Michigan Supreme Court Denies Appeal of Sentence from Leader of White Supremacist Org The Base

Thanks To Our Attorney General Dana Nessel

LANSING – Last Friday, March 29th, the Michigan Supreme Court denied an application for appeal from Justen Watkins, 26, of Bad Axe, upholding Watkins’ minimum sentence of 32 months’ incarceration, announced Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Watkins sought to appeal an opinion from the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA) that upheld the sentence, finding the plea agreement and sentence evaluation by the Circuit Court were not ambiguous and Watkins’ plea to Conspiring to Train for a Civil Disorder and Felony Firearm was not involuntarily made.  

That opinion from the COA reversed a May 2023 Tuscola County Circuit Court order granting Watkins’ motion for resentencing. Watkins’ sentences of 32 months to 4 years’ incarceration, and a mandatory consecutive 2 years’ incarceration for the Felony Firearm conviction, will stand. 

“This matter has reached a conclusion, and for that I am grateful, as the Michigan Supreme Court denied this sentencing appeal from the white supremacist hate group leader Watkins,” said Nessel. “Watkins’ convictions were never in question throughout this process, only his claimed sentencing ambiguity, which the Court of Appeals ruled does not exist. My office will not back down from prosecuting hate-based violent extremists to the fullest extent of the law.” 

BACKGROUND 

In October 2020, Justen Watkins, the leader of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government – was charged in connection to a December 2019 incident in which a Dexter family was terrorized at their home. Watkins used intimidation tactics and posted messages to other members of The Base targeting the home.       

The agencies involved in that investigation later discovered Watkins and two other members of The Base had entered two vacant properties formerly operated by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) in Caro to assess the properties for The Base’s paramilitary firearms training exercises, which the group called “hate camps.”  

The following charges, co-prosecuted with Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene, were filed in the Tuscola County District Court against Watkins related to the activity at the MDOC property:   

  • one count of larceny in a building, a 4-year felony; 
  • one count of gang membership, a 20-year felony; 
  • one count of conspiracy to train with firearms for a civil disorder, 4-year felony; and 
  • one count of felony firearm, a 2-year felony.      

On April 11, 2022, Watkins pled guilty to Conspiracy to Train for a Civil Disorder and Felony Firearm in a plea agreement stipulating Watkins to serve 32-months to 4-years’ incarceration, and a second consecutive sentence of two years.   

Watkins admitted in his plea to visiting the MDOC facility and conducting firearms training at the site with several others. He was then sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement. 

Months later, Watkins filed motions in the Tuscola County Circuit Court to withdraw his plea, to change the presentence investigation report, and for resentencing. The Court granted the resentencing motion in May 2023 when the Court ruled ambiguity existed in the agreement that led to the sentencing. The trial court did not rule on Watkins’ other motions.  

Following the Michigan Court of Appeals’ denial of the People’s application for leave to appeal, the People filed an emergency application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court. On June 30, 2023, the Michigan Supreme Court, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, remanded this case back to the COA for consideration.    

In November 2023, the COA reversed the order of the Tuscola County Circuit Court granting resentencing, thus upholding the sentence as imposed pursuant to the plea agreement.  

Watkins filed a motion to the Michigan Supreme Court to appeal that ruling of the COA, which the Court denied Friday. 

Founded in 2018, The Base – which is the literal translation of “Al-Qaeda” in English – is 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.

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