Commentary

Susan J. Demas: As Trump goes full QAnon, Dixon delights in sowing Whitmer kidnapping conspiracies

September 27, 2022 3:14 am

Former President Donald Trump at a Battle Creek rally, Dec. 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

It’s been a rough couple months for Donald Trump, who, as you recall, has the distinction of being our only twice-impeached president.

After trying to instigate a coup because he didn’t like that he (badly) lost the 2020 election, he’s still flexing his muscles over the GOP by successfully endorsing a slew of 2022 candidates, including the entire Michigan Republican ticket.

Alas, Trump’s apparent penchant for ignoring pesky financial laws and the Espionage Act may be catching up with him. Not only is he being sued for business fraud by the New York attorney general, but Trump is the subject of a Department of Justice investigation for allegedly refusing to turn over top-secret documents and obstructing justice.

While many pundits posited this would make Trump more popular than ever, Republican candidates in key races have actually raced to scrub him from their websites (along with their extreme anti-abortion positions that are poison with women voters).

Trump has promised that if he’s indicted, there surely will be “problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before” and ominously intoned, “I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it.”

Just to put a fine point on this not very subtle threat of violence, Trump has now gone full QAnon in his social media posts and rallies, playing its foreboding anthem (known as “WWG1WGA,” as in the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”) 

Trump has long courted far-right support, from declaring there were “very fine people” at a 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., to telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a 2020 debate to inviting a “wild” mob to Washington in January 2021 keep him in power.

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

– GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon

So his embrace of QAnon is a continuation of his past politics, but it also represents a dark new chapter. After all, the conspiracy theory is particularly loony and violent, revolving around Trump hunting down and eventually killing Democratic politicians and wealthy liberals who lead double lives as Satan-worshipping cannibals running a child sex trafficking ring. 

But QAnon’s influence goes way beyond just being fodder for your drunk uncle’s tirades at Thanksgiving dinner. Earlier this month, a Walled Lake man allegedly shot his wife and daughter after becoming a Q adherent. 

It’s also a force in GOP politics, providing the not-so-subtle underpinnings of growing, gross attacks on Democrats as “groomers” who seek to harm children, especially in public schools. 

Michigan’s first openly gay top official, Attorney General Dana Nessel, has been the frequent target of this vile smear from her GOP opponent, Matthew DePerno. Apparently, he thinks that will distract voters from the fact that he’s under criminal investigation for allegedly monkeying around with voting equipment after the 2020 election while he’s running to be Michigan’s top cop.

Meanwhile, fellow election denier Tudor Dixon — who won the GOP gubernatorial nomination thanks to Trump’s 11th hour endorsement — has been running a grievance-fueled campaign she claims is about “parents’ rights” to save the children.

What exactly is the former right-wing commentator’s platform? Well, she backs legislation that would criminalize some drag shows. Dixon doesn’t want LGBTQ+ issues discussed in schools or trans athletes being able to play school sports. And, in an effort to top all that, she wants to ban “pornographic” books in K-12 schools, although she’s never been able to produce a single example.

Like Trump, Dixon has also had a rough go of it lately, what with being 16 points behind Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the most recent polling and becoming an international punchline for perhaps being the first candidate in history to (publicly) offer to send a reporter porn.

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

So Dixon decided to blow off some steam during a Friday speech in Troy after slamming Whitmer’s business record as governor by riffing on the 2020 militia-tied kidnapping and assassination plot over her early COVID measures for which four men have been convicted.

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

While some pundits were ready to generously write it off as a joke gone bad, Dixon appeared delighted by the attention and kept on going at her next event in Muskegon alongside Donald Trump Jr.

Dixon embarked on a long tangent about Whitmer and President Joe Biden pictured holding hands at the North American International Auto Show this month, remarking that Whitmer looked like she’d “rather be kidnapped by the FBI.”

By invoking the popular far-right conspiracy theory that the FBI was behind the crimes, Dixon managed to trivialize a serious domestic terrorist threat in Michigan and set up Trump Jr.’s brazen lie that Whitmer “knew about it months in advance.”

Dixon also flat-out announced she wasn’t joking around and was offering a serious critique that businesses are suffering as much as Whitmer almost being brutally murdered after a show trial. “I’m like, ‘No, that wasn’t a joke,’ Dixon said. “If you were afraid of that, you should know what it is to have your life ripped away from you.”

Of course, when later pushed by CNN, Dixon predictably decided she was the real victim: “I think when you’re being attacked every day, you have to have a little levity in things. We can still have fun.”

Let’s not ignore the obvious: Dixon’s meandering rants were deeply weird and it seems clear there are no grownups in the MIGOP war room. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a post-State of the State press conference at the Mott Community College Regional Technology Center in Flint on Jan. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

But moreover, this winking dismissal of violence against Whitmer dovetails perfectly with the QAnon-inspired themes of Dixon’s campaign. It was a calculated message to her far-right base that Democrats are the ones who are really committing violence — to businesses, kids and their fundamental way of life.

When you need to shore up a key voting bloc that’s part of the Q death cult, things have truly gone off the rails.

Dixon isn’t running like she expects to win, but like she’s hoping to inflict the maximum amount of personal pain on Whitmer she can while pleasing GOP donors by inflaming her core voters enough so the party can pull out key down-ballot wins.

It’s uncomfortable to grapple with an election like this. Michigan faces extremely serious issues with democracy, the economy, abortion rights, education, the Great Lakes and more. In an ideal world, that’s what the gubernatorial race should be about.

But in the year and half that Dixon has been running for the highest office in the state, she’s never come close to demonstrating mastery over any policy issue at the level she can unleash twisted quips about Whitmer getting kidnapped. 

And so here we are.

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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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