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Man charged w/ terrorizing Dexter family sentenced on civil disorder count

The leader of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government – was sentenced Monday on charges that arose from an investigation after a Dexter family was terrorized.

Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe was sentenced to 32 months-4 years for conspiring to train for a civil disorder and a mandatory consecutive 2 years for felony firearm by Judge Amy Gierhart of the Tuscola County Circuit Court. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that one of the charges filed against Watkins – conspiring to train for a civil disorder – marked the first time a defendant has faced the felony in Michigan’s history.

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 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.    

Webb pleaded no contest last week 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.

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. 

“The tragic event in Buffalo that resulted in 10 people being murdered and another three injured is an example of why we must prosecute and pursue these types of crimes to deter others from contemplating such acts of violence,” said Nessel.  “Securing these convictions on the conspiracy to train for civil disorder creates a historic precedent in our state’s court system and conveys the real danger domestic terrorism poses here and around the country. Today’s sentencing is recognition by the court of the serious nature of these crimes and demonstrates the willingness of our justice system to hold accountable those who commit crimes in the name of overthrowing our government or perpetuating racist ideologies. I appreciate the work of our law enforcement partners at all levels to help bring these criminals to justice.” 

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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