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Pleas entered in domestic terrorism case

Four members of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government – have now pleaded in their respective cases, including charges of terrorizing a local family.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel made the announcement Tuesday, saying that one of the charges filed against three of the members – conspiring to train for a civil disorder – marked the first time a defendant has faced the felony in Michigan’s history as well as being convicted of it.

The cases resulted from joint investigations by the Michigan State Police (MSP) Caro Post and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Charges were initially filed in October 2020 against Justen Watkins and Alfred Gorman in connection to a December 2019 incident in which authorities say a Dexter family was “terrorized at their home after the men used intimidation tactics and posted messages to other members of The Base targeting the home.”

They were charged in Washtenaw County with gang membership, a 20-year felony; unlawful posting of a message, a two-year felony and/or a $5,000 fine; and using computers to commit a crime, a four-year felony and/or $5,000 fine. 

After those charges were filed, investigators found evidence that Watkins and two other members of The Base – Thomas Denton and Tristan Webb – entered two former and vacant Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) sites in Caro to assess them as potential future training grounds for “hate camps”, which is what the group named their paramilitary firearms training exercises. 

Charges were then filed, co-prosecuted with Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene, against Watkins, Denton and Webb including one count of larceny in a building, a four-year felony; one count of gang membership, a 20-year felony; one count of conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder, four-year felony; and one count of felony firearm, two-year felony.    

On Monday, Webb pleaded no contest to gang membership, conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder and felony firearm. The larceny in a building charge will be dismissed as part of the plea. A sentencing date will be set by Tuscola County Circuit Court. Watkins, meanwhile, pleaded guilty last month to gang membership in Washtenaw County and will be sentenced there June 13. A week prior, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder and felony firearm in Tuscola County, although a sentencing date there is not yet set for Watkins. 

Denton previously pleaded no contest to felony firearm and conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder in Tuscola County and was sentenced to two years for felony firearm and between nine months and four years for the conspiracy charge, which will run concurrently. The remaining charges were dismissed. 

Gorman, who was only charged in Washtenaw County, pleaded guilty to gang membership and was sentenced Feb. 28. He received four years of probation. The other charges were dismissed. 

“Securing these convictions on the conspiracy to train for civil disorder holds significance for many reasons,” Nessel said. “They reiterate this office’s commitment to protecting Michigan residents, they create a historic precedent in our state’s court system, and they convey the real danger domestic terrorism poses here and around the country. I appreciate the thorough work done by our team and partner agencies to secure these convictions. Let them send the message that in Michigan, we will not hesitate to prosecute those who commit crimes in the name of overthrowing our government or perpetuating racist ideologies.” 

Founded in 2018, The Base – which is the literal translation of “Al-Qaeda” in English – is labeled by authorities as a white supremacy gang that openly advocates for violence and criminal acts against the U.S., and purports to be training for a race war to establish white ethnonationalist rule in areas of the U.S., including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The group also traffics in Nazi ideology and extreme anti-Semitism.   

Watkins claims to be the leader of The Base, and reportedly ran a “hate camp” for members of the group, where he led tactical and firearms training for participants with the goal of being prepared for the violent overthrow of the government.

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