How Milford’s owner helped the feds destroy it
New details are surfacing about the suspected extremists behind the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer, including how a militia member was exposed after being kicked out of his apartment and leaving behind personal effects that raised red flags.
According to trial testimony, the landlord found a handwritten Boogaloo sign in defendant Paul Bellar’s apartment, a militia training itinerary, a handwritten note about the militia group’s command structure, and a notebook with code words, such as “dogs have ticks” – which stood for the feds, the cops are on us.
The owner called the Milford police, who called the FBI.
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“They ask for my involvement in Boogaloo”
What followed was a “Bonfire Panic” meeting, which authorities described as “significant event #21” in the kidnapping plot – when the group began to suspect the FBI was on them.
“Guys, the cops just questioned my roommate about me,” Bellar tells the group in a recording played at the trial. “They ask him about my involvement in Boogaloo.”
Then he recommended that the group change their “codewords as soon as possible”.
“All I know is that they know a lot of things they shouldn’t know,” Bellar told the group.
Another member of the militia intervenes: “It’s a big problem.
“We have been compromised,” said another.
Bellar is among three men currently on trial in Jackson County Circuit Court, where the second part of the foiled kidnapping plot is unfolding as the state pursues its terrorism case. Joe Morrison, Pete Musico and Bellar are charged with providing material support for an act of terrorism, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, for allegedly being part of a larger conspiracy to kidnap the governor.
Four others were convicted of kidnapping conspiracy in a separate federal case; two were acquitted at trial.
“Do you think we have a rat?”
On Monday, jurors heard from FBI Special Agent Henrik Impola, who testified about the so-called ‘Panic at the Bonfire’ meeting, where Bellar is heard trying to assure the group that his roommate didn’t divulge. no crucial details. Bellar said the roommate “hates cops” and told police the codes were for an online game they’re playing.
“They’ve probably been watching me for a while,” Bellar said. “Do you think we have a rat?”
Bellar then tells the group that he will “ghost for a while and try to get out of their microscope…I almost wonder if my fool left any paper.”
After that bonfire, one man left the group, telling the others in a message, “I’ve decided to leave. I don’t think I’m as committed as you…nothing against you.”
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According to Impola, the group made significant changes following the bonfire incident, including rescinding an August 23, 2020 reconnaissance of the governor’s cabin in the north. Instead of cram Whitmer’s cabin, he said, they scheduled a “presentation of your papers meeting” – which required all members to come forward and prove their employment and where they lived.
That meeting took place at the Lake Orion home of federal defendant Daniel Harris, who was acquitted at trial in April.
The group also created a new encrypted chat group called “F— Around and Find Out”.
Bellar also sent two of her sisters messages urging them not to tell law enforcement about her ties to the Boogaloo movement, including: “If the cops or officials ask anything about me…s ‘please, for God’s sake, don’t tell them nonsense.
The jury also heard a conversation between Bellar and Morrison, in which Bellar expressed concern that a member they knew as Big Dan was really working undercover — which he was.
“I think we’ve had a mole for a while now,” Bellar tells Morrison, noting that no one has ever been to Big Dan’s. “He’s got a lot of money…and a very cliched little backstory…he’s been very quiet in our conversation.”
Judge: acquittals are irrelevant
Both sides were angered on Monday as they argued for more than an hour over whether the jury should be allowed to know that two men had been acquitted at the first trial on federal charges in the case.
The defense wanted this information known; the prosecution did not, noting that the convictions are not mentioned.
In the end, after heaving a heavy sigh, the judge concluded that the jury won’t hear about the acquittals because it’s different from the state’s case, and the jury may be confused.
“We are dealing with different charges…As lawyers, it’s much easier to understand. But when it comes to a jury of 12 lay people to figure out those differences, I’m afraid it’s too prejudicial to allow that to go in,” Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson said, adding that a jury could conclude, “‘Well, if they’re down, why shouldn’t those guys be down’… when that’s a completely different case.”
‘Did these guys help train terrorists, or not?’
The two sides then argued for at least another hour over the subject of the state affair.
The prosecution argued that it was about three things:
- Men training others for a terrorist attack, including killing police officers.
- Kill politicians.
- Kidnapping of the governor.
“It’s a simple story – did these guys help train terrorists, or not?” the prosecutor told the judge.
The defense countered that the case only centered on an alleged plot to kidnap the governor, nothing else.
Not quite, said the judge, who referred to the testimony of the defendants traveling to Detroit for an event, and saying that if arrested by the police, they would shoot them.
Friday was two years to the day after the arrest of the defendants.
Testimony resumes Tuesday morning.
Contact Tresa Baldas: [email protected]