Amid GOP backlash to Gotion plant, exec rebukes conspiracy of ‘communist plot’ in Big Rapids

By: - April 6, 2023 3:24 am

Gotion plant rendering | Courtesy of MEDC

A township meeting in West Michigan was forced to go virtual Wednesday out of safety concerns, as the area’s plan to welcome a $2.36 billion electric vehicle (EV) battery factory continues to clash with Republicans who claim that the project is a front for a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plot.

“Despite what any current politicians might say, there is no communist plot within Gotion,” said Chuck Thelen, the company’s vice president for North American operations. 

A new Gotion facility near Big Rapids in Mecosta County could lead to the company investing billions in the state and creating 2,000 new jobs over the next decade, state officials have said. The manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles is headquartered in California and is a subsidiary of the Chinese company Guoxuan High-Tech Co.

Gotion and economic developers have been making the case for the project to Green Charter Township residents, but it has been a target of Republican ire in Michigan since last year.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the Michigan Inauguration on Jan. 1, 2023. | Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in October signed a bipartisan supplemental spending bill including tax breaks for several companies that vowed to invest in Michigan, including Gotion.

“I am proud that Republicans and Democrats worked across the aisle to build up our economic development toolkit and empowered Michigan to compete for every project and every job,” Whitmer said in an October statement. “Together, we will continue winning investments in this space and become the preeminent destination for electric vehicle and mobility companies. We will work with anyone and compete with everyone to keep bringing supply chains of batteries, chips, and electric vehicles home to Michigan.”

Among the first GOP figures to start claiming Gotion is tied to the CCP in an effort to pressure Whitmer and local leaders to back out of the deal was then-GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon. Now a podcast host following her 2022 election loss, Dixon has repeatedly pushed the claims on Twitter, often calling Gotion a “national security threat.”

The “communism scare,” Thelen said during the virtual panel discussion Wednesday, does not have “any basis in fact whatsoever.” He added that never before in his years serving the company has he encountered accusations of a communist plot, or heard any other Gotion leaders around the country express a pro-CCP position.

He also debunked the rumor that Gotion plans to bring in 11,000 Chinese nationals to run the Michigan plant, confirming instead that local hires will be prioritized, while roughly 20 to 50 Gotion workers will initially help with training before departing.

“I’m slated to be plant manager, and I can assure you, I’m not a communist,” Thelen said.

Although the plant isn’t slated to be built in Muskegon County, the county GOP called on people to protest at the Wednesday meeting before it was moved to the virtual format. After it was moved online, Muskegon County GOP said there were still plans in place to protest from the sidewalk outside.

“We need to show up in HUGE numbers to let the elected officials know we do not want the communist business here,” reads the March 29 post titled, “Ground Zero; The Communist Take-Over In Michigan.”

The Muskegon County Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment.

However, GOP lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), state Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) and state Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Osseo), have spoken out against the project.

“We haven’t done any vetting to ensure this partnership is a wise choice for our state and our nation, yet we’re jumping into bed with the CCP,” Fink said in a March statement. 

He added that the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and Department of Defense should be called upon to examine the “potential national security and espionage threat of the new plants.”

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar | Ken Coleman

Moolenaar released a lengthy statement Tuesday also pushing back against the project, referencing everything from the Chinese “spy balloon” to a COVID-19 “coverup” by the CCP, fentanyl production for Mexican cartels and Taiwan military training in Michigan.

But Thelen pointed out that there are already more than 50 Chinese companies in Michigan that have “never … threaten[ed] our way of life.”

“I’ve never seen or heard of any kind of push to bring some underground communist plot into Big Rapids,” Thelen said, adding that “fear is an incompetent teacher.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.