Jessica Mathews /

A Milford man and two other members of the Wolverine Watchmen group that plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer were sentenced to years behind bars.

A Jackson County judge handed down the longest prison terms so far in the plot to kidnap Whitmer on Thursday.

24-year-old Paul Bellar of Milford, 28-year-old Joe Morrison, and 45-year-old Pete Musico - both of Munith - were not charged with having a direct role in the conspiracy. But they were members of a paramilitary group that trained with Adam Fox - the leader of the scheme. They had forged an early alliance with Fox before the FBI broke up the scheme in 2020.

All three were charged with gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, and carrying or possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Bellar was ordered to serve 7 years in prison, Morrison received 10 years, and Musico was sentenced to at least 12 years in prison.

Bellar, Morrison, and Musico were charged under Michigan’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002. They are three of several men that were arrested on domestic terrorism charges after a joint operation by state and federal authorities in early October 2020 exposed a plot that included targeting law enforcement officers, threatening violence to incite a civil war, planning an attack on the state Capitol building and kidnapping government officials, including Governor Whitmer.

Whitmer wanted stiff sentences, saying the three threatened democracy.

Speaking in a recorded video, Whitmer urged Judge Thomas Wilson to “impose a sentence that meets the gravity of the damage they have done to our democracy”. She said “A conspiracy to kidnap and kill a sitting governor of the state of Michigan is a threat to democracy itself". Whitmer added that she now scans crowds for risks and worries “about the fate of everyone near me".

The men expressed remorse, moments after Whitmer in her video said they had failed to take responsibility.

Musico cried while acknowledging a “lack of judgment”. Morrison said he was “renouncing, disavowing and detesting” anti-government ideologies. Bellar was the last to speak, publicly apologizing for abhorrent remarks about the governor. Bellar said “I was caught up highly in the moment. I felt I had lost a lot of camaraderie after being discharged from the Army. That was the reason I joined the Wolverine Watchmen in the first place”.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said “The defendants’ ultimate goals were to kill police and elected officials and kidnap the Governor of Michigan. These extraordinarily violent ends, coupled with the unequivocal conviction from the jury, demand the maximum sentence. Appropriate consequences for illegal acts are necessary to deter criminal behavior. Law enforcement officers that put their lives on the line to protect our residents and communities, and those elected as part of our representative government, deserve to know those who threaten their safety will face the full penalty of the law”.

AP photo.