Gilchrist presided over the Senate during the April armed protest. He says Shirkey’s meeting with militia leaders is ‘incredibly problematic.’

By: - February 2, 2021 1:15 pm

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist | Whitmer office photo

With news that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had issued a warning about rising domestic terrorism threats and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) meeting with leaders of militias last summer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the first Black person to hold the post, has seen the anger and hatred up close. 

He calls the rise “alarming,” and that there is no place in Michigan or the United States for extremism. In October, state and federal law enforcement announced a right-wing extremist plot against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her COVID-19 restrictions.

Gilchrist’s comments were made as part of an interview about racial equity and the coronavirus last week. 

The following are excerpts from that interview.

Q: There was a Homeland Security alert put out about extremism, domestic violence extremism. Within that context, there was in the very first page or the very first line reference to violent extremists upset about police use of force. Have you seen that bulletin? Do you believe that that was coded to target Black Lives Matter protests and George Floyd related protests? Does that concern you that it was coded that way?

Gilchrist: I haven’t seen that specific language in the bulletin. But I do know this because we’ve seen it in Michigan. We have seen a rise in violence extremism. We have seen a rise of hate crimes. We saw a rise of people with terrorist intentions plot to storm the Capitol where I work. 

I’m sitting, I’m talking in my Capitol office right now behind [the Senate chambers]. I was presiding over the Senate session on April 30 when men with long guns came into the gallery, armed and dangerous. We saw people taking action and again working to overthrow the Michigan government because they were upset about the COVID-19 response. 

We’ve seen extremism and of course that reached the pitch that it hasn’t reached in 200 years when people stormed the United States Capitol and breached it for the first time since 1814. That’s been real. 

We’ve seen it with an increase in hate crimes, for example, [against] Asian-American and Pacific Islander people since the beginning of this pandemic or at the beginning of its presence in our country.

It’s something that is very alarming and concerning to me. I don’t think that that kind of hate should have a place in our America going forward. We should be a country that instead celebrates and values the diverse perspectives and life experiences that all of our people have. That’s certainly something that makes Michigan such a fantastic place, because we have people from all walks of life from all over the world who chose to settle in the state of Michigan. That is a beautiful thing.

The reason my family is here because we migrated from the South after the war, for example. There are so many stories like that from all across the globe. The idea that some part of them are violent because of who they are, because of their heritage, because of their history. … We need to stomp that out, that kind of hatred wherever it rears its ugly head.

Q: May I ask one quick follow-up on that, that I think is really important? That is, you were presiding over the Senate when the militia folks came in and were out there with long guns. Have you had a conversation with Senate Majority Leader Shirkey about his meetings with militia leaders?

Gilchrist: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. I think that it is incredibly problematic to legitimize those people who came in to commit violence. Coming into overthrow and storm the government, that put in danger everyone’s lives because it endangers not only the lawmakers, but the staff of those lawmakers, the people who staff and make this a legislative building work, the people who clean this building, the people who secure this building, the children who tour this building to learn about the government. 

I came here when I was 7 with my grandma and her eighth grade social studies class to learn about the government. Imagine if I would have been here when those guys were coming in here with guns. … Guns have no place in the lawmaking process. 

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Todd A. Heywood
Todd A. Heywood

Todd Heywood is an award-winning journalist with over 30 years of experience. He's worked in print, online, radio and television. His reporting has been cited by the U.S. House of Representatives as well as in the United Nations reports on HIV. He's an avid vintage Star Wars collector and lives in Lansing with his three dogs.