One of the highest-profile domestic terrorism cases in recent memory is now, according to a Trump-backed Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, a punchline.
In 2020, federal officials interrupted a kidnapping plot that targeted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), leading to criminal charges against six people and convictions for two of them last month. Whitmer’s rival in the November general election referenced the plot Friday, drawing laughter from supporters. Twice.
At one event, the Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon, said, “The sad thing is 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.”
Dixon drew applause and laughter with the line, according to video posted online by a reporter in attendance. She spoke while standing in front of a backdrop that read “Michigan Families United,” an organization that says it advocates for “a family-friendly agenda” for the state.
At another event on Friday, Dixon said that when Whitmer appeared with President Biden at an auto show in Detroit recently, her facial expression appeared to say, “I’d rather be kidnapped by the FBI,” CNN reported.
Later, she added: “I think when you’re being attacked every day, you have to have a little levity in things — we can still have fun.”
Dixon made the remarks as she was joined on the campaign trail by former president Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and top adviser Kellyanne Conway. The former president, who endorsed Dixon right before her August primary, will hold a rally with Dixon and other candidates in the state Oct. 1.
Maeve Coyle, a spokeswoman for Whitmer’s campaign, said in a statement, “Threats of violence … are no laughing matter,” adding that “the fact that Tudor Dixon thinks it’s a joke shows that she is absolutely unfit to serve in public office.”
The comments come amid a backdrop of growing concerns by Democrats that Republican rhetoric is stoking threats of political violence, particularly against federal officials after a court-ordered search of Trump’s Florida home for classified government documents he stored there.
Even before a mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory in the presidential election, Michigan had seen its top government office overtaken by armed protesters.
In April 2020, Michigan’s Capitol was stormed by protesters with guns who said they wanted the state to lift safety measures put in place during the pandemic. “A handful of them, wearing camouflage fatigues with semiautomatic rifles slung over their shoulders, watched ominously from the gallery above the Senate chamber as the elected officials did their work,” the New York Times reported.
Less than six months later, the FBI charged six men with planning to kidnap Whitmer, and several others with plans to attack law enforcement officials, overthrow the government and ignite a civil war. One person in the group, Adam Fox, spoke about needing “200 men” to storm the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., and take hostages, including Whitmer, according to prosecutors. Fox said they would try Whitmer for “treason” before the election in November, they said.
Fox and another defendant, Barry Croft Jr., were convicted by a federal jury on two charges of conspiracy, one related to the kidnapping scheme and another to obtain and use a weapon of mass destruction. The men face life in prison.
At the time, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) condemned the suspects on Twitter, writing: “A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all.”
He added: “We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots.”
A spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association called Dixon’s comments on Friday “dangerous.” He added that the remarks are “utterly disqualifying for the role of Michigan governor.”