Susan J. Demas: The feds foiled a plot to murder Whitmer. The GOP attacks on her haven’t stopped.

October 9, 2020 7:42 am

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

There’s a firestorm, and rightfully so, about the coronavirus-addled president and his slithering advisers unleashing attacks on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on the very day that right-wing extremists were arrested for plotting to kidnap her, try her for treason and then kill her.

“Governor Whitmer of Michigan has done a terrible job. She locked down her state for everyone, except her husband’s boating activities,” Donald Trump thundered on Twitter shortly after Whitmer appeared on CNN, where host Chris Cuomo took aim at his rhetoric for inflaming her would-be killers. “… My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced… today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist … Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”

There’s a lot of sadly typical far-right bile crammed into this tweetstorm, as well as Trump’s mad-king-like obsession with his ideological foes throwing themselves at his feet and thanking him for things he had nothing to do with, like he repeatedly demanded of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) after the funeral of her husband, late Dean of the House John Dingell.

But there were two things in the tirade that actually gave me more pause. Trump went after her husband’s “boating activities” — an obscure reference to right-wing memes and media stories well-circulated by conservatives, along with a photo of her vacation home from which conspirators considered abducting her. And Trump also demanded that Whitmer “open up your churches!” — which she never closed, but was the exact theme of the “Let MI People Go” rally held Thursday on the Michigan Capitol lawn. That’s some interesting messaging synergy.

Both state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) even spoke at the event, whose contact was none other than the Rev. Stanley Chatfield, the latter’s father (both have a penchant for suing the governor).

Knowing all this, it’s hard not to be haunted by what Whitmer told CNN on Thursday, “The fact of the matter is, I have raised this issue with the White House and asked them to bring the heat down. I have asked leaders — Republican leaders in this state — ‘Let’s bring the heat down.’ I was aware of many of the threats made to me and my family and I asked for their help. And they didn’t do a darn thing about it and then denied it was a problem.”

Conservative protest at the Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 30, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

The event Thursday didn’t happen in a vacuum. It came after a Department of Homeland Security report showing that white supremacists remain the biggest terrorist threat we face.

It came after months of anti-Whitmer rallies at the Capitol and across the state featuring signs like “Tyrants Get the Rope” and speeches calling for the governor’s arrest for tyranny for trying to stop the spread of COVID-19, which some of the 13 men arrested allegedly attended.

During the April 30 event, heavily armed protesters forced their way into the Capitol and watched session menacingly from the Senate gallery, including two of the co-conspirators, according to WXYZ-TV. Shirkey met with some of the demonstrators in the gallery and blocked the media from reporting on it. His spokesperson did not respond to an Advance inquiry if Shirkey had met with the men arrested Thursday.

This also came after Shirkey spoke last month at a Trump event in Jackson County and warned about civil war.

“We’ve got a Democratic Party that has been completely hijacked by the Marxists and the socialists hiding behind this Democratic banner, letting us think this guy that’s running for president actually can do something besides read a teleprompter, and he can’t even do that well,” Shirkey said, as reported by MLive. “This is over the future of our country, no question about it. We’re grateful that Lincoln did it in 1860 and 1864, but it’s now our time.”

So nobody would advise Republican leaders to appear at a right-wing rally on the day extremists who attended similar demonstrations were arrested for the conspiracy to kill Whitmer.

But after both Shirkey and Chatfield issued pro-forma statements about the plot, hoping that would be enough to satisfy the annoying media, they sent a clear message to the minority of Michiganders still livid with Whitmer over her emergency pandemic actions and just having the gall to be a Democratic woman running the state: “We’re with you.”

“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.”

Shirkey actually made the case that it’s right-wing activists who should be afraid right now, not the governor who escaped a plot to assassinate her and overthrow the government.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey speaks at the auto insurance reform bill signing, May 30, 2019 | Andrew Roth

For almost two years, we’ve sat through Shirkey declaring Whitmer was “batshit crazy” and routinely treating her with the respect “Mad Men” era execs had for their secretaries, with plenty of past-their-prime pundits sniggering that it was just politics as usual.

It wasn’t. It’s not. It’s rank misogyny.

And throughout it all, Shirkey and Republican leaders have continued to coddle extremists to try and cow Whitmer on public health issues their corporate lobbyist funders despise and get Trump reelected.

This is the most shameful thing I have ever seen in Michigan politics and Mike Shirkey needs to resign.

He won’t. There likely won’t even be a Republican elected leader who will call on him to do so because the rot of a once-great national party runs deep.

And waiting for the conservative media to police their own is a fool’s errand. Nolan Finley, the editorial page editor of the Detroit News, which was once the largest paper in the state, has spent most of the pandemic railing against Whitmer for “turning the state into a dictatorship” — eerily similar to the language that appears in federal court documents.

So it’s on all of us to fight back against thuggish Trump-like behavior in order preserve democracy and basic human decency in our state and our country. Because it’s clearly not going to fade from the GOP, even if the president loses on Nov. 3.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.