The year 2020 was, well…you were there. It started out with the entire continent of Australia on fire, and it went downhill from there. We had so many hurricanes we literally ran out of letters to name them with. And we were hit with a plague more deadly than anything we’ve seen in a century. Oh, and just to make it interesting, it was also an election year.
But one thing remained the same: people continued committing crimes. And some of those crimes were either so shocking or so influential we couldn’t look away. So, continuing the tradition of year-end countdowns, here is a completely subjective list of the biggest crimes of 2020, starting in…
January: Mark Latunski Charged With Murdering, Cannibalizing Kevin Bacon
There was more to 25-year-old Kevin Bacon than the fact that he shared a name with a famous actor. He was a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he had recently changed his major to psychology. He also worked as a stylist at JCPenney.
On the evening of Dec. 24, 2019, he told his roommate he was going to meet up with a man he’d met on Grindr. An hour later, he texted her, telling her he was going to be out late and that he was having fun.
But when he didn’t show up for breakfast with his family the next morning — Christmas morning — his father became worried. That evening he called the police and reported Bacon missing. Soon they discovered his car in a Swartz Creek Family Dollar parking lot. His wallet and phone were inside, along with a bag containing his clothes.
Bacon’s cell phone records led police to the home of Mark Latunski in Bennington Township, about a half hour west of Flint. Latunski consented to allow police to search his home.
There, in what police describe as a “secret room” in the basement, they found Bacon’s nude body hanging from his ankles. Latunski was arrested, and on Dec. 30, he was arraigned on one count of open murder and one count of disinterment/mutilation of a dead body.
It was only after his arraignment that the grisly details of Bacon’s murder became public.
Latunski confessed that he killed Bacon by stabbing him in the back and then slitting his throat. He then tied a rope around Bacon’s ankles and hoisted him up. Latunski also said that he cut off Bacon’s testicles, then cooked and ate them.
Afterwards, he had gone to his ex-husband’s home to visit for Christmas, where, as his ex stated, he seemed “as normal as he could be.”
On Jan. 8, 2020, the chief district judge approved a motion for Latunski to undergo psychiatric evaluation due to his long history of mental illness. He had previously been diagnosed with several mental disorders, including paranoid schizophrenia, and had been hospitalized for them at one point. All of his conditions were treatable with medication, but Latunski — who had a master’s degree in chemistry — would frequently quit taking his medication.
He’d also had several run-ins with the law. Twice, men had fled his home in fear for their lives; both accused Latunski of having tried to stab them or cut them with a butcher knife.
On Feb. 27, he was found incompetent to stand trial and sent to the State of Michigan’s Forensic Center in Saline for treatment. Then, in late June, he was transferred to the state’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti to be re-assessed. After a little more than seven months, on Oct. 5, he was found mentally fit to stand trial.
At his preliminary trial Oct. 23, he claimed that Bacon had been suicidal, and after “lengthy conversation,” asked Latunski to kill him and “make his body go away.”
In December, Latunski’s attorney asked for a third competency trial, claiming that Latunski still has delusions, but the motion was denied by the judge.
Due to COVID-19, a trial date hasn’t been set yet, but is expected to be in spring 2021.
February: Lori Vallow Arrested
With the arrest of Lori Vallow, February saw a significant milestone in a case that had stretched back for months.
Vallow’s two youngest children — Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7 — had been missing since September 2019. In November, police went to Vallow’s home, which she shared with her new husband, Chad Daybell, to check on the children. Vallow told police the children were living in Arizona with relatives. Suspicious, police returned the next day with a search warrant, but the couple had fled.
The couple weren’t found until late January, while they were honeymooning in Kauai, Hawaii. Their car and condo were searched, but there was no trace of the children. Vallow was served with a court order demanding that she bring the children to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare by Jan. 30 or face legal action. She missed that deadline.
Meanwhile, troubling evidence kept emerging. On Feb. 4, a storage company released footage showing Vallow and an unidentified man loading JJ’s things into a storage unit. A few days later, Idaho police released information that two small Venmo payments and a suspicious text were sent to relatives from Tylee’s phone in October, a month after the children went missing.
As the story developed, more concerning information about the couple’s past came to light. The two had met in 2018, when Vallow became obsessed with Daybell’s self-published apocalyptic books stating the world was going to end in July of 2020. They corresponded frequently, and Daybell “assessed” Vallow’s family on his scale of light and dark, based on his spiritual belief system. Many of Vallow’s friends and family said that she became very different, even a “monster,” after joining Daybell’s cult.
Then, in July 2019, Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Vallow’s estranged husband, Charles Vallow. At the time, the shooting was ruled as self-defense and not investigated further.
In August, Vallow, her children, and Cox moved to Rexburg, Idaho, where Daybell joined them at the end of the month.
On Oct. 19, Daybell’s 49-year-old wife, Tammy Daybell, died suddenly in her sleep. Chad refused to allow an autopsy, and her cause of death was ruled as “natural causes.” Only 11 days later, Daybell and Vallow were married (Tammy’s death was later ruled suspicious, and police are investigating it further). Chad has been connected to a string of other unusual deaths as well.
Then, in December 2019 — three months after the children went missing, and the day after Tammy Daybell was exhumed — Cox died of a pulmonary embolism.
On Feb. 20, Vallow was arrested and charged with two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children. She was also charged with resisting or obstructing officers, criminal solicitation to commit a crime, and contempt of court. She pled not guilty. Her bail was eventually set at $1 million.
March: Four US Senators Quietly Sold Stock After Coronavirus Briefings
Although the coronavirus had been spreading around the world since December 2019, most Americans were either unaware of it or dismissive of its severity. That is, until mid-March, when people across the nation started testing positive for COVID-19, and governors began declaring states of emergency.
But US health and intelligence officials had known about the threat since January. In fact, on Jan. 24, top health officials briefed the US Senate on the danger posed by the virus. Senators Richard M. Burr (R-NC), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and James Inhofe (R-OK) were present for at least some of these briefings.
Very soon afterward, according to an investigation by ProPublica that broke in March, these senators sold key stocks that would plummet in value due to the effects of the pandemic.
Burr, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was receiving near-daily briefings on the pandemic. He not only dumped his stock, worth between $628,000 and $1.72 million, but he warned a group of wealthy donors about the threat of the pandemic at a private dinner, comparing it to the 1918 flu pandemic. In public, Burr said nothing to contradict the message coming from the White House and GOP leadership insisting the pandemic was nothing to worry about.
Loeffler and her husband, who is the chair of the New York Stock Exchange, sold stocks worth about $1.2 million in total. Not only that, she purchased stocks in companies specializing in telecommuting software and other industries that would gain value during the lockdowns.
All four senators have claimed that they had no personal knowledge of the stock transactions — that financial advisers or managers are responsible for all their transactions. Inhofe says that he was not even present at the Jan. 24 briefing.
The four were being investigated for violations of the STOCK Act, a law that bans members of Congress from making financial trades based on nonpublic information, as well as possible insider trading. In what may be a historic agreement, both Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have called for Burr’s resignation. In May, after the FBI seized his cell phone, he stepped down from his chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee. At the same time, the Department of Justice dropped its investigations of Inhofe, Loeffler, and Feinstein.
April: 17 Bodies Found in a NJ Nursing Home
As the coronavirus spread across the country, and the number of infected began to skyrocket, one grim fact emerged: the virus hit nursing homes and assisted-care facilities particularly hard. In fact, the first outbreak in the U.S. was in a nursing home near Seattle, which eventually took 45 lives.
It was in the midst of this crisis that an anonymous tip came in to the Andover, New Jersey, police. The tipster claimed there were bodies being stored in a shed on the property of the Andover Subacute and Rehab Center.
The facility, which has 2,543 beds, is one of the largest in the state. Previously, Medicare had given it a one-star rating, or “much below average,” and it had been issued five health citations.
Police made two visits to the facility on Apr. 12 and 13. They didn’t find any bodies in the shed, but they did find 17 corpses “piled up” in a morgue meant to hold only four people. The remains were intact in body bags and properly identified, but were stacked on top of one another and even lying on desks.
The “overwhelmed and understaffed” workers begged the police for help properly dealing with the remains. In the weeks since the outbreak, there had been 68 deaths at the facility, 23 of which (including two staff members) had tested positive for COVID-19.
Hazmat teams transported 13 of the bodies to Newton Medical Center, and Andover Township’s Office of Emergency Management provided the facility with a refrigerated truck to temporarily supplement their morgue space.
The incident sparked an investigation of the facility. Complaints of “lack of staff, PPE, infection control, and communication from administration and ownership to staff and families about who has been ill or has succumbed to COVID-19” were investigated by township and county officials, according to a NJ Herald story.
As the number of positive cases and deaths in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities continued to climb, Gov. Phil Murphy and State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli announced in early May the formation of a team of national experts to conduct a thorough review of all the state’s long-term care facilities. The state attorney general’s office also opened investigations into them.
The case shined a light on the state of nursing homes nationally. Widespread problems stemming from inadequate infection controls and staffing, combined with a particularly vulnerable population in confined spaces, have made nursing homes and long-term care facilities the worst hit by the coronavirus. As of the end of November, almost 40 percent of all COVID-19 fatalities were people who lived or worked in nursing homes, totaling more than 10,000 deaths.
But like another industry hard-hit by coronavirus outbreaks — meat processing plants — the industry responded not by ramping up infection control and testing, but by lobbying state legislators — successfully — to shield them from immunity.
Faced with criticism for their lack of action, in May the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended — but did not mandate — that nursing homes regularly test their staff and residents. The task force did not provide tests or funding to do so until late summer. Even after millions of these rapid point-of-care tests were distributed to nursing homes, guidance as to who should be tested and how often was lacking, so testing has been sporadic and inconsistent.
May: The Murder of George Floyd
May began with tensions high after the public learned of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery by Gregory McMichael, a former police officer, and his son Travis McMichael.
Then, on May 26, yet another disturbing video emerged: that of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd until he died of asphyxia. Floyd was being arrested for passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner store. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was lying face-down on the pavement while Chauvin kneeled on his neck.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Floyd begged for his life. Onlookers begged Chauvin to get off Floyd’s neck as well, yet despite being filmed, Chauvin continued to press his knee into Floyd’s neck, cutting off his airway and eventually killing him.
Three other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao — stood by and did nothing to stop Chauvin, and in fact prevented onlookers from interfering.
When the videos went public, there was widespread public outcry. Protests against police racism and brutality sprang up in cities all over the US.
Some of these protests, which began as peaceful demonstrations, turned into riots, particularly in Minneapolis, where the Third Precinct police station was set on fire. Afterwards, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison confirmed that outside agitators had infiltrated the protests in order to cause mayhem.
A similar scene unfolded in other cities as well, where peaceful protests turned into riots instigated by police provocateurs, right-wing “accelerationists” and Boogaloo Boys intent on sowing chaos and starting a civil war. Nevertheless, Pres. Donald Trump and the right-wing media continued to blame Antifa and the “radical left,” seeking to have Antifa declared a terrorist organization — despite an FBI investigation clearing Antifa of any involvement in rioting or looting.
Even at peaceful marches, some (but by no means all) police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper balls, and beatings — a marked contrast to how they had responded to the heavily armed anti-lockdown protesters mere weeks earlier. Even more disturbingly, police arrested and attacked journalists covering the protests. Trump also threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy the U.S. military to “take back” American cities by forcefully dispersing protests, a move roundly condemned by several former U.S. military leaders and human rights groups.
In addition, there were several cases of people (both police and civilians) ramming their cars into crowds of protesters in a chilling repeat of Heather Heyer’s killing in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Regardless, in over 2,000 cities across the nation, protests — which were overwhelmingly peaceful — continued. People in cities across the globe marched in solidarity with those in the US calling for an end to racism in policing. All four living former presidents — Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter — released public statements in support of the protesters and calling for an end to racist police practices and racism in general.
In response, not only have several cities instituted reforms to their police forces — or cut ties to their police departments altogether — they have begun removing statues of Confederate military leaders. The US Marine Corps and Navy banned displays of the Confederate flag, as did NASCAR. Numerous companies issued statements of support of Black Lives Matter, and brands like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Cream of Wheat retired their racially stereotyped mascots. NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell issued a public apology to Colin Kaepernick.
On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. June 3, the charges were upgraded to second-degree murder, and the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
However, in October, the judge dropped the third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, but kept the higher second-degree involuntary murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Chauvin was released on $1 million bond.
As an interesting aside, while he was in jail awaiting trial, Chauvin and his “estranged” wife, Kellie, were charged with nine felony counts of aiding and abetting tax evasion, filing false or fraudulent returns, or failing to file returns. The charges allege the couple underreported $464,433 in income, much of it from his side jobs as a security guard and bouncer at various nightclubs, including the one where he worked as a security guard with Floyd.
In May, soon after Derek’s arrest, he and Kellie filed for divorce, and Derek essentially handed her all of his assets. The judge in the divorce case rejected their petition to divorce, stating it had “badges of fraud” indicating a conspiracy to hide or protect assets in connection with their tax fraud case.
His trial date for the murder charges has been tentatively set for March 2021.
June: Tylee and JJ’s Remains Found on Chad Daybell’s Property
On June 9, we saw another grim development in the Lori Vallow/Chad Daybell crime: two sets of human remains were found buried on Chad’s property in Rexburg, Idaho. Within days, the remains were confirmed to be those of Lori’s two youngest children: Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow.
When police went to arrest Chad on June 12, he was in his car, driving at “a high rate of speed” away from his home. He was charged with two felony counts of destruction or concealment of evidence, which he pled not guilty to.
Later, examination of the remains showed that Tylee had been dismembered and partially burned, then buried in a pet cemetery on the Daybell property. JJ’s remains were found intact and “well preserved,” wrapped in plastic bags, and buried in another location on the property.
As more information came out, it was revealed that it was Lori’s deceased brother, Alex Cox, who led investigators’ attention to the Daybell property. His cell phone records showed him at Lori’s apartment late the night of Sept. 9, 2019 — the last time Tylee was seen alive — then, in the early morning hours of Sept. 10, he was at the Daybell property, exactly where Tylee’s remains were found, and where neighbors reported seeing large bonfires. Then, after JJ went missing, Cox’s cell phone again placed him on the Daybell property, this time in the area where JJ’s remains were found.
Chad’s bail, like Lori’s, was set at $1 million.
Lori Vallow was now charged with two counts of conspiracy to destroy or conceal evidence. In October the courts determined that Lori and Chad would be tried together for the charges of conspiracy to destroy evidence, over Chad’s objections.
Following this horrifying discovery, the media’s focus moved from Lori to Chad, a self-published author who has written more than two dozen books about his near-death experiences and doomsday prophecies. More evidence began coming out about the apocalyptic cult he was leading. He called himself a prophet; former members and friends claimed Chad has “spiritual gifts” to be able to read people’s thoughts, heal them of illnesses, and divine their future with a “special necklace.” These people described Chad as having a very charismatic personality, especially with women.
He also preached that people’s bodies could be taken over by spirits, rendering them “zombies.” This is what Lori told people had happened to Tylee, JJ, and her deceased husband, Charles Vallow.
However, his radical beliefs clashed with the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ doctrine, resulting in him being excommunicated by them last fall, after the children went missing.
But Chad was only one half of what appears to be a very deadly duo. In August, Arizona authorities announced they were analyzing over 100,000 pieces of “digital data” evidence and were going to bring charges against Lori regarding the death of Charles Vallow. Authorities say the charges will likely include conspiracy to commit murder. Charles was shot by Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, in what was originally ruled a case of self-defense.
Then in November, the Phoenix Police Department announced it was conducting a review of their investigation into the death of Lori’s third husband, Joseph Ryan. Ryan was found dead in his apartment in 2018 of an apparent heart attack. However, after obtaining recordings of Lori talking about how she was going to murder him, along with the pattern of so many others close to her who had died, they determined they needed to take another look at the case.
July: Ghislaine Maxwell Arrested
After Jeffrey Epstein’s death while in custody in 2019, many of his victims may have felt that their chance at getting justice died with him. However, their cases were given one more chance with the July 3 arrest of Epstein’s longtime associate, Ghislaine Maxwell. She was charged with four felony counts stemming from allegations she helped Epstein recruit, groom, and sexually abuse girls as young as 14. She is also facing two counts of perjury for her statements in a New York court in 2016.
Maxwell had been in hiding since Epstein’s July 2019 arrest, communicating only through her lawyers. She was eventually tracked down to a secluded mansion sitting on 156 acres in Bradford, New Hampshire. The property had been purchased for $1 million cash through an anonymous shell corporation registered in Massachusetts. When FBI agents knocked on the door to arrest her, she ran into a back room and tried to escape, but was apprehended without incident. A search of the home revealed her cell phone wrapped in aluminum foil in an apparent attempt to evade detection from law enforcement. It was also revealed that she had given one of her security guards — hired by her brother in the UK — a credit card in the name of the Massachusetts shell company so that he could make purchases for her.
She was denied bail because of her substantial flight risk — she holds passports from the US, France, and the UK, and has millions of dollars in various accounts around the world.
Maxwell pled not guilty to the charges via video feed July 14.
In August, she requested to be transferred to the general population, citing the “onerous” conditions she is subjected to at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where she is being held in solitary confinement. Her request was denied; Judge Alison Nathan said Maxwell’s placement in solitary confinement is for her own safety.
Her trial is scheduled for July 21, 2021.
August: Steve Bannon Arrested for Fraud
Steve Bannon, Pres. Trump’s former chief strategist, was arrested by Postal Inspection Service agents Aug. 20. The arrest itself was unusual, in that with non-violent crimes, suspects are usually given the opportunity to turn themselves in rather than being arrested “unawares.” Bannon, however, was arrested while aboard a Chinese billionaire’s luxury yacht off the Connecticut shore.
Bannon (along with three other men) is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from the “We Build the Wall” online fundraising scheme. The conspirators allegedly solicited donations promising that they would take no salaries or compensation, so that 100% of the donations would go toward building a wall along the southern US border. Instead, according to the indictments, the four men funneled millions of dollars into their own pockets and concealed the transactions with shell companies and creative accounting practices.
Bannon has pled not guilty.
The other men indicted were Brian Kolfage, the founder of “We Build the Wall;” Timothy Shea, who was appointed by Trump as the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration in May; and Andrew Badolato, a frequent anti-Hillary writer for Breitbart, the right-wing website formerly run by Bannon.
The four defendants each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which could carry up to 20 years in federal prison.
While there is no evidence that Trump was directly involved in the We Build the Wall scam, there was the suspicious payment of $400 million from the Department of Homeland Security, at the direction of the president, to Fisher Industries, the shady construction company working with We Build The Wall.
Bannon is the seventh member of Trump’s inner circle to be criminally indicted, joining former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former adviser Roger Stone, former personal attorney Michael Cohen, and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. That number climbs to nine if you count Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
September: The Trial of Joel Guy, Jr.
It might not have been the most well-known crime of the year, but it was certainly the grisliest.
Though the crime itself happened four years earlier, Joel Guy, Jr., went on trial Sept. 28, 2020, for the murders and gruesome dismemberment of his parents, Joel Guy, Sr., and Lisa Guy. It was only now, at trial, that the rest of the country outside of Tennessee learned of the horrific details of the crime.
When Lisa didn’t show up for work the Monday after Thanksgiving 2016, her supervisor called the Knoxville police. Once inside, the police came across a troubling scene: bags of groceries were scattered in the living room, as though someone had dropped the bags as they came through the door. Several gallon jugs of bleach sat on the kitchen floor. And on the stove was a large stew pot with a lid on it, the burner on beneath it.
Inside the bubbling pot was Lisa Guy’s decapitated head.
As police walked through the Guy home, they found even more grisly evidence: large blood stains on the carpets and walls, bloody knives, the Guys’ clothing in piles on the floor. In the exercise room, they found Joel Guy, Sr.’s severed hands. Then, in the master bathroom, they found a scene that would stay with the detectives for years: in two large blue plastic bins, the dismembered remains of the Guys dissolving in an acid solution “in a diabolical stew of human remains,” according to the officers.
An autopsy would reveal that the Guys had been stabbed dozens of times, then dismembered and their torsos cut open to facilitate the acid solution dissolving their remains.
They also found an extremely damning piece of evidence: a notebook prosecutors would call the “book of premeditation.” It was filled with to-do lists describing how to kill the Guys and dispose of their bodies, such as “Get killing knives,” “Bring blender and food grinder — grind meat,” and “flush chunks down the toilet — not garbage disposal.”
The notebook also included notes about how much money and assets — including an insurance policy — the Guys owned.
That final detail was what gave police their motive. Whoever had killed them knew about their finances and was counting on collecting Lisa’s $500,000 life-insurance policy.
Suspicion immediately focused on the Guys’ oldest son, then-28-year-old Joel Jr. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, he had come up to visit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he was a student at Louisiana State University. Joel Jr. had never supported himself. For his entire adult life, he had been a college student while his mother worked to support him.
However, Joel Sr., who was 61, and Lisa, who was 55, had recently decided to retire. They had just sold their home in Knoxville and had purchased another home. Before their murders, they had told several friends and family members that they were going to break the news to Joel Jr. that he was going to have to “stand on his own two feet.”
That weekend, the family — Joel Sr., Lisa, Joel Jr., and three of Joel Sr.’s daughters from a previous marriage — gathered for Thanksgiving. All of them reported that Joel Jr. was uncharacteristically upbeat and friendly.
Store surveillance from days earlier captured Joel Jr. buying several of the items found at the crime scene and in the “book of premeditation.” When police arrested him in Baton Rouge while he was trying to flee, they found a food grinder in the trunk of his car.
Joel Guy, Jr., was eventually charged with two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of felony murder, and two counts of abuse of a corpse. His trial began Sept. 28. After only four days, he was found guilty on all charges and given two consecutive life sentences plus four years. He will be eligible for parole in 130 years.
October: FBI Foils a Domestic Terrorist Plot
On Oct. 8, Federal prosecutors dropped a bombshell: they had arrested and charged six men who were allegedly planning to kidnap and murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as part of a wider terrorist plot to overthrow that state’s government.
Within days, another eight men were arrested as part of the wider conspiracy that included a self-described militia group named the Wolverine Watchmen.
The six charged by the federal government are Michigan residents Adam Fox, 37, Ty Garbin, 24, Kaleb Franks, 26, Daniel Harris, 23, Brandon Caserta, 32, and Delaware resident Barry Croft, 44.
The eight people charged by the state are Paul Bellar, 21, Shawn Fix, 38, Eric Molitor, 36, Michael Null, 38, William Null, 38, Pete Musico, 42, Joseph Morrison, 26, and Brian Higgins, 51. They face a variety of firearm, gang membership, and terrorism charges.
All the members of this conspiracy have a long history of promoting right-wing, anti-government ideologies, including a willingness to commit violence and armed insurrection. Some of the conspirators are also suspected of supporting the Boogaloo movement, which has been implicated in a number of violent crimes and property damage aiming to incite a civil war.
To recap the origins of the plot: as the novel coronavirus spread, unchecked, throughout the US, Trump and the federal government did little to nothing to contain it or mitigate the damage it was doing. Trump instead foisted that responsibility onto the state governors (while playing political favorites with who would receive vital supplies and equipment).
So Whitmer, using the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act of 1945, declared a state of emergency and ordered the same kind of shutdowns recommended by scientists and doctors around the world — actions that, while extreme, have been effective in containing the spread of the coronavirus and saving lives. She was not the only governor to do so — though she was frequently singled out for criticism by Trump.
As a result, several protests (funded by many of the same right-wing organizations that funded the Tea Party) erupted in Michigan and other states that had implemented these shutdowns.
Days after these protests, the president tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”
Almost two weeks after the president’s command to “liberate” their state, on Apr. 30, armed protesters swarmed the Michigan Capitol building protesting the lockdown, calling Whitmer a “tyrant” (among other things), chanting “Lock her up!”, and lynching her in effigy. State police and the House sergeant at arms had to physically restrain the heavily armed protesters from storming the floor of the state House of Representatives. Many lawmakers were rightfully afraid, and those who owned bulletproof vests wore them.
During that protest, Trump tweeted that the armed protesters were “very good people” and that Whitmer should “See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
Several of the alleged terrorist conspirators were present at these protests, conducting surveillance of the building and recruiting others into their plot. They also attended a Second Amendment rally at the Capitol June 18, where they again tried to recruit others into their plot.
It’s important to note that in early October, days before the alleged terrorist attack was foiled, the Michigan Supreme Court struck Whitmer’s emergency orders down, stating the Emergency Powers Act itself is unlawful. The protestors had won, at least temporarily, legally and without the use of violence. Yet there was no indication any of the alleged conspirators considered shelving their plans to kidnap and try the governor for treason.
The alleged conspirators met in a hidden basement to plan their attacks, which included kidnapping Whitmer and “trying” her for treason, then executing her — along with several other government officials — on live television. They also had plans to bomb or burn down the Capitol building with legislators locked inside so that no one would get out alive. According to the FBI, the conspirators also allegedly planned to kidnap Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who also implemented restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19 in his state.
The group didn’t simply talk, either. Thanks to an undercover informant, police learned they had surveilled Whitmer’s home, were engaging in training exercises, and had started building and testing bombs.
After months of investigation, on Oct. 7, federal and state authorities raided the homes of the first six men and arrested them on weapons and terrorism charges. Within days, eight more alleged conspirators were arrested.
But that was not the end of this story. During a press conference after the announcement of the first arrests, Whitmer mentioned Trump’s comments at the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, when Trump told the Proud Boys group to “stand back and stand by.”
“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action,” Whitmer said. “When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight.”
Only hours afterwards, Trump posted a series of tweets criticizing Whitmer for not thanking him for “his” Justice Department and FBI foiling the attack, said she had done a “terrible job,” and demanded that she “open up” her state. He went on to repeat his criticism of her during his appearance on Sean Hannity’s TV show.
Then, in mid-November, as Michigan’s Covid-19 cases skyrocketed, Whitmer put in place another round of restrictions, including cancelling in-person classes, group sports, and indoor dining.
Immediately after she did so, Michigan State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) introduced articles of impeachment against her for governmental overreach. And Trump’s new COVID-19 adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, who claims that masks don’t work and believes in the debunked theory of “herd immunity,” tweeted that Michiganders needed to “rise up” against these lockdowns. He later insisted that he was not advocating violence, only peaceful protests.
Several of the alleged conspirators who were charged with federal crimes have had their bonds reduced. Musico, one of the alleged founders of the Wolverine Watchmen, is charged with one felony count each of threat of terrorism, gang membership, providing material support for terrorist acts, and felony firearms violations. He posted his drastically reduced bond, but must wear a GPS tether while he is awaiting trial.
Higgins, who was charged with providing material support in an act of terrorism for conducting surveillance on Whitmer’s vacation home, also posted bail in October. However, he was taken back into custody Nov. 18 and is being held without bail while his attorneys fight his extradition to Michigan.
No trial date has been set for any of the defendants yet.
Note: I take a deeper dive into this whole phenomenon here.
November: Over 92,000 Victims File Sexual Abuse Claims Against the Boy Scouts
In February, the Boy Scouts of America, the largest and oldest youth organization in the US, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, mostly due to having to pay out for hundreds of sex-abuse claims in several states. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, these states had recently relaxed the conditions for sexual abuse victims to be able to sue for damages after the statue of limitations had run out. In California, specifically, the new law relaxes age restrictions on filing claims, giving victims until age 40 or five years after they become aware of any injury caused by the abuse.
However, the BSA’s bankruptcy filing put those sex-abuse claims in a kind of legal limbo and prevented any new claims from being filed. All abuse claims now had to be settled through the bankruptcy court, rather than in state courts, as one “global” settlement. The deadline for any alleged victims to file their claims against the BSA was set for Nov. 16.
The BSA did express regret and offered an apology to all the victims who had filed claims against them, and it encouraged any other victims to come forward. The organization, which holds between $1 billion and $10 billion in money and assets, set up a trust fund to pay out their claims.
By the date of the deadline, a veritable tidal wave of victims came forward: 92,700 men filed sexual-abuse claims, dwarfing the sexual-abuse scandal involving the US Catholic Church a decade ago.
A BSA spokesperson said that the claims will be vetted by third-party advisers while the organization develops a reorganization plan and establishes its compensation fund, the size of which hasn’t been determined yet.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the first wave of lawsuits came in the wake of its 2012 story revealing internal Scout records including a list known as the “perversion files.” These top-secret files detailed sexual abuse allegations against around 5,000 troop leaders and others dating back a century.
In its examination of the files, the Times documented hundreds of cases in which the BSA failed to report accusations to authorities, hid the allegations from parents and the public, and urged admitted abusers to quietly resign — then helped cover up the crimes, giving the public false reasons for the abusers’ resignations.
These files — once called the “ineligible volunteer files” and now called the Volunteer Screening Database — were used as evidence the BSA knew of pedophiles in its ranks but failed to protect children.
The victims, many in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, have stated their claims aren’t about the money, but rather, their last chance for justice, as many of their abusers are now dead.
After a judge distributes all its assets and sets up the victims’ compensation fund, the BSA will be reorganized; it expects to continue operating its programs, but under a different name.
December: Nathan Larson Arrested for Kidnapping a 12-Year-Old Girl
When 12-year-old Jane* went missing from her Fresno, California, home Dec. 14, police didn’t have much to go on, just some grainy surveillance footage of a red pick-up truck pulling up to her home and then leaving a minute later.
But when they interviewed her friends, they discovered that she had been communicating online with an older man for several weeks prior to her disappearance. Jane had even shared her new friend’s Wikipedia page with them.
The man’s name was Nathan Larson, 40, of Catlett, Virginia. And he was not unknown to police.
Larson first came to the FBI’s attention in late 2008. That year, he had run for Congress as an anarcho-capitalist who advocated auctioning off all the nation’s infrastructure and dissolving all levels of government. He was endorsed by the Libertarian Party, but failed to win the election.
On the heels of his electoral loss, he wrote an e-mail to the Secret Service threatening to kill the president (and soliciting the Secret Service’s help) on the grounds that taxation is criminal extortion. It was unclear if he meant the sitting president, George W. Bush, or the president-elect, Barack Obama. But considering his white supremacist beliefs, it’s fair to assume he was targeting Obama.
He was arrested, pled guilty, and was sentenced to 16 months in prison and three years of supervised parole. He was also required to participate in mental-health treatment, which he called a “waste of taxpayer dollars” because, as he put it, he didn’t have a mental disorder.
He was released after 14 months. Afterwards, even more disturbing facts came to light. In 2010, Larson’s then-wife, a transgender man who was still living as a woman at the time, divorced him. Now named Finn, he took out a restraining order against Nathan, alleging that Nathan was abusive and had raped him repeatedly. In a legal document waiving parental support, Finn wrote, “During our relationship, he was severely emotionally and sexually abusive towards me. He stated multiple times that he wanted to have sex with a child. … [He] raped me until I was pregnant and stated his intention to have sex with my child after she was born.”
Nathan openly admitted to the allegations.
Finn left him while still pregnant, and tried to keep the infant’s existence hidden from Nathan to protect her.
However, Finn struggled with PTSD, and not long after he left Nathan, he committed suicide. His daughter was taken into custody by Child Protective Services.
Nathan — who of course believes family courts are biased against fathers — went to court to obtain custody of the girl. Bizarrely, he seemed to believe the trial was a public forum on the rights of pedophiles. He even admitted to a jury that he had “sexual feelings” for children and couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t have sex with his own daughter.
Fortunately, the jury refused to grant him custody, and instead, allowed the girl to live with her maternal grandparents.
Meanwhile, Larson was becoming more and more involved in extremist online websites and message boards. At one point, he ran multiple message boards aimed at pedophiles and incels. One of his sites had a secret, members-only forum for sharing child pornography.
On these sites, he posted things like “Feminism is the problem. Rape is the answer” and fantasies about raping his daughter. He hailed Hitler as a “white supremacist hero” and admired mass murdering incel Elliot Rodger.
In 2017, as he was running for state representative, a YouTuber named Belle DeMasi stumbled across one of his sites, Rapey.co, where members discussed rape and pedophilia fantasies — as well as instructions on how to actually commit these crimes and get away with them. DeMasi made it her mission to out Larson as the administrator and to have the site taken down. It eventually was, but Larson simply rebooted it under a new name.
A year later, he ran for US Congress again. His platform in both races mirrored his hateful posts: he supported “benevolent white supremacy” and wanted to repeal the 19th Amendment and the Violence Against Women Act, stating that women should be treated as property. He also advocated for legalizing incestuous marriages, child pornography, and pedophilia.
After it was discovered that his campaign website shared an IP address with the pedophile and incel sites, his domain host terminated them.
Having failed to get elected again, and now outed on national news for his reprehensible views, Larson faded from the public eye. However, he was still, apparently, working to make his sick fantasies real.
Looking through Jane’s digital records, detectives uncovered information that suggested Larson might be taking her to the Fresno Yosemite International Airport in order to fly with her back to Virginia.
At that point, the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force took over the investigation. With help from the Fresno Airport Police and the Department of Homeland Security, Larson was found with Jane during a layover in Denver, Colorado. Jane, who was wearing a wig, was reported to be unharmed, though it was later revealed that Larson had sexually abused her while they were still in Fresno. She would later say Larson had instructed her to wear the wig and pretend to have a disability making her unable to talk.
Larson faces felony charges of kidnapping, child abduction, soliciting child pornography from a minor, and meeting a child for the intention of sex, along with a misdemeanor charge of harboring a minor.
Based on his sophisticated grooming methods used to manipulate the young girl, investigators suspected she wasn’t his first victim. Indeed, soon after his arrest, several more young women have come forward, alleging Larson had victimized them as well.
His court date has not yet been set.
*Not her real name
2020 Bonus/Dishonorable Mention: The Christmas Day Suicide Bomber
In the early morning hours of Christmas, Nashville, Tennessee, police received several reports of gunfire in the downtown area. When they arrived, they found an RV parked in front of an AT&T building. A loudspeaker in the RV was repeating a warning that an explosion was imminent and instructing people to evacuate. Minutes later, the vehicle exploded.
Fortunately, no bystanders were killed, but four people were injured and more than 40 homes and businesses were severely damaged. Several fires erupted in the blast area, and one building collapsed. For several hours afterwards, internet and cell service was knocked out in Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Birmingham, Atlanta, and the surrounding areas, interrupting 911 emergency services and briefly grounding flights at the Nashville International Airport.
Mayor John Cooper declared a civil emergency, sealing off all downtown roads and instating a curfew. He also asked Pres. Donald Trump for a federal emergency declaration for his state to aid relief efforts.
The Nashville Metro Police, the Tennessee State Police, the FBI, and the ATF quickly began processing the charred area around the blast. Soon it was released that there was some tissue found in the debris of the RV — the remains of the bomber.
The next day, a man named Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, of nearby Antioch, Tennessee, was named as the suspect. Investigators confirmed Warner’s identity using DNA.
As of this writing, no motive can be ascertained, though it is suspected that AT&T was the intended target of the attack.
I know there were a lot more big crimes in 2020. Let me know what I missed in the comments!
Happy New Year, everyone!