar, Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico will stand trial.

The testimony of a confidential FBI informant identified only as "Dan" occupied most of the third day of a preliminary hearing Friday.

Dan testified he wore a wire last April when armed men entered the Capitol building in Lansing at a protest against the state's COVID-19 restrictions, he told a judge Friday.

Dan testified that Bellar, 22, of Milford, Morrison, 26, and Morrison's father-in-law, Musico, 42, both of Munith, showed up in "tactical matter" at the April 30 protest, including body armor. They carried long guns and pistols, he said.

The three men, part of the group called the Wolverine Watchmen, are among 14 people charged with participating in the plot against Whitmer.

As noon approached there was "chatter" about a possible "breach" of the Capitol building, Dan testified.

But there was no need. 

"State police were allowing us to come in," Dan said. 

While signs were prohibited inside the building, the open carry of guns was allowed at the time, he testified.

"Were they looking for anything?" a prosecutor asked him.

"A fight," Dan said.

All three are charged under the state's anti-terrorism law with plotting to abduct Whitmer or, alternatively, storm and set fire to the Michigan Capitol in Lansing. The purpose of the preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the cases against the three men to proceed to trial.

He testified via audio to protect his identity.

A '123' plan to capture Whitmer

Joseph Morrison and Pete Musico

Dan testified that at a June 18 rally at the state Capitol, the group didn't have the numbers to mount any sort of attack on the building. The focus increasingly shifted to catching Whitmer elsewhere, he said.

Accused co-conspirator and ringleader Adam Fox, 37, of Potterville allegedly said he wanted to "hogtie" the governor, Dan testified.

Three strategies formed, Dan testified. They called it the "123" plan.

Site one was the Capitol. Site two was Whitmer's Traverse City-area vacation residence. Site three was a vacation home in the Upper Peninsula, Dan said.

Site three was "Pete's plan," Dan said, referring to Musico.

Dan testified he personally helped surveil the Traverse City-area home. The group scoured news reports and real estate sites to find the home's layout and its exact address.

That information is "very important" to people plotting a capture, Dan said. 

"If we know how many rooms we're going into, we can start training for that," Dan said. "If it's a two-bedroom house, we train for that. If it's a three-floor home, we train for that."

Dan said he took care to not drive too slow near the home for fear of attracting attention.

The group came to believe that a water entry might work better than using main roads, he said. The belief was that the home could be approached via water, using kayaks.

When the plotters were met by the governor's security team, they would "engage" or kill them, Dan said.

Had her husband or children been around, a decision would've been made on the spot on what to do with them, Dan said. There was no specific plan.

After the governor was captured, the plan was to put her on a boat headed for Wisconsin, where she would be tried by a "kangaroo court," Dan said.

Andrew Kirkpatrick, Bellar’s attorney, pushed back at the characterization of the Capitol action on April 30 as anything untoward.

Dan admitted to Kirkpatrick there was a heavy presence of law enforcement at the Capitol, that state police allowed protesters in and took their temperatures, and that guns — even AR-15s — are allowed at the Capitol and that the FBI was listening the entire time, yet arrested no one.

Dan testified earlier that the protesters had "pounded on" a door they believed led to the governor's office. Kirkpatrick asked whether the door was ever breached.

It wasn’t, Dan said.

"It's not illegal to be armed at the Capitol, correct? It's not illegal to carry an AR-15 at the Capitol, right?" Kirkpatrick asked.

Dan agreed.

He also acknowledged to Kirkpatrick that Bellar was in South Carolina, not Michigan, during multiple training sessions.

Nicholas Somberg, an attorney for Joseph Morrison, portrayed Morrison as someone less-involved in the group than Dan.

Dan told Somberg he surveilled Whitmer’s home on Aug. 29, two days after Morrison left the Wolverine Watchmen. 

Somberg read text message into evidence that people discussed Joseph Morrison as someone who "never shows up" but when he does "walks around with his chest puffed out."

Dan became involved in the group after responding to a Facebook post by Bellar asking about people who "wanted to train" or to fire weapons together.

Dan reached out, and the group communicated on an app called Wire. 

After attesting to his sworn duty as a veteran to "fight any enemies, foreign and domestic," Dan was allowed in the group, he testified.

He said Musico made a post on Wire seeking the addresses of law enforcement officers and, eventually, Whitmer.

Musico allegedly tried to also get Whitmer's phone number.

"He wanted to chew her a-- out," Dan testified. "He didn't like her."

After seeing a questionable post on Wire, Dan says he showed it to a friend who is a police officer.

Paul Bellar

His friend told him he should expect to be contacted by the FBI. Dan thought he would just be handing off the tip, but he became an informant.

He testified he sold his home at a loss after agreeing to work with the FBI, as well as a vehicle he owned then over concerns for his safety.

"If they're wanting to seek out law enforcement, what would they do to me?" Dan testified.

Kareem Johnson, Musico's attorney, tried to downplay his client's role in the alleged plot.

Throughout his cross-examination of Dan, Johnson referred to Musico as "Crazy Pete."

"Crazy Pete says crazy things, right?" Johnson asked Dan, who agreed.

"Yes," Dan said.

Klaeren at one point referred to Dan as the "No. 2" leader in the organization. Dan said he took a leadership role immediately, at the very first in-person training he attended. 

Musico, on the other hand, was "excluded" from leadership meetings and communications, Johnson argued.

When he wasn't called "Crazy Pete," he was called "Grandpa," due to his age. 

Johnson argued Musico's actions are limited to big talk.

When Dan did surveillance at the governor's home, Musico didn't contribute funds or ideas. He had no involvement, Dan, testified.

But on one of their last conversations, on Sept. 2, Musico allegedly told Dan he wanted to be "the face of the movement," arguing that some "60-70%" of the Watchmen's ideas owed to him.

That, Johnson argued, was just Crazy Pete saying crazy things.

After the preliminary examination, Morrison sought a reduction of his bond, which had previously been reduced to $150,000 from $10 million. Klaeren noted Morrison's inability to pay the current bond and that he has remained jailed. 

Klaeren, though, said he was concerned by what he heard in three days of testimony.

He noted "the extent of the interstate involvement" in the plot and other concerns.

"Its breadth is much larger, preliminarily, than I realized when I initially set the bond," Klaeren said.

He kept it where it is: $150,000.