Whitmer: Protestors’ swastikas, Confederate flags, nooses, automatic rifles don’t represent Michigan

By: - May 1, 2020 7:02 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun give an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wasted no time Friday condemning right-wing protestors who swarmed Michigan’s Capitol Thursday.

She called the scene laden with misogynistic and violent signs and protestors shouting at law enforcement, “disturbing.” Protestors called for her to end what they called “tyrannical rule” with her stay-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic that’s sickened more than 42,000 and killed more than 3,800 people in Michigan as of Friday.

“Swastikas, Confederate flags, nooses and automatic rifles do not represent who we are as Michiganders,” said Whitmer, adding that the state has a rich history of people coming together in times of crisis.

This was the second protest held there in a month. Republican leaders were slow to comment on Thursday’s protestors, many of whom were armed and yelled at sergeants-in-arms to let them on the.House floor, while others stood in the Senate gallery above lawmakers. There also were signs calling for Whitmer’s assassination, like “Tyrants Get The Rope.”


Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) on Friday morning took another swipe at Whitmer on Facebook, saying she had “breathtaking disregard for the law” that would memorialize Michigan’s spot in “dubious, embarrassing history.”

On Friday afternoon, he wrote another post saying while some citizens protested safely and responsibly at the Capitol, others used intimidation and the threat of physical harm to stir up fear and feed rancor.

“I condemn their behavior and denounce their tactics,” wrote Shirkey. “Their actions hurt their cause and steal from the rights of others by creating an environment where responsible citizens so not feel safe enough to express themselves.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Sept. 19, 2019 | Nick Manes

Shirkey added that those protestors don’t represent Senate Republicans, although he did talk to some of the protestors in the Senate gallery Thursday and told the media they couldn’t cover it.

“At best, those so-called protestors are a bunch of jackasses,” Shirkey wrote.

When asked about the protest Thursday, House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) told the Advance, “Our sergeants do an incredible job serving this institution and allowing all of us to do our job safely. I was very disappointed to see how some protestors treated them.”

During Friday’s news conference, Whitmer also was asked about a tweet from President Trump that said Whitmer “should give a little and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”


His tweet about the protestors also came after two resolutions passed through the House and Senate Thursday, one of which authorized Shirkey and Chatfield to take legal action against Whitmer if she unilaterally moved to extend the state of emergency declaration.

Whitmer declared the state of emergency on March 10, the day that Michigan reported its first two COVID-19 cases and extended it on April 1. Whitmer this week asked the Legislature to approve a 28-day extension. 

During a tense Thursday session, GOP leaders refused to extend the state of emergency after doing so earlier this month, in addition to taking other actions aimed at checking her power.

So on Thursday night, Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-68, which declares a state of emergency and a state of disaster until May 28.


That came after Shirkey proposed a deal with the governor Wednesday to offer two, one-week extensions of the state of emergency order if the Legislature was able to have decisive power in emergency actions. Whitmer denied the offer, saying this was a public health crisis, not a political negotiation.

Her office said she holds legal authority to continue her emergency orders without the Legislature’s approval under the Constitution and the Emergency Powers of Governor Act. 

Shirkey was fired up about her move to extend the state emergency, writing on Facebook Friday morning: April 30, 2020: a day in our State’s legacy which will last in infamy.”

He added that Michigan had “earned the distinction of having a Governor, drunk on the addiction of unfettered power, declaring that she, and she alone, can and will continue to act unilaterally to lock down our society, our culture, and our economy.”


He also wrongly claimed Whitmer’s “Medical Director sent an unmistakable message” that Michigan likely would be under restrictions and emergency declarations into 2021. This week, Michigan Department Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said that the state’s fight against COVID-19 likely will last until next year when a treatment or vaccine is developed.

On Friday afternoon, Whitmer called the Republicans’ legislative maneuvers “political theater,” adding that COVID-19 is a public health crisis, not a political crisis again where negotiations can take place to find common ground.  

Whitmer added that instead of listening to pollsters and those with political agendas, she was going to continue to listen to epidemiologists, public health care experts and business leaders who are concerned about keeping people safe as she begins to re-engage Michigan’s economy.

“[Reengagement] is not a switch that we flip; it is a dial that we turn that is driven by data,” said Whitmer.

Whitmer then announced that she would be turning the dial a bit more on Friday when she announced that construction, real-estate activities and some manufacturing could resume on Thursday, May 7 under Executive Order 2020-70.


The order also requires construction sites to adopt a set of best practices to keep crews safe and protect workers from catching COVID-19, including:

  • Designating a site supervisor to enforce COVID-19 control strategies. 
  • Conducting daily health screenings for workers. 
  • Creating dedicated entry points, if possible, or issuing stickers or other indicators to assure that all workers are screened every day. 
  • Identifying choke points and high-risk areas (like hallways, hoists and elevators, break areas, water stations and buses) and controlling them to enable social distancing. 
  • Ensuring sufficient handwashing or hand-sanitizing stations at the worksite. 

“The steps the governor is taking today will help ensure protections for workers and their families from COVID-19 while allowing for work in lower-risk fields to resume,” said Khaldun.

Pat Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, said the union is grateful for Whitmer’s commitment to protecting working people and their families from the spread of COVID-19.

“We are excited to continue working with Governor Whitmer as she continues to take action on behalf of working families,” said Devlin.


COVID-19 cases increasing in West Mich.

Khaldun noted that COVID-19 cases are still rising in West Michigan.

Compared to last week, Khaldun said, Kent County — home to Grand Rapids — has seen a 48% rise in cases, Muskegon County has seen 41% and Ottawa County has seen 23%. She said intensive care unit bed utilization is about 70% right now. But she added that testing has increased in those areas.

“We also know that if we test more people, we’re going to find more of the disease, and that’s definitely what we want,” said Khaldun, adding that knowing where the disease is will help stop the spread.

Nursing homes are still an area of concern for DHHS, she said. There are 450 facilities that have reported COVID-19 numbers for a total of 3,037 cases. Three-quarters of the cases are in the Southeast part of the state.


Khaldun said nursing homes need to be monitored closely, because the older residents are at a higher risk for severe or fatal complications from COVID-19.

“Focusing on our most vulnerable populations will be a key strategy for public health response as we move forward,” said Khaldun.

She also announced that DHHS has committed $5.4 million to expand testing and to fund teams of public health experts and clinicians who will assist nursing homes.

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Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak

Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.