GOP leaders join anti-Whitmer rally after FBI reports murder plot against her

By: - October 8, 2020 6:58 pm

Over a hundred people gathered at the Capitol for a “Let MI People Go” rally on Oct. 8 | Allison Donahue

Hours after news broke about a militia plot to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and State House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) took to the Capitol steps during a right-wing anti-Whitmer rally Thursday.

“This is no time to be weak in our commitment to freedom,” Shirkey said to the crowd. “We need to be strong…and not be afraid of those who are taking our freedoms away from us.”

Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, May 24, 2019 | Nick Manes

According to the Michigan Capitol website, the “Let MI People Go” rally was hosted by the Michigan’s Pastors’ Alliance, and Chatfield’s father, the Rev. Stanley Chatfield III, was listed as the contact person for the event. 

“We condemn anyone who wants to incite violence in our community and our country because all lives matter,” Chatfield said during the rally.

As of Thursday evening, 13 men have been charged for what officials categorize as “extremist” plans to target Whitmer and to attempt to overthrow the state government. Federal officials charged six militia members on multiple counts for alleged acts of terrorism and state Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office charged seven more men under Michigan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. 

Shirkey said that the people who attended Thursday’s rally are not the same people who were involved in the plot to kill the governor. 

However, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) found that six of the plotters met during a rally at the state Capitol in June. And when armed protesters stormed the Capitol building on April 30, Shirkey met with a small group of them and did not allow for media presence.

According to reporting from WXYZ Detroit, two of the armed protesters photographed by Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) in April who stood in the Senate gallery during session were arrested Thursday for involvement in the alleged terrorism plot.

Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann did not respond to whether Shirkey spoke with the two protesters who are now arrested.

Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) was also in attendance at Thursday’s rally and echoed Shirkey’s comments about “peaceful protesters” at these anti-lockdown rallies.

“The people that I know and the folks that are here today are peaceful members of the public,” Barrett said. “We always respect the right of people to voice their opinion and express disagreement with political leaders regardless of who they are, but nobody supports or stands behind acts of violence or threats of violence against any member of government or any member of society.”

Thursday’s news has also resurfaced the topic of banning guns at the Capitol. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19, March 18, 2020 | Susan J. Demas

State Sens. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and Polehanki introduced a set of bills that would ban all firearms — both open and concealed carry — from the Michigan State Capitol building, but the Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) has delayed a decision on the matter six times. 

“Men armed to the teeth stormed our chambers to intimidate us. And today, we found out that these threats were real. There was a plan in place, to not only scare us, but to kidnap us and kill us,” Polehanki said on the Senate floor Thursday.

“I pray for our governor and her family who don’t deserve any of this. I pray for Michigan’s police officers and for our sergeants at arms. And I pray for us. I pray for our safety and I pray that we use our God given common sense to make a law banning guns from this building. If not now, when? We may not get a second chance like we had today.”

However, Barrett and Shirkey said that banning guns isn’t going to stop terrorists.

“Well, if you can tell me what new law would have stopped those militiamen from threatening to storm the Capitol building and take it over, I’d be happy to look at any law that you think would have stopped people intent on that level of destruction,” Barrett told the Advance during the rally. “But terrorists are terrorists for a reason. They don’t follow laws. So what law are you going to create that’s going to make a terrorist not be a terrorist?”

Shirkey told reporters Thursday that the Legislature and MSCC are having “further conversations” about banning guns, but added that “there is no way in a country like ours that we can legislate and get rid of all risk.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.