Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who has become the subject of violent threats ahead of a protest planned at the state capitol on Thursday, denounced the comments as “beyond the pale.”
“I’m increasingly concerned about the violent nature of the extreme comments that are being made around these organizations and groups that are coming together,” she said at her Monday press briefing. “The violent, racist, extreme rhetoric that has already been connected to Thursday’s rally and that was reported by the Metro Times today, I think, is — concerning isn’t a strong enough word.”
The Detroit Metro Times infiltrated private Facebook groups with names such as “People of Michigan v. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer” and “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” and found a bevy of threatening comments against the governor. Many called her a tyrant and advocated for her assassination.
The rally Thursday is being planned by a group called Michigan United for Liberty. Though organizers did not respond to TPM’s questions, the group’s website says that so far 354 people have RSVP’d.
“The legislators continue to play scheduling games with us, so we will be there whether they are or not, in large numbers,” the event description reads. “We will gather to raise awareness of the many hypocrisies of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and to give a voice to the voiceless.”
Organizers offer examples of slogans for protesters’ signs including “Whitmer doesn’t wear a mask, why should I?!” and “#StopTheTyranny.”
At her press briefing, Whitmer implored Republican leaders of the legislature to “step up” and “denounce” the threats preceding Thursday’s rally.
“In America, we respect people’s right to speak out — but they have a duty to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise others or threaten others,” she said. “I ask that people be respectful of their fellow Michiganders and that anyone with an office or title or platform uses it to help bring down the heat.”
The Lansing capitol building has become a popular site for reopen protests, as some in the state chafe under Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders. At the end of April, armed protesters swarmed the building after congregating on its lawn, some heckling lawmakers from the public galleries above the chamber floors. Pictures of the protesters screaming at police officers and toting guns were widely circulated.
On Monday, the Michigan State Capitol Commission took up the question of whether to ban firearms from the capitol building.
State Attorney General Dana Nessel advised the commissioners that they did have the authority to bar the weapons from the premises, arguing in a formal opinion that open carry laws do not grant gun owners “the unfettered right to bring firearms into any public space.”
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) blasted out a letter of his own, calling on the commission to delay its decision until its members had conferred with legislative leaders, the House and Senate sergeants and Michigan state police. He said that the hot button issue would only be “further aggravated by hasty policy implementation.”
The commission ultimately kicked the can down the road, voting to set up a special committee to further examine the question.
Gary Randall, the clerk of the House and a commissioner, bemoaned that the apolitical body was being dragged into the debate.
“We’ve been thrown into an issue that, by its very nature, has political implications,” he said during a video call.
“I don’t like seeing weapons in the building either but I think we have to be very careful we’re not overstepping our bounds,” said commissioner John Truscott.
During her press briefing, Whitmer reacted to the commission’s punt, which means that firearms will still be allowed in the capitol for Thursday’s rally.
“I am very disappointed that the Capitol Commission didn’t take action today to keep legislators safe,” she said, adding that she’d heard stories about some state lawmakers who were afraid to come into work.