Leader of national white supremacist group sentenced

Intended civil disorder charge used for first time in state history 

The leader of The Base – a national white supremacist group that advocates for violence against the government – was sentenced by a Tuscola County court, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday. 

Justen Watkins, 25, of Bad Axe was sentenced to 32 months to 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. 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 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.” 

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). 

In October 2020, Justen Watkins was charged in connection to a December 2019 incident in which a Dexter family was terrorized at their home after Watkins used intimidation tactics and posted messages to other members of The Base targeting the home. 

Watkins faced the following charges in Washtenaw County in that case: 

• 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. 

Following the authorization of the Washtenaw County charges, the involved agencies found evidence of Watkins and two other members of The Base – Thomas Denton and Tristan Webb – entering two former and vacant Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) sites in the city of Caro a few weeks prior to the charges being filed.  

The men assessed the properties as potential future training grounds for “hate camps”, which is what the group named their paramilitary firearms training exercises. 

The charges, co-prosecuted with Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene, were the following in Tuscola County against Watkins: 

• 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.  

• One count of felony firearm, two-year felony.    

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.   

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.