Gov. Whitmer Confronts a Coalition of Cops and Militias

October 14th, 2020 - by Gretchen Whitmer / The Washington Post & Christopher Mathias / HuffPost

I Will Hold the President Accountable for Endangering and Dividing America

Gretchen Whitmer / The Washington Post

 (October 11, 2020) — When I addressed the people of Michigan on Thursday to comment on the unprecedented terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against 13 men, some of whom were preparing to kidnap and possibly kill me, I said, “Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan.” I meant it. But just moments later, President Trump’s campaign adviser, Jason Miller, appeared on national television accusing me of fostering hatred.

I’m not going to waste my time arguing with the president. But I will always hold him accountable. Because when our leaders speak, their words carry weight.

When our leaders encourage domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit. And when a sitting president stands on a national stage refusing to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, as President Trump did when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate, he is complicit. Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry. As a call to action.

2020 should be the year for national unity. In the midst of the worst public health crisis we have seen in our lifetimes, we should all come together as Americans to fight covid-19 and protect each other.

But this country is more divided than ever. And instead of uniting the country, our president has spent the past seven months denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, and fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division. He has proved time and again that he is more focused on his chances in the upcoming election and picking fights with me and Democrats across the country than he is on protecting our families, front-line workers and small businesses from covid-19.

As a result, at least 212,000 Americans are dead. More than 60 million have filed for unemployment. And still, the president has not developed a national strategy on testing, protective medical equipment or masks.

This year has been hard for all of us. It’s been hard for our doctors and nurses, for truck drivers and grocery store workers, for teachers and students and parents, and for those who have had to stay isolated to stay safe. And it is not over yet.

I’ve said it many times — we are not one another’s enemy. This virus is our enemy. And this enemy is relentless. It does not care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, young or old, rich or poor. It does not care if we are tired of it.

It threatens us all — our lives, our families, our jobs, our businesses and our economy. It preys on our elderly and medically vulnerable residents, and it has exposed deep inequities in our society.

For the past seven months, I have made the tough choices to keep our state safe. These have been gut-wrenching decisions no governor has ever had to make.

When I get out of bed every morning, I think about the high school seniors, such as my daughter, who missed graduation ceremonies. I think about those who have missed weddings and funerals. I think about all the parents who are working from home, making breakfast every day, logging kids into their Zoom classes and doing laundry. I think about the small-business owners who spent a lifetime building something great, who are now hanging on by their fingernails just to keep the lights on.

And I think about the 212,000 Americans who have died as a result of this virus. Deaths that could have been avoided, had the president treated covid-19 like the crisis he has known it to be from the beginning.

The disruption this virus has caused to our daily lives is immeasurable. But our hard work and sacrifices have saved thousands of lives. Michigan has one of the strongest economic recoveries in the nation.

There will be more hard days ahead. But we must all show a little kindness and a lot more empathy. Give one another some grace. And let’s take care of each other.

Wear your mask. Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands frequently. And look out for your neighbors.

We will get through this together.

William Null (left), charged in a plot to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, appears onstage alongside County Sheriff Dar Leaf at a rally on May 18, 2020. (Photo: Fox17)

Whitmer Plot Lays Bare Cooperation Between Law Enforcement and Militias

Christopher Mathias / HuffPost

*October 11, 2020) — One of the men charged this week in a militia plot to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan shared the stage earlier this year with an extremist sheriff at an anti-lockdown rally, highlighting the often cozy relationship across America between law enforcement and violent right-wing paramilitary groups. 

William Null, 38, was among seven men arrested this week in Michigan on state charges of material support for terrorist acts and possessing firearms in the commission of a felony. Prosecutors allege Null is a member of a far-right militia group called the “Wolverine Watchmen” that had teamed up with another militia contingent in a plot to, among other things, kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmerand put her on trial for “treason.” Six other men in the plot were also arrested Thursday on federal kidnapping charges. 

After the arrests, Fox17 reported that the Null was among the armed attendees of a May rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, against Whitman’s lockdown measures to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus. 

Fox17 showed footage of Null appearing onstage at the rally, carrying a long gun and standing alongside Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf as the sheriff lashed out at Whitmer in a speech to the crowd.

In a shocking interview with Fox 17 on Thursday, Leaf said he had no regrets for having appeared at the rally with the recently arrested militiaman. He added that he knew Null — as well as his identical twin, Michael, who was also arrested in the terror plot — and called the brothers “nice” and “respectful.” He also appeared to defend the Nulls’ motive for the alleged kidnapping plot, arguing that there’s a legal argument to be made that Whitmer should be arrested for imposing coronavirus restrictions. 

What Leaf did not address in his Fox 17 interview, however, is his membership in the right-wing extremist “constitutional sheriffs” movement — a close ally of America’s armed militias — that has gained a concerning momentum during the era of President Donald Trump.

Leaf, according to a database created by the social justice think tank Political Research Associates, attended the 2019 conference of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

The CSPOA is the flagship organization of the constitutional sheriff’s movement, which maintains that sheriffs are the ultimate law-enforcement authority in their respective counties, outranking officials from the federal or state government. Constitutional sheriffs are part of the broader antigovernment “patriot” movement in the US, which is animated by a multitude of conspiracy theories about immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gun control measures, and a coming “New World Order.”

The CSPOA also has a close working relationship with armed far-right paramilitary groups. Among those who attended the 2019 CSPOA conference with Leaf was Stewart Rhodes, leader of the national militia organization the Oath Keepers

Leaf did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for comment on his affiliation with CSPOA on Friday. According to Political Research Associates, the sheriff was also the signee of a 2014 CSPOA resolution. In 2013, a far-right patriot group listed Leaf as an ally. 

“One of the things that has been concerning [about] constitutional sheriffs more broadly, is that they have been normalizing a relationship between elected officials and self-proclaimed militias,” Cloee Cooper, a research analyst at Political Research Associates, told HuffPost

Last month, Cooper published a map showing 401 documented “constitutional sheriffs” across the US since 2013, 161 of whom are currently in office. 

One of the goals of these sheriffs, Cooper said, is to legitimize militia groups and turn them into “sheriff’s posses” who can be enlisted to patrol their respective city’s streets. 

The danger of law enforcement lending credibility to such groups has come into clear focus over the last four years, as militias have been implicated in violent plots targeting Muslimsleftist and anti-racist protesters, and most recently, the governor of Michigan. 

Such groups have also enjoyed the endorsement and encouragement of the Trump administration, which shares militia groups’ bigoted and conspiratorial views about Muslims and immigrants. 

Constitutional sheriffs have been a regular fixture of anti-lockdown protests across the U.S, like the one the Null twins attended with Leaf in Grand Rapids. 

Organizers of that event — titled “American Patriot Rally-Sheriffs speak out” — encouraged attendees to show up armed. A promotional video for the event included photoshopped images of Whitmer against a backdrop of former communist leaders, comparing her coronavirus restrictions to Stalinism. 

The organizers of that rally were also behind an April 30 anti-lockdown protest in Lansing, Michigan, where armed protesters entered the state capitol building, disrupting a legislative session. 

Among those spotted in the Capitol were the Null brothers, prosecutors announced on Thursday. They can be seen in a photo posted to Twitter that day by Democratic state Sen. Dana Lynn Polehanki. 

“Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us,” Polehanki wrote. “Some of my colleagues who own bullet-proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today.” 

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