How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.

But the kid­nap­ping plot, though shock­ing, is only the most extreme episode in a much broad­er cam­paign by Repub­li­cans and con­ser­v­a­tive-fund­ing groups to under­mine Michigan’s response to Covid-19 and politi­cize the pan­dem­ic dur­ing a high-stakes elec­tion year. The anti-gov­ern­ment back­lash pro­voked by Whitmer’s polit­i­cal oppo­nents tilled the soil in which the kid­nap­ping plot grew.

In the runup to the Novem­ber elec­tion, Covid-19 has become a polit­i­cal foot­ball, par­tic­u­lar­ly in this cru­cial swing state, which was one of the first to shut down in March. Pro­po­nents of Gov. Whitmer’s aggres­sive, safe­ty-first mea­sures through the spring and sum­mer say that her exec­u­tive orders call­ing for a state of emer­gency helped keep the coro­n­avirus at bay, even as case num­bers have surged in oth­er Upper Mid­west­ern states like Wis­con­sin and the Dako­tas. (When this sto­ry was pub­lished, accord­ing to sta­tis­tics from The New York Times, Wis­con­sin had seen a dai­ly aver­age of more than 4,000 cas­es over the past sev­en days, while both North and South Dako­ta had reg­is­tered more than 100 pos­i­tive cas­es per 100,000 peo­ple — the high­est in the nation. Michi­gan, mean­while, count­ed 28 cas­es of the virus per 100,000 residents.)

But with­in weeks of Whitmer’s March 10 emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion — after the first two Covid-19 cas­es were announced in south­east Michi­gan — a furi­ous oppo­si­tion to her poli­cies mount­ed. When she extend­ed her ​Stay Home, Stay Safe” exec­u­tive order on April 9 to restrict the pur­chase of paint and gar­den sup­plies from big box stores, trav­el­ing between homes in Michi­gan, or using motor­ized boats, Repub­li­cans in state gov­ern­ment accused her of restrict­ing their move­ments and free­doms.

On a rainy April 15, mask-less demon­stra­tors, some armed, many car­ry­ing ​Don’t Tread on Me” ban­ners and Trump flags, descend­ed on the State Capi­tol in Lans­ing for ​Oper­a­tion Grid­lock” orga­nized by the Michi­gan Con­ser­v­a­tive Coali­tion along with the Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Bet­sy DeVos-linked group Michi­gan Free­dom Fund. Two days lat­er, Trump tweet­ed ​LIB­ER­ATE MICHI­GAN!” in sup­port of the ral­ly. By the day of the ral­ly, the virus had killed near­ly 2,000 Michi­gan res­i­dents and over­whelmed hos­pi­tals in the metro Detroit area.

The same day as Oper­a­tion Grid­lock, in rur­al north­ern Michi­gan, four coun­ty sher­iffs issued a press release stat­ing that they would only selec­tive­ly enforce the governor’s exec­u­tive orders. The sher­iffs, three of whom have iden­ti­fied as ​con­sti­tu­tion­al sher­iffs,” had worked with a Repub­li­can state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from their dis­trict to draft the press release. Yard signs pro­claim­ing ​Thank you Sher­iff for pro­tect­ing our rights” began pop­ping up around rur­al Lee­lanau and Ben­zie coun­ties, fol­lowed weeks lat­er by a pro­gres­sive rebut­tal: ​Thank you Gov­er­nor for pro­tect­ing our lives.”

On April 30, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers, some bran­dish­ing assault rifles, entered the capi­tol rotun­da. The ral­ly was orga­nized, in part, by Face­book groups Michi­gan Unit­ed for Lib­er­ty and Michi­gan­ders Against Exces­sive Quar­an­tine. Face­book lat­er removed the pages, alleged­ly for user posts that threat­ened Whit­mer. A now infa­mous pho­to tak­en and post­ed on Twit­ter by state sen­a­tor Day­na Pole­han­ki on April 30 showed four armed men in the gallery look­ing down on the law­mak­ers. At least two of those men were arrest­ed on Oct. 8 as part of the alleged domes­tic ter­ror­ist plot to kid­nap Whitmer.

Michi­gan­ders Against Exces­sive Quar­an­tine lat­er mor­phed into the Stand Up Michi­gan Face­book group, which has 112,557 fol­low­ers and fea­tures in its logo a sil­hou­ette of Paul Revere on horse­back with an out­line of the state in his lantern. Stand Up Michi­gan mem­bers have made fre­quent appear­ances at Trump ral­lies and the group boasts a litany of Repub­li­can ral­ly­ing cries on its page: sec­ond amend­ment, con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tices, law and order, pro-life, pro-school choice.

The gov­er­nor and pub­lic health offi­cials decried the spring demon­stra­tions, where few wore masks, as pos­si­ble Covid-19 super-spread­er events. Some of the alleged plot­ters also met each oth­er at the ral­lies, and lat­er hatched a plan to storm the capi­tol, kid­nap Whit­mer either from Lans­ing or from her vaca­tion home near Elk Rapids, and effec­tive­ly decap­i­tate Michigan’s state gov­ern­ment short­ly before the Nov. 3 pres­i­den­tial election.

The ral­lies and bur­geon­ing oppo­si­tion move­ment against Whit­mer and her exec­u­tive orders also birthed the Unlock Michi­gan cam­paign, a peti­tion ini­tia­tive seek­ing to over­turn a 1945 emer­gency pow­ers law the gov­er­nor used to legal­ly jus­ti­fy her uni­lat­er­al state of emer­gency exec­u­tive orders. The cam­paign launched in ear­ly July and was fund­ed, in large part, by Michi­gan Cit­i­zens for Fis­cal Respon­si­bil­i­ty (MCFR), a non­prof­it found­ed in 2010 that has ties to sen­ate Repub­li­cans. A cam­paign finance report shows that MCFR gave $660,200 to Unlock Michi­gan from June 9 through July 20 — 86% of the mon­ey raised dur­ing that time.

MCFR spent $1.1 mil­lion back­ing Repub­li­can state sen­ate can­di­dates in 2018, accord­ing to the Michi­gan Cam­paign Finance Net­work. Two days after the Novem­ber 2018 elec­tion, Repub­li­can Mike Shirkey, who became sen­ate major­i­ty leader, intro­duced a bill that aimed to ensure non­prof­it donors like MCFR remained secret. Shirkey, who talked with pro­test­ers inside the Capi­tol on April 30 of this year, lat­er said in a radio inter­view that a peti­tion dri­ve to lim­it Whitmer’s emer­gency pow­ers was ​prob­a­bly the No. 1 pri­or­i­ty right now.”

Unlock Michi­gan spokesman Fred Wszolek said the group also has more than 1,000 indi­vid­ual con­trib­u­tors and more than 40,000 peo­ple col­lect­ing signatures.

Over 80 days between ear­ly July and Sept. 23, Unlock Michi­gan claimed that it col­lect­ed more than half a mil­lion peti­tion sig­na­tures seek­ing to repeal the state’s 1945 emer­gency pow­ers law. But Keep Michi­gan Safe, a com­mit­tee that oppos­es Unlock Michi­gan, wants a ​com­plete review of each and every sig­na­ture” fol­low­ing reports in Sep­tem­ber that some Unlock Michi­gan peti­tion gath­er­ers were trained to lie to peo­ple about the pro­pos­al. Keep Michi­gan Safe released a clan­des­tine video of a Sept. 4 train­ing ses­sion dur­ing which Cal­i­for­nia sig­na­ture com­pa­ny In the Field — con­tract­ed by Unlock Michi­gan — instruct­ed peti­tion gath­er­ers to tell peo­ple their sig­na­tures would sim­ply help put the issue ​on the bal­lot” even though law­mak­ers have the pow­er to approve it on their own — a pow­er law­mak­ers do not, in fact, have. In the video, In the Field employ­ee Erik Tisinger also told gath­er­ers they could col­lect sig­na­tures in pri­vate­ly owned park­ing lots, which is ille­gal, then feign igno­rance if approached by police.

Wszolek said Unlock Michi­gan didn’t sub­mit the ​few thou­sand” sig­na­tures col­lect­ed by In the Field. The Michi­gan Bureau of Elec­tions is cur­rent­ly review­ing the half mil­lion col­lect­ed sig­na­tures. State law requires 340,047 valid sig­na­tures to put the 1945 emer­gency pow­ers law before the leg­is­la­ture, which could vote on it after the Nov. 3 election.

The state Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s coro­n­avirus-relat­ed exec­u­tive orders on Oct. 2 by a 4 – 3 vote along ide­o­log­i­cal lines, and lat­er ruled against her request for a 28-day exten­sion, but Unlock Michi­gan still wants the sig­na­tures counted.

We’re gonna con­tin­ue to push the Bureau of Elec­tions to val­i­date our sig­na­tures and to push the leg­is­la­ture to vote imme­di­ate­ly,” Wszolek told In These Times. ​We’ve seen these Fred­dy Krueger movies where they keep com­ing back. We’re try­ing to get the law tak­en off the books immediately.”

Michigan’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled House and Sen­ate may seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty in a lame duck ses­sion after the elec­tion to gut the emer­gency pow­ers law used by Whit­mer — par­tic­u­lar­ly if Democ­rats win con­trol of either cham­ber on Nov. 3. Repub­li­cans cur­rent­ly con­trol 58 seats in the House; Democ­rats have 51, with one vacan­cy. Repub­li­cans have 22 state Sen­ate seats, to 16 for Democrats.

We’ve had a lot of sup­port from mem­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture dur­ing the peti­tion phase,” added Wszolek.

Since the Michi­gan Supreme Court struck down Whitmer’s exec­u­tive orders, state and coun­ty health depart­ments have con­tin­ued to enforce the use of masks and encour­age social dis­tanc­ing inside busi­ness­es to mit­i­gate the spread of Covid. Still, cas­es have spiked in recent days, and Oct. 31 saw a sin­gle-day record of 3,792 coro­n­avirus cas­es. At the end of Octo­ber, the aver­age dai­ly rate of new infec­tions was more than twice what it was in the mid­dle of the month, eclips­ing the pre­vi­ous peak in April.

Despite the ris­ing num­bers, Unlock Michi­gan and its social media ally Stand Up Michi­gan down­play the threat.

Covid is not an emer­gency any­more,” said Wszolek. ​It doesn’t need to be man­aged like a tor­na­do that just hit.”

Ron Arm­strong, co-founder of Stand Up Michi­gan and state co-chair of Unlock Michi­gan, doesn’t think that exec­u­tive orders are need­ed from the gov­er­nor or the health depart­ment to pro­tect against Covid.

If you are vul­ner­a­ble, you’re gonna stay home,” Arm­strong told In These Times. ​Every­one has learned social dis­tanc­ing. The major­i­ty of peo­ple are wear­ing masks when they think it’s nec­es­sary. … We have to piv­ot now to some sort of nor­mal­cy and recovery.”

Stand Up Michi­gan used its Face­book page on Oct. 27 to implore that ​church­es stand up” while post­ing a sto­ry about a Lans­ing Catholic school that sued Michi­gan to drop the state’s in-school mask mandate.

Mean­while, Covid out­breaks in Michi­gan schools have risen sharply this fall with near­ly 500 cas­es linked to new or ongo­ing out­breaks, and a report released on Oct. 26 revealed an 11% week­ly increase in cases.

The pub­lic nar­ra­tive espoused by Unlock Michi­gan and Stand Up Michi­gan, with its Paul Revere motif and Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War rhetoric, sug­gests a duty to ​reclaim and defend the rights and lib­er­ties,” as the Stand Up Michi­gan mis­sion state­ment puts it, while cast­ing Gov­er­nor Whit­mer almost as a King George-like tyrant. Stand Up Michigan’s sleek videos fea­ture cit­i­zens, many clad in red, white and blue and wear­ing MAGA hats, enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly pledg­ing to vote on Nov. 3. None are wear­ing masks.

Michi­gan res­i­dents, and Amer­i­cans in gen­er­al, fac­ing anoth­er spike in virus cas­es, could be for­giv­en for won­der­ing who, exact­ly, is impos­ing their will on whom.

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APA
Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free (2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00) » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/.
MLA
" » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.." Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free - Sunday November 1, 2020, https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/
HARVARD
Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free Sunday November 1, 2020 » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.., viewed 2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00,<https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/>
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Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free - » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.. [Internet]. [Accessed 2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00]. Available from: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/
CHICAGO
" » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.." Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free - Accessed 2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00. https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/
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" » How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19.." Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free [Online]. Available: https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/. [Accessed: 2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00]
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» How Right-Wing Groups Created an Atmosphere in which Kidnapping the Michigan Governor Made Sense – The alleged militia plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was only the most shocking episode in the campaign to undermine and politicize the state’s response to Covid-19. | Jacob Wheeler | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/11/01/how-right-wing-groups-created-an-atmosphere-in-which-kidnapping-the-michigan-governor-made-sense-the-alleged-militia-plot-to-kidnap-gov-gretchen-whitmer-was-only-the-most-shocking-episode-in-the-ca/ | 2022-01-26T23:02:45+00:00
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