Feds arrest leader of white supremacy group who ran 'hate camp' in Michigan

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DETROIT — The leader of a national white supremacist group who ran a “hate camp” in Michigan and one of his cohorts were charged Thursday with multiple crimes as extremist groups continue to land on the FBI’s radar nationwide.

The latest suspects were arrested at their homes at 6 a.m. Thursday for their alleged roles in a December 2019 incident in Dexter, where police said a husband, wife and their infant child were terrorized by two white supremacists who showed up on their porch in the middle of the night and took photos of their house, thinking someone else lived there.

The suspects, police said, were targeting a podcaster who is critical of the neo-Nazi movement and has expressed concern about the rise in white supremacy in the United States.

Police identified the suspects as Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe, and Alfred Gorman, 35, of Taylor — both members of The Base, a white supremacy organization that openly advocates for violence and criminal acts against the U.S., and purports to be training for a race war to establish white rule in areas of the U.S., including the Upper Peninsula.

Attorney General Dana Nessel charged them with multiple felonies, including gang membership, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

Their arrests come three weeks after 14 other anti-government individuals were charged in a sensational but foiled plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Five days before the kidnap suspects were arrested, a Madison Heights man who authorities said hated police and was preparing for a revolt was killed in a shootout with the FBI as they tried to arrest him outside a Texas Roadhouse on an outstanding warrant.

The suspects arrested Thursday were not part of the kidnap plot, though their neo-Nazi group has come under increased scrutiny over the last year, if arrests are any indication.

In January, three members of The Base were arrested on federal charges in Maryland and Delaware. The next day, three more members with ties to the same group were charged in Georgia.

Javid Ali, the former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, warns that The Base presents a very different and more serious threat than the local militias we’ve seen thus far. He said The Base more closely resembles international terrorist groups in that it has more capability, structure, and members with military or law enforcement backgrounds who are proficient at using weapons and building explosives.

Ali also noted the origin of the group’s name: The Base takes its name from al-Qaida, which translated into English means “the base.”

“If that doesn’t harken to something that seems a little more serious and sinister, I don’t know what does,” said Ali, a counterterrorism and cybersecurity professor at the University of Michigan. “This case is very serious and it’s indicative of the threat, not only from this particular group, but the broader one (from domestic terrorists.) We’re not going to see the last of these.”

In the Michigan case, authorities said, Watkins and Gorman used online chatrooms to encourage members to meet in person and engage in military training to prepare for the insurgency against the government. Their group also traffics in Nazi ideology and extreme anti-Semitism, at one point requiring its members to read neo-Nazi books that urge the collapse of Western civilization,

Watkins claims to have been appointed leader of The Base, and allegedly 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.

According to an affidavit filed in the case, here is what led to Thursday’s arrests:

On Dec. 11, 2019 at about 11:30 p.m., a husband, wife and their infant child were inside their Dexter home when they saw two men in dark clothing walking nearby, flashing lights at their house and taking pictures while on their front porch.

The couple contacted the police, who would learn that the men on the couple’s porch were neo-Nazis who mistook their home for the home of a podcaster they were targeting.

Specifically, the men were part of an online campaign to target the Dexter address under the mistaken belief the home belonged to Daniel Harper, who hosts a podcast called “I Don’t Speak German.” The podcast is critical of the neo-Nazi movement and expresses concern about the rise in white supremacy in the United States.

Meanwhile, the strangers on the Dexter porch took a photograph that was uploaded to The Base channel on the social media platform called Telegram. In the photograph, Watkins is wearing a black skull mask, a Totenkopf shirt, camouflage pants, and a tactical plate carrier with rifle magazines that has a patch of the logo for The Base visible on the front of the vest. The caption reads: “The Base sends greetings to Daniel Harper of the Antifa podcast “I Don’t Speak German.”

According to an affidavit, The Base has a common goal: to establish a white ethnostate in the Pacific Northwest or the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

To identify one another, members wear three white Runic Eihwaz symbols, which is pictured in the photograph at the Dexter home. Watkins was named leader of the national group following a nationwide crackdown in early 2020 that led to the arrests of multiple members of The Base.

Watkins was initially identified as a member of the group in November 2019. He conducted recruiting, produced propaganda material for the group and ran a “hate camp” for members in Bad Axe, where he led tactical and firearms training for members. The training was documented in recruitment and propaganda videos for The Base.

Additionally, earlier this year, the affidavit states, Watkins submitted a manifesto he wrote to numerous Instagram users on the status of The Base that was also shared on public The Base social media channels. Within the manifest, Watkins declared: “I will train with firearms, explosives, knives, Ryder trucks, and anything else I have to destroy this KIKE SYSTEM THAT IS GENOCIDING MY people.”

He concluded with the following call for violence: “To victory with PURE UNADULTERATED ARYANVIOLENCE! HAIL TERROGRAM!”

Watkins and Gorman are charged with:

—Gang membership, a 20-year felony.

—Unlawful posting of a message, a two-year felony and/or a $5,000 fine.

—Using computers to commit a crime, a four-year felony and/or $5,000 fine.

Watkins and Gorman were taken into custody and transferred to the Washtenaw County Jail. Their arraignments are pending.

“Using tactics of intimidation to incite fear and violence constitutes criminal behavior,” Nessel said. “We cannot allow dangerous activities to reach their goal of inflicting violence and harm on the public.”

The Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus group applauded the charges, noting they come one year after members of The Base vandalized a synagogue in the Upper Peninsula.

“Anti-Semitic, far-right extremist groups like ‘The Base’ have threatened the state of Michigan — and Jewish Michiganders in particular — for far too long,” MDJC Chair Noah Arbit said in a statement. “Extremist violence motivated by a conspiratorial hatred of Jews has exploded in Michigan and across the country over the past four years, and Jewish Michiganders deserve better than leaders who continually play footsie with such dangerous dog-whistles and conspiracies.”

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