Susan J. Demas: This week in Michigan right-wing radicalism, silencing fact-checkers edition

May 12, 2021 9:11 am

Rep. Matt Maddock | Nick Manes

Between COVID conspiracy theories, vaccine misinformation and continued lies about the 2020 election that threaten public health and our democracy, the Republican Party is having quite the radical moment — something that may not be clear in typical political coverage that presents both parties’ views on issues with the implicit understanding that they’re rooted in reality.

Sadly, that’s no longer the case for the GOP on some of the most pressing issues of the day.

The Advance could spend all of our time wading through the barrage of radical right-wing rhetoric and odd legislation and dissecting it — as some have suggested we do — but that wouldn’t leave any time for us to write about critical problems impacting millions of Michiganders and talking to folks outside the Capitol whose stories are too often ignored.

So periodically, I’ll use this column to flag some of the ways Michigan Republicans are embracing extremism and misinformation. I would like nothing more to discontinue this sooner than later and we can go back to sparring about the tax code instead of whether a violent attempt to overthrow democracy in January was cool, but I think we all know the GOP is continuing down the far-right path for the foreseeable future.

So let us begin with state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), who backed a suit attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Along with his spouse, Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, he also joined a right-wing Facebook group promoting civil war, attended an Electoral College protest in Lansing last December in which Republicans tried to get a slate of fraudulent Trump electors certified and showed up in D.C. for a pro-Trump rally before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

New House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) decided none of this was troubling enough to take action against Matt Maddock, even though lawmakers have lost committee assignments for far less.

Speaker Wentworth intends to seat Maddock, despite D.C. trip last week

Maddock certainly appears to hate the media — but just can’t quit trying to get media attention. His latest stunt is a bill that would force fact-checkers to register with the state (hello, Big Brother). If they didn’t, they could be subject to steep fines of $1,000 a day. Oh, and fact-checkers also would have to insure themselves with $1 million fidelity bonds and anyone could sue them over “any wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state.”

“My legislation will put fact checkers on notice: Don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right,” the bail bondsman wrote on Facebook of his bill shredding the First Amendment.

So why is Maddock big mad at the media? Republicans have been making the press a bogeyman for a half-century, of course, but Maddock’s beef seemed to escalate with a Bridge story last year debunking his wife’s claim that dead people voted and cost Trump the election (she even posted home addresses). The outlet was, not coincidentally, home to the Michigan Truth Squad (full disclosure: Advance columnist Rick Haglund and I were the project’s first fact-checkers).

This, of course, wasn’t the last time that the Maddocks were called out by fact-checkers, including the Advance. The Detroit Metro Times filleted Meshawn Maddock for claiming the insurrection was “staged” and the Detroit Free Press noted she spread misinformation on masks during the pandemic.

So this clumsy legislation is clearly aimed at silencing reporters or at least make them think twice about doing their jobs. With the amount of lies and misinformation that flow freely on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and more, it’s almost adorable that Matt Maddock thinks the traditional media have enough power to squelch it — except that it’s an affront to the Constitution he claims to uphold as a #MAGAPatriot.

Lest you dismiss this as just the ranting of one lawmaker, the bill has already been co-sponsored by eight other Republicans. They include Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Gary Eisen (R-St. Clair Twp.) and Beth Griffin (R-Mattawan), who signed onto a letter before the insurrection, along with Maddock, asking then-Vice President Mike Pence decertify the certified election results and delay electoral vote counting.

The other co-sponsors are: Reps. Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes), John Roth (R-Traverse City), David Martin (R-Davison), Robert Bezotte (R-Howell) and John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs).

And Maddock isn’t even the highest-profile Michigan Republican to pump up conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, like dead folks voting (note: As a native Chicagoan, I’ve heard all your dumb jokes). Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) has been deploying disinformation about the last election as cover for the Senate’s extremist voter suppression bills — that is, when he’s not bizarrely claiming that 70% of the population is immune to COVID, so no health restrictions are needed.

This is not true, per public health experts. What is true is that almost 870,000 Michiganders have been sickened with COVID — including Shirkey, a possible ’22 gubernatorial candidate — and more than 18,000 have died.

So putting all snarkiness aside, please get vaccinated as soon as possible if you haven’t already. It’s the best way to protect yourself and others.


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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, 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, LGBTQ people, 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 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.