The former leader of a neo-Nazi terrorist group was reportedly planning to establish a heavily armed, white nationalist community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Southeastern Michigan man Justen Watkins, who was arrested in October for several crimes, previously led The Base: A white supremacist and far-right accelerationist group that promotes terrorism in an effort to overthrow governments and establish white ethnostates, or states where citizenship is exclusive to white people.
Law enforcement say that members of The Base share a common goal of establishing a white ethnostate in the Pacific Northwest or in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Watkins is accused of operating a “hate camp” in 2019, where he “led tactical and firearms training for members of The Base” in Bad Axe -- where he is from -- according to court documents. Secret chats obtained by VICE News between “known accelerationist neo-Nazis” show that Watkins was planning to take that training to the next level by creating a fortified community of white nationalist members and preparing them to carry out their racially motivated extremist ideologies.
In the chats obtained by VICE, Watkins reportedly claimed he was going to purchase and occupy land in the U.P., and planned to establish a community of like-minded extremists.
“We are buying houses and land and fortifying them. Land is cheap ... I’m setting up a community up there. Going to have houses set up to get guys moved in and situated,” Watkins said under an alias on an encrypted chat app in 2020, VICE reports. “The faster we get guys the faster we can snowball property grabs. Get four plus guys in a house splitting property tax and food and saving up for each of them to buy the next bit of land and move in four more to help.”
VICE reports that Watkins described the U.P. as practically already being a white ethnostate due to its current population demographic. He reportedly attempted to attract members of The Base and similar organizations to join his planned compound in the U.P., where they could easily find work in ”snow removal/landscaping,” Watkins said, according to VICE.
The news outlet claims that in the encrypted chat platforms, Watkins made it clear that he was seeking “committed, militant neo-Nazis intent on paramilitary training for the so-called race war” to join him at his existing operation in the Upper Peninsula.
“I’ll be looking for solid guys. I already got a guy up there ... We are already training every single day,” Watkins reportedly said in the group chat.
The former self-proclaimed leader of The Base is currently released on bond after being charged with three felonies in October of 2020.
Alongside alleged accomplice Alfred Gorman, of Taylor, Michigan, Watkins was charged after allegedly walking around the outside of a family’s home wearing dark clothing and shining a flashlight. He falsely believed that a podcaster who exposes the inner workings of hate speech and neo-Nazi groups lived in that home. A photo of Watkins outside of that home was taken and shared with The Base members on a social media platform in an attempt to threaten the podcaster (see the photo above).
Watkins and Gorman were both charged with three felonies, including unlawful posting of a message, gang membership and using a computer to commit a felony. According to court documents, The Base constitutes as a gang under Michigan law because it has a logo, a leadership structure and defined membership criteria.
Officials said The Base openly advocates for violence and criminal acts against the U.S. and purports to be training for a race war. At one point, the group required members to read neo-Nazi books urging the collapse of Western civilization, authorities said.
Watkins reportedly worked as a recruiter for The Base and developed propaganda material for the group. The hate group operates primarily in the U.S., but has divisions in various parts of the country -- they are not only in Michigan.
While sharing similar ideologies -- such as planning for a violent revolution against the government -- Watkins and Gorman were not involved in the domestic terrorism plot to kidnap and potentially kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.