Dixon spends the day ridiculing Whitmer over 2020 far-right kidnapping plot

‘Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head and ask if you’re ready to talk’

By: and - September 24, 2022 5:54 am

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon’s repeated comments mocking the foiled plot to kidnap and assassinate Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have drawn widespread condemnation.

On Friday morning, the Republican appeared at a pro-Dixon superPAC event in Troy with former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and criticized Whitmer’s business record as governor. Standing in front of a sign that said, “Forging A Family Friendly Michigan,” Dixon then unexpectedly brought up the 2020 militia-tied plot against Whitmer — in which multiple people have been convicted — as an apparent punchline.

“The sad thing is that Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head and ask if you’re ready to talk,” said Dixon, a Muskegon County former right-wing commentator. “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.”

Four men have been convicted in the 2020 domestic terrorism plot that sought to kidnap Whitmer from her summer residence in retaliation for her efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sept. 14, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, were found guilty in federal court in Grand Rapids last month on conspiracy charges connected to the plot, while two others, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Testimony during the trial indicated some of the defendants planned to put Whitmer on “trial” and then execute her. 

In an October 2020 interview with Whitmer days after the arrests, the Advance asked her about many stories referring to it as a “kidnapping” plot, not a murder attempt.

“The intent was not about ransom,” Whitmer said. “It was to put me on some sort of a trial and execute me. And for some reason that seems to have been lost in all of the coverage.”

Whitmer echoed that sentiment in an interview with the Washington Post this summer, noting, “It was an assassination plot, but no one talks about it that way. Even the way people talk about it has muted the seriousness of it.”

However, even in the immediate aftermath of the arrests, Republicans didn’t shy away from attacking Whitmer. Hours after state and federal law enforcement announced the plot, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) appeared at a right-wing rally on the Michigan Capitol lawn bashing Whitmer for her COVID-19 policies.

Whitmer: Biden ‘was mad’ when he called after murder plot arrests

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

Chatfield, who later became the subject of a Michigan State Police investigation after his sister-in-law accused him of sexual abuse starting when she was a minor, released a letter he wrote to Whitmer days after the arrests lecturing her for her “partisan rhetoric” about the far-right plot against her.

“… I agree, it’s time to tone down the partisan rhetoric and turn ‘the heat down’ as you’ve said. Will you do the same for President Trump? You’ve arguably been his biggest critic this year in the country,” Chatfield wrote.

Less than a week later, Trump held an election rally in Muskegon where he blasted Whitmer and the crowd shouted, “Lock her up!”

While Dixon’s line on Friday was met with laughter and applause from the GOP crowd, it did not amuse Maeve Coyle, Whitmer’s campaign spokesperson.

“Threats of violence and dangerous rhetoric undermine our democracy and discourage good people on both sides of the aisle at every level from entering public service,” said Coyle in a statement. “Governor Whitmer has faced serious threats to her safety and her life, and she is grateful to the law enforcement and prosecutors for their tireless work. Threats of violence whether to Governor Whitmer or to candidates and elected officials on the other side of the aisle – are no laughing matter, and the fact that Tudor Dixon thinks it’s a joke shows that she is absolutely unfit to serve in public office.”

Dixon was roundly condemned by Democratic officials, while Republicans remained silent. Her remarks also were greeted by surprise by political observers and netted national attention.

“I remain stunned that this line was thought of, written, vetted, uploaded to a teleprompter and read aloud,” tweeted Zack Stanton, a Macomb County native and Politico editor.

However, Dixon appeared undeterred by the criticism and made similar remarks at a second event in Muskegon, which included Donald Trump Jr., who was named in a business fraud lawsuit filed Wednesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James against former President Donald Trump.

Commenting about an appearance last week at the Detroit Auto Show in which Whitmer and President Joe Biden were pictured holding hands, Dixon told the crowd that Whitmer looked like she’d “rather be kidnapped by the FBI.”

Dixon, who has repeatedly slammed the media, then added, “Yeah, the media is like, ‘Oh my gosh, she did it again.”

Whitmer and Biden have been friends for years. In that October 2020 interview with the Advance, the governor said Biden, who was running for president at the time, was one of the first people to reach out to her following the plotters’ arrests.

“[Biden] was mad,” Whitmer recalled. “You know, I mean, he’s my friend. And he called to see how I was doing. He called to ask how my family was. He was mad that the rhetoric in this nation has gotten so dangerous and was being fomented by the [Trump] White House.”

Dixon also pushed back against the characterization that her earlier comment was a joke about the plot against Whitmer. The Republican appeared to argue she was making a serious comparison between those crimes and business owners who she said have suffered during Whitmer’s governorship.

“I’m like, ‘No, that wasn’t a joke,’ she said. “If you were afraid of that, you should know what it is to have your life ripped away from you.”

Donald Trump Jr. at the rally in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

Trump Jr. also joined in. Like Dixon, he referenced the far-right conspiracy theory that the FBI was behind the plot.

“Show of hands — how many feds in the crowd?” asked Trump Jr. “I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t some sort of, you know, federal kidnapping plot. You know, Gretchen Whitmer knew about it months in advance. But you know what, if we can get good PR from it, we can pretend like it’s real. You know, the FBI can try to entrap a couple of meth heads somewhere and run with that narrative now.”

This comes as former President Trump was subject to an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida as part of an ongoing Department of Justice investigation for possible Espionage Act violations, among other potential crimes.

This isn’t the first time that Republican leaders have spread the false claim that the FBI and Whitmer were behind the domestic terrorist plot. In April, one of Dixon’s GOP gubernatorial rivals, Garrett Soldano, shared the conspiracy theory that Whitmer plotted with the FBI to “fake her own kidnapping” in an effort to have a “direct impact on the 2020 election results.” 

Dixon also appeared in August at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas headlined by Trump and autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Both Trump and Dixon slammed Whitmer, with the ex-president calling the kidnapping plot “fake.”

“The thing they did involving Gretchen Whitmer was fake. Just like those who instigated Jan. 6. It was a fake,” Trump said, referring to the 2021 insurrection to keep him in the White House despite losing the election to Biden.

Dixon’s comments come during a week when a Detroit Free Press poll showed her trailing Whitmer by 16 points and she was embroiled in another controversy that became a national story. 

I’m like, ‘No, that wasn’t a joke.’ If you were afraid of that, you should know what it is to have your life ripped away from you.

– GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon

On Tuesday, she held a press conference in Lansing — during Banned Books Week — announcing the would consider banning “pornographic” books in K-12 schools if she were elected governor. When an Advance reporter asked Dixon to define what she means by “pornographic” in terms K-12 school literature, Dixon said it was “two naked people, and they are acting out a sexual act, and multiple different sexual acts.”

After Dixon shared her definition of pornography, she then offered to send the Advance reporter examples of porn, which became a viral clip on social media. The campaign never sent any titles.

Dixon later on Friday defended her multiple comments on the anti-Whitmer plot to CNN where she then appeared to embrace them as a “joke” and claimed she was being “attacked.”

“I think when you’re being attacked every day, you have to have a little levity in things,” she told the network. “We can still have fun.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.

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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, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. 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 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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