Militia memes take center stage in Whitmer kidnapping plot case

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More from hearing coverage: Boogaloo Boys is not as light as its flowery Hawaiian shirts, FBI agent testifies

JACKSON, MI – A colorful array of memes criticizing Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his stance on gun rights have been presented as evidence in cases against three men accused of plotting to kidnap and kill her.

The preliminary examination of Joseph M. Morrison, Pete Musico and Paul Bellar began on Wednesday March 3 before Jackson County District Judge Michael Klaeren. After about eight hours of questioning, the hearing was adjourned and is scheduled to continue on Thursday, March 4.

During the review, which was broadcast live on YouTube, attorneys for the Michigan Attorney General’s office submitted a variety of memes as evidence, many of which circulated extensively on social media during the early stages of the COVID pandemic. 19 and subsequent protests on Capitol Hill when state lawmakers challenged Whitmer’s executive powers to enforce the lockdown.

Several of the memes compared Whitmer to Adolf Hitler with an image showing a crudely photoshopped Nazi SS hat on his head.

Other memes were made specifically for the organization as propaganda tools used for recruiting, said FBI special agent Henrick Impola, who was the principal investor overseeing the group’s activities.

Among the memes was an image shared within the group of Whitmer’s house as well as details of his travels, pleading for something violent to happen to him. For the governor’s safety, the court cut video from the live broadcast of the hearing when this image was released.

The memes and Whitmer’s general disapproval weren’t just related to the lockdown, as the FBI found several threatening memes and comments posted long before Whitmer began issuing his executive orders.

The group had problems with the proposed “red flag law,” laws that would take the guns away from citizens if they believed they were committing an act of violence.

Michigan currently does not have such laws in place, prosecutors said.

The FBI was informed of the organization in March 2020 after a member of the group, a postal worker and veteran, contacted the police when the member learned that the group was serious about committing acts of violence. against law enforcement, Impola said.

The member wanted to distance himself from the group and, after hesitating at first, became an FBI informant as he began his seven-month investigation.

After the FBI raids in October 2020, the informant was placed under witness protection and paid $ 24,000 after being forced to move his family and sell his house at a loss due to threats to his life, according to reports. testimonials.

The ties between the men behind the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer

Using the informant as a “listening post,” the FBI was able to monitor what the group was saying and doing in a private Facebook group and an encrypted messaging app, Wire, where members coordinated events, shared information and were posting memes about the “boogaloo movement” and Whitmer.

“Boogaloo was discussed frequently within the group during the seven-month investigation,” Impola said.

The “Boogaloo” has been identified by the FBI as a national far-right terrorist movement centered on plans for a follow-up to the civil war.

The FBI was able to collect Facebook data on the group with a warrant, but could not do so for Wire because the company that owns the app is not based in the United States. Since the information is encrypted at the user level, a warrant would be pointless even if they could get one, according to reports.

The wired information was gathered by taking screenshots of the informant’s phone and FBI agents monitoring the discussions in real time, Impola said.

The group organized several training exercises in Munith, participated in several protests in Lansing and, at the height of protests of police brutality in the summer of 2020, traveled to Detroit with the intention of killing police officers. if they opened fire on protesters, Impola said.

Morrison and Musico, co-founders of the “Wolverine Watchmen” militia group, are accused of providing equipment and assistance to members of the group by conducting tactical training on Morrison’s property in Munith, north of Jackson.

The two men are charged with one count each of threat of terrorism, gang membership, material support for terrorist acts and felony firearms.

Bellar, a member of the group, is charged with one felony count each for providing material in support of terrorist acts, attempting to commit a crime as an associate or gang member and criminal firearms.

Morrison, 26, and Musico, 42, were brought to justice on October 8 on multiple counts relating to an alleged conspiracy to kidnap, bring to justice and execute Whitmer who was the subject of a Michigan State Police and FBI investigation.

Bellar, 22, was arrested by law enforcement in South Carolina on October 7, at the same time the other alleged co-conspirators were arrested and was brought to justice on October 20 after being extradited to Michigan.

For more information on the alleged kidnapping plot, click here.

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