GOP state Senate hopeful tells crowd ‘be prepared to lock and load’ at the polls

Gov. candidate Ryan Kelley continues to spread 2020 election conspiracies 

By: - February 1, 2022 7:19 am

Mike Detmer (left) and Ryan Kelley (right) | Campaign photos

GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley told a crowd of supporters over the weekend that if election workers see something they “don’t like happening with the machine,” they should “unplug it from the wall.” He also said that he wants a “50-50” partisan division of election workers.

Kelley, who was at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, was joined by Mike Detmer, a Republican state Senate candidate, who also told the Livingston County crowd to “be prepared to lock and load,” and “show up armed.” 

The remarks came after an audience member posed the question about what could be done to prevent what happened following the 2020 election at the former TCF Center, where Detroit’s absentee ballots were tallied. The crowd member repeated the false claim that Republican observers were mistreated by election officials and the police outside the center. Republican activists rallied outside and pushed their way in to stop the count.

Republicans have circulated a number of conspiracy theories since former President Donald Trump lost the election to President Joe Biden. Biden won Michigan by almost 3% and by over 154,000 votes.

Pro-Trump protesters at Detroit’s TCF Center | Ken Coleman photo

There also have been a rising number of threats against election officials and workers, both in Michigan and across the country, with states weighing remedies ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has said she’s at times at 24-hour police protection because of repeated and specific threats against her.

“The lack of accountability means one thing: we have to anticipate that it will continue, and then as we close in on next year’s election and 2024, I think it will simply continue to escalate, unless there are real consequences,” Benson told CNN in October.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Senate Oversight Committee released a report saying there was “disorder” at the TCF Center, but there was “no evidence” that fraud took place or that there was any harm to the ballots or vote-counting process. The report debunked several right-wing conspiracy theories and concluded that there was no widespread voter fraud.

Detmer is challenging Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton), who is a member of the Senate Oversight Committee, and has been endorsed by Trump. In 2020, he lost the 8th Congressional District GOP primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly).

The remarks were flagged on Twitter by @leftofcentermi, an account that often features videos and social media posts from Michigan Republicans. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, responded on Twitter: “Unauthorized personnel tampering w/ election devices & the use of firearms to intimidate voters is illegal. Engaging in such conduct will result in arrest & prosecution.” Benson has referred the matter to her office. 

Lonnie Scott, executive director for the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, said in a statement that Kelley and Detmer “encouraging armed intimidation and election tampering is abhorrent and unacceptable behavior from anyone, but especially from candidates for public office.” 

“If the Republican Party wants us to believe they aren’t embracing the extremists in their party, they must condemn this type of rhetoric and the people who recklessly choose to spout it,” Scott said. “Anything less than full-throated and continued condemnation of these acts is proof the Republican Party is willing to sacrifice anything to hang onto power, including the safety of our voters and the sanctity of our democracy.” 

Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement that Kelley, along with the other GOP gubernatorial candidates, are “reinforcing that the point of advancing these election conspiracy theories was never about achieving a more secure process, but one that can be easily manipulated to suppress votes and unravel democracy.”

Both Kelley and Detmer have been under fire for extremism before.

Kelley, an Allendale Township planning commissioner, entered the GOP gubernatorial race in February 2021, a month after he attended the insurrection. He was seen going up the stairs towards the U.S. Capitol building but it was unclear if Kelley entered the Capitol building, as reported by WWMT-TV. WWMT-TV also reported that Kelley presumably attended the insurrection with William Null, one of the 13 men charged for allegedly plotting to kidnap and kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Before attending the Jan. 6 insurrection, some Allendale residents requested Kelley step down due to his relationship with Null and the group he founded, the “American Patriot Control.” The group has protested COVID-19 restrictions and defended a controversial Civil War statue in Allendale. 

Since joining the race, Kelley has also said he would “happily and enthusiastically” get rid of the state Department of Education if it did not ensure that schools stop teaching about “critical race theory” and “social emotional learning.” He has also said the government should not have the authority to issue a vaccine mandate.

After George Floyd, who was African American, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Detmer appeared at a right-wing rally at the Michigan Capitol in June 2020.

“I want to just address this whole race nonsense. It is fake; it is fake,” Detmer said to the crowd. “Here’s the reality: If you are someone of faith, you understand that all lives matter, and it was decided by the blood of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.”


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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.