LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — President Donald Trump’s failure to strongly condemn extremists has emboldened hate groups like the militias whose members are accused of plotting to kidnap her, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer argued Thursday as the suspects were charged.
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard, but I’ll be honest: I never could have imagined something like this,” the governor said at a press conference in Lansing.
Earlier in the day, officials announced both federal and state-level charges against 13 men who belonged to militia groups for conspiring to kidnap Whitmer because they believed her executive actions in response to the coronavirus were tyrannical.
Whitmer said the challenge of the pandemic should be “a moment for national unity.”
“Instead,” she continued, “our head of state has spent the last seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.”
The Democratic governor cited the Republican president’s refusal last week at a presidential election debate to condemn white supremacist groups, instead telling them to “stand back and stand by.”
“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, as a call to action,” Whitmer said. “When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit.”
“Words matter and actions matter,” Whitmer added after her press conference in a virtual interview with WLNS, WOOD TV8’s Lansing sister station.
“Leaders, whether it is at the state level or the federal level or is the local level, who fraternize with militia groups, who encourage them and give them comfort and incite them are a part of what is happening in terms of the actions of what is happening that played out today in the last 24 hours,” she told capitol correspondent Tim Skubick. “They are complicit and every one of us needs to hold them accountable to that.”
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Whitmer is the one causing division:
“President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate. Governor Whitmer is sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
Thursday night, Trump criticized Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic in Michigan on Twitter and pushed back against the comments she made earlier in the day regarding white supremacist groups.
Putting out a warning to other extremist groups, Whitmer said during her press conference that “hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan” and promised that “If you break the law or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone, we will find you, we will hold you accountable and we will bring you to justice.”
“These are people that have been plotting to blow up the Capitol, have been identifying and plotting to hurt and kill law enforcement, to kidnap and kill me, it appears,” she told WLNS. “And so these are not the actions of stable people. This is a depraved situation. It is incredibly violent. It is incredibly serious. I don’t think anyone can take it lightly and I don’t think that we should parse our words.”
Michigan Republicans on Thursday quickly condemned the threat against the governor, with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake and House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering both posting statements on Twitter:
“A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn those who plotted against her and our government,” Shirkey tweeted. “They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Violence has no place in politics. Ever. It’s never a solution to disagreements. The people who targeted @GovWhitmer and police officers are un-American,” Chatfield wrote. “Justice should be swift and severe. It’s time to send a message that violence will not be tolerated.”
Members of Michigan’s U.S. Congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats alike, called for the suspects to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The American Patriot Council, a pro-militia group, also issued a statement saying it supported only lawful action and that it would report unlawful activity.
“The American Patriot Council in no way condones violence as a form of political action. As the public is well aware, any actions taken by the American Patriot Council have been legal and lawful. While we hold the view that many public officials are guilty of a litany of crimes, and it has been our goal to hold these officials criminally responsible, we must do so lawfully.
“It has come to our attention that some other groups have allegedly plotted violence and lawlessness, so, we feel it necessary to tell our members, followers, and viewers that The American Patriot Council believes in law and order across the board and that no American citizen should be deprived of their right to due process of law.
“We have no affiliation with any other groups, nor will we aid or abet anyone using threats or acts of violence. Please take note that we are on the side of law enforcement. To this point we have not been made aware of any plans of violence and we believe our members and followers to be patriots.
“To be clear: The American Patriot Council will report any unlawful activity immediately upon becoming aware.”American Patriot Council