Republican nominee for Michigan secretary of state Kristina Karamo campaigns in Lansing on Aug. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)
A Republican running a family values campaign is certainly not a headline.
But Michigan GOP Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo has combined that message with her penchant for conspiracy theories, ties to extremist groups and a belief that Satan is involved in everything from yoga to churches that hang rainbow flags.
In a video captured during the Michigan Republican Party convention in August, Karamo placed abortion as the foundational reason for her entry into politics.
“I’m pro-life from conception to natural death and that’s the reason I got into politics is to fight against abortion,” said Karamo.
It’s an unusual approach when seeking a post running a state agency whose services include “administering election law and voter registration, licensing drivers, registering and titling vehicles, regulating auto dealerships and repair facilities, licensing auto mechanics, commissioning notaries public and overseeing the Office of the Great Seal.”
Karamo is trying to oust Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Nov. 8.
2020 election denial
Karamo, a one-time community college instructor, rose to prominence within the Republican Party for her devotion to the thoroughly disproven conspiracy that the 2020 election was stolen. In fact, President Joe Biden won Michigan by more than 154,000 votes.
The Republican alleged there was illegal vote counting at the former TCF Center in downtown Detroit where she showed up as a self-appointed “poll challenger.” However, her allegations, which she stated in an affidavit, were based on a misunderstanding of the process that was underway there in which approximately 174,000 absentee ballots were being counted.
While Karamo did not respond to requests for comment for this story, she did give a statement to the Detroit Free Press standing by her allegations.
“The allegations in my affidavit ARE accurate. I submitted an affidavit regarding what I personally witnessed. You have never investigated the specific allegations in my affidavit, nor has anyone else. THEREFORE, you CAN NOT [sic] claim my allegations were ‘inaccurate,'” Karamo said.
After former President Donald Trump encouraged supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, where Congress was scheduled to certify the 2020 election results, Karamo dismissed the insurrection attempt as a false-flag operation — another popular far-right conspiracy.
“Based on the series of evidence and knowing how these situations work, how these anarchists operate, I believe this is completely Antifa posing as Trump supporters,” Karamo said. “I mean, anybody can buy a MAGA hat and put on a t-shirt and buy a Trump flag.”
While that statement was made the day after the insurrection, Karamo has never walked it back.
She earned Trump’s endorsement, which helped her easily defeat two more experienced opponents, state Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) and Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry at the Michigan Republican Party’s early endorsement convention this spring.
Should Karamo win the Nov. 8 general election, she would no longer be a mere participant in election conspiracies; she would be in charge of the election apparatus itself.
Trump former adviser Steve Bannon and other Republicans have made no secret of their desire to control the elections process at the state and local level to help ensure future GOP victories.
To that end, there’s the America First Secretary of State Coalition, founded by Jim Marchant, the Republican nominee in Nevada. The group backs Karamo, Arizona Republican Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem and Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano — because the Keystone State’s governor gets to appoint the secretary of state.
All four states were won by Biden in 2020 and are considered key to the 2024 presidential election.
Abortion, LGBTQ+ issues and religion
Although Karamo rose to prominence in the GOP for her 2020 election denier activities, her secretary of state campaign has focused on abortion, LGBTQ+ issues and religion — issues unrelated to administering elections and issuing driver’s licenses.
Karamo, who has done few events and interviews with Michigan media, called abortion “wicked” on the “David J. Harris Jr. Show” in August.
“It’s the most wicked thing ever. It’s far more wicked than slavery,” said Karamo, who has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. “And David, the reason why I say it’s far more wicked than slavery — because you and I are evidence that the slaves, many slaves, survived — aborted children don’t survive because that’s the whole premise is to kill them. And so when we enter into a point in society that murdering other people is permissible to make my life better, then that’s human sacrifice.”
Benson supports abortion rights, but has been campaigning on customer service at Secretary of State branches, voting rights and election security.
The Republican has also claimed, without evidence, in a September 2020 episode of her self-described evangelical Christian podcast, “It’s Solid Food,” that those who went to the 2017 Women’s March protests were “addicted to porn.”
Karamo has railed against premarital sex, which she believes is the result of satanic influences, while also engaging in slurs against the LGBTQ+ community.
“And then when we start to say, ‘Oh well, if you want to have sex with somebody of the same sex, that’s OK, too.’ And now, it has morphed into something worse,” Karamo said in in a since-deleted 2018 video posted to her website, which she said includes “pedophilia being normalized” and “bestiality being normalized.”
Karamo’s bigotry extends to transgender youth, again blaming Satan “trying to get children while they’re small,” while also dismissing in her podcast the high rate of LGBTQ+ youth suicide.
“The media is deceiving the public saying, ‘Oh, well, you look at the suicide rate. Look at the suicide rate it’s because of stigma.’ Stigma? How about the act itself is simply not natural?”
The media is deceiving the public saying, ‘Oh, well, you look at the suicide rate. Look at the suicide rate it’s because of stigma.’ Stigma? How about the act itself is simply not natural?
– Republican Secretary of State nominee Kristina Karamo on the suicide rate of transgender children
Dr. Natalie Gladstein is an OB-GYN and family planning specialist in Southeast Michigan. Gladstein told the Michigan Advance that Karamo’s “extreme and outrageous statements have no basis in medicine or reality, and seem more intended to sow fear than to help anyone.”
She said that as an obstetrician/gynecologist and a member of the LQBTQ+ community, she knows just how important it is to acknowledge the different lived experiences of people to strengthen communities instead of tear them apart.
Quoting the American Psychological Association, she notes that decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream mental health organizations to the conclusion that homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality.
“Similarly, we know that being transgender is also normal and natural,” said Gladstein. “The American Medical Association says evidence shows that, “trans and non-binary gender identities are normal variations of human identity and expression, and that forgoing gender-affirming care can have tragic health consequences, both mental and physical.”
She also pointed to the 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health which said that 42% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, while LGBTQ+ youth who had at least one accepting adult in their life were 40% less likely to attempt suicide.
“Why does Ms. Karamo want to pretend we live in the dark ages?” she asked. “Why doesn’t she acknowledge the facts presented by major medical associations? Why does she want to be out of touch with reality?”
Gladstein said that the overwhelming scientific consensus also discredits Karamo’s positions on premarital sex, noting a study by the National Survey of Family Growth that indicated 95% of Americans had had sex before marriage.
Additionally, she said abortion is a safe and standard part of health care with 80% of abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention taking place in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, when it is still considered an embryo.
“It is clear that Ms. Karamo is either unable or unwilling to understand the science that contradicts her outrageous claims, as well as the impacts they could have on the health of children and women across Michigan,” said Gladstein. “Her inflammatory comments demonstrate exactly why politicians shouldn’t be interfering in women’s personal medical decisions or in health education.”
QAnon, Christian Militant ties
Karamo also has connections with far-right extremist groups with known connections to violence.
The Republican signaled her affinity for such fringe movements when she spoke in October 2021 in Las Vegas at an event featuring prominent leaders associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges that a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles are operating a global sex-trafficking ring, while controlling world governments.
Most variants of the theory cast Trump as the hero, single-handedly trying to dismantle the cabal and killing Democratic enemies. It also has repeatedly made predictions about the 2020 election results being overturned and Trump returning to the White House.
Karamo also drew headlines in August when she shared a link to a QAnon prediction that Trump would return to the White House this year. About an hour later, she said her Twitter account had been “hacked.”
In the past, Karamo has defended conspiracy theories, such as in December 2020 on her podcast when she said people have been convinced not to put “puzzle pieces” together.
“If that makes me a conspiracy theorist, I wear my tinfoil hat with pride,” Karamo said. “Well, not pride, because pride is a sin. I would wear it very happily. I will wear my tinfoil hat happily.”
While QAnon has no defined leadership, many of its adherents have connections to other extremist groups.
Just 10 days later, Karamo spoke at the “Call to Action” conference organized by Church Militant, a right-wing Catholic organization that describes itself as doing “battle against sin, the devil and the demonic rulers of the darkness of this world.”
Church Militant has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group.
Extremist candidates, or those who have sympathy towards extremist ideas, are feeling almost emboldened after Trump was in office. And I would say that (they are) realizing that running for office is a way to get their message out and maybe implement their agenda, too.
– Caleb Kieffer, senior research analyst with the SPLC’s Intelligence Project
Caleb Kieffer is a senior research analyst with the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. He told the Advance that it’s deeply concerning that candidates are willing to align themselves with these extremists ideas. Of further concern is that there has been a blurring of lines between extremist rhetoric and mainstream candidates willing to embrace that rhetoric.
“Extremist candidates, or those who have sympathy towards extremist ideas, are feeling almost emboldened after Trump was in office,” said Kieffer. “And I would say that [they are] realizing that running for office is a way to get their message out and maybe implement their agenda, too.”
Kieffer says that the QAnon connection to candidates like Karamo is something they are seeing on the rise amidst the GOP.
“These kind of outlandish ideas of the world being run by a cabal of pedophiles that’s spanning through the government and Hollywood and the ‘Deep State,’ and of course viewing Donald Trump as being a savior to shine a light on some of this, I would say we definitely recognize it as a concerning movement and any kind of candidate who aligns themselves with it is definitely of concern,” said Kieffer.
Karamo complained at a Sept. 13 rally at the Michigan Capitol about people using her statements on “a Christian podcast that I ran two years ago” against her, the Detroit News reports.
“I am a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. That will never change,” Karamo said, according to the Detroit News. “I will never apologize for that. And I will also say this: These secularists are destroying our country.”
Karamo added that her remarks have nothing to do with running for secretary of state.
Attacks on Benson
Karamo has spent the race significantly trailing Benson in both fundraising and polling.
An Detroit Free Press/WOOD-TV poll released in late September showed Benson had more than doubled her 6-point lead over Karamo in August to a 14-point advantage. Of those surveyed, 51% said they would vote for Benson and 37% for Karamo. 12% were undecided. In a late September poll from the Detroit News/WDIV-TV, Benson is beating Karamo 47% to 29%, up from the Democrat’s 43% to 32% lead last month.
Last weekend at a Trump rally for the Michigan GOP ticket in Warren, Karamo blasted Benson, along with fellow Democrats Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel.
“We will have a sweeping and decisive victory in November and take those three psychopaths out of Lansing,” Karamo said.
Karamo has repeatedly slammed Benson for the 2020 election in speeches and on her podcast, stating, “Secretary of State Benson should go to jail.”
In March, after Benson tweeted about uniting in defense of democracy, Karamo responded by saying the Secretary of State “corrupted our election system,” and told her, “Drop the ‘neighborhood-mom’ act, we know what you are.” She repeated that attack line after winning the Michigan GOP nomination in August.
In early September, Jezebel, CNBC and other outlets reported on court records from Karamo’s child custody case with her ex-husband indicating that she had threatened to kill her own daughters following her husband’s request for a divorce.
They also stated she had been “committed to an institution for evaluation due to her efforts at self-harm and suicide.”
The filings, made in October 2021, also showed that her ex-husband, Adom Karamo, did not believe his ex-wife “is currently in this state of mind, as this was several years ago.”
In response, Karamo released a statement in which she did not deny making the threat, but instead said she had never harmed her children.
“My ex-husband, making false allegations in 2021 on social media and in court documents, was an attempt to exploit the fact that I am a public figure, using it as leverage to change the custody agreement he became dissatisfied with,” she wrote.
While Benson’s campaign declined to comment on the allegations in the court filing, spokeswoman Liz Boyd did tell the Advance that Karamo’s record of election denial is disqualifying.
“Voters can decide how they feel about Kristina Karamo’s statements about everything from eliminating all abortion rights to yoga being a satanic ritual, but first and foremost we hope they focus on the fact she is an election denier who promotes conspiracy theories and who isn’t the least bit interested in protecting their voice, their vote or improving branch office services,” said Boyd.
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