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White supremacist leader sentenced for terrorizing Dexter family

The leader of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government – was sentenced Wednesday on charges of terrorizing a Dexter family in a case of mistaken identity.

Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe was sentenced to serve 56 months to six years in prison for his guilty plea to one felony count of gang membership. It was part of a plea deal with prosecutors in which his sentence could not exceed a sentence he received in Tuscola County earlier this year for conspiring to train for a civil disorder.

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.” Authorities say Watkins had mistaken the family’s home for that of an anti-white supremacist podcaster. A photograph of Watkins was posted on the group’s social media threatening the man they thought was the podcaster.

While looking into that incident, 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. 

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. 

Webb awaits sentencing after he pleaded no contest to gang membership, conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder and felony firearm.

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 claimed 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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