'Anti-Jewish hate is no longer operating on the fringes'

More than four in ten American Jews feel less safe than they did a year ago, with nearly that same number altering their behavior out of fear of antisemitism.

That’s according to the American Jewish Committee’s State of Antisemitism in America Report for 2022, which utilizes a set of surveys to assess and compare the perception of antisemitism of both the Jewish and general populations in the United States.

The survey, released on Feb. 13, found that 41% of American Jews said their status in the United States is less secure than it was in 2021 when 31% gave that same answer.

“Anti-Jewish hate is no longer operating on the fringes; it has moved to the center of American society, politics, entertainment and sports,” said Ted Deutch, CEO of the American Jewish Committee. “Its impact on the Jewish community is terrifying.”

Additionally, 38% of Jewish respondents reported that they have altered their behavior at least once in the past year due to fears of antisemitism, including avoiding posting online content and wearing or displaying items that would enable others to identify them as Jewish. In fact, about 16% said they even avoided “certain places, events or situations due to concerns about their safety or comfort as Jews.”

As surprising as those statistics may be to some, they aren’t unexpected for leaders and others in Michigan’s Jewish community, like Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, who leads the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Metro Detroit in Farmington Hills.

“It’s rolled in waves,” Falick said of antisemitism. “There’s never been a time that Jews have been completely embraced. There have been times where things have quieted, and I would say probably we look back on the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s as a time where Jews were a little bit more embraced. Some of it had to do with a little bit of a love affair with Israel. But I don’t really see this as a new phenomenon.”

However, Falick says that doesn’t in any way diminish the threat that American Jews, including his congregants, are facing.

“I think people are upset,” he said. “We had that terrible incident at Temple Beth El [in Bloomfield Hills]. We’ve had other incidents like that all over the country. We’ve also witnessed the worst massacre of Jews in American history in Pittsburgh. And we’ve also seen multipleattacks on synagogues and the American Jewish community. And we are not any different there. We may be humanist, but we’re still humans in the sense that we’re Jewish humans who are scared of what’s going on.”

The surveys, which were conducted both by phone and online by the independent research firm SSRS, interviewed 1,507 American Jews, ages 18 or older, and 1,004 responders from the general population. The margin of error was about 3.5%.

While almost nine in 10 of both American Jews (89%) and the general public in the U.S. (91%) agree antisemitism affects American society as a whole, there is some divergence when it comes to its seriousness. Although 48% of Jews believe antisemitism is taken less seriously than other forms of hate and bigotry, that same feeling is expressed by just 34% of the general population.

Meanwhile, the survey also shows that antisemitic content is increasingly making its way into people’s lives through the internet and social media.

Over the past 12 months, 69% of U.S. Jews say they experienced antisemitism online, either as a direct target or by coming across antisemitic content, with younger Jews even more so. 85% of those 18 to 29 years old said they’d had such encounters compared with 64% of those aged 30 or older.

And of those who experienced antisemitism online, 26% of younger Jews say it made them feel physically threatened, while just 14% of those aged 30 and up felt that way.

American Jewish Committee’s State of Antisemitism in America Report for 2022

In addition, among the 36% of U.S. general population adults who have personally witnessed one or more antisemitic incidents in the past year, 82% saw those incidents online or on social media, while 19% saw them on the street, 14% saw them in a store and 10% saw them on public transit.

For Falick, the statistics are an important tool to help quantify something that often resists a clear definition.

“There really is something unique about hatred of the Jews that it doesn’t find one set of stereotypes and lock onto them as we see with a lot of groups,” he said. “It kind of embraces everything you might personally hate. You could put it on a Jew if you’re left-wing or if you’re right-wing. There’s always a stereotype that you can associate with the Jews.”

Carolyn Normandin, the director of the Michigan Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said the report was “very troubling.”

“These surveys need to be looked at carefully for what they say,” she said. “The AJC survey is talking about almost half of Jews [feeling] less secure about their status in the United States. And that goes very, very close to what we found at ADL, which is 20% of Americans believing more than six of the anti-Semitic tropes. I mean, that’s a large number. That’s a tremendously troublesome figure.”

Normandin was referring to a report released in January in which the ADL, in cooperation with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago (NORC) and the One8 Foundation, conducted its own study to measure antisemitism in America.

It found that more than three-quarters of Americans, 85%, believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, as opposed to 61% found in 2019. The 20% of Americans who believe six or more tropes is nearly double the 11% that ADL found in 2019 and is the highest level measured in decades.

These tropes include:

Jews stick together more than other Americans
Jews always like to be at the head of things
Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America
Jews have too much power in the business world
Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street
Jews have too much power in the United States today

Normandin says antisemitism is often built on conspiracy theories.

“All of the tropes are conspiratorial,” she said, pointing to the recent severing of ties by Adidas with rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, after he appeared with right-wing radio host Alex Jones on his Infowars show and praised Adolf Hitler amidst an antisemitic diatribe.

“There was a backlash against Jewish people when Adidas dropped him as a spokesperson, and people said, ‘Oh, the Jews have done it again. They’ve silenced Kanye West,’ said Normandin. “Nobody silenced him. There were consequences for his actions. Just like anybody who goes against their employer or goes against the brand of their employer or gets crosswise with the employer’s sense of values can face consequences.”

Normandin said that Jewish people are often targets of conspiracies that can involve other marginalized groups.

“A lot of times something that starts with another group of people ends with the Jews,” she said. “So what we saw during COVID-19 was this backlash against Asian Americans, which is ridiculous, but what we saw quickly was all of a sudden, ‘The pandemic, it’s the Jews’ fault. The Jews introduced COVID because the Jews have the antidote or have the vaccine, and Israel’s gonna make money on it.’

“That in of itself is one of the more insidious problems with antisemitism. People who hold antisemitic points of view also hold anti-Asian points of view or anti-gay points of view or anti-Black points of view. So a lot of times, antisemitism is a precursor for other types of hatred,” said Normandin.

State Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), the founder of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, said the Jewish community knows that these rising threats aren’t occurring in a vacuum.

“You know, we have rising political violence, threats against public officials, we’ve even received threats to our lives as Jewish officials since we’ve been sworn in,” he said, adding that it was just another example of the growing trend. “It’s very disturbing. It’s very exhausting.”

Arbit was referring to the arrest of an individual accused of threatening the lives of unspecified Jewish elected officials in Michigan. His office released a statement early Wednesday expressing his “sincere gratitude” to the FBI teams in Dallas and Detroit for their “swift response” to the incident.

“This incident is disturbing because it is consistent with the untempered rise in antisemitism, white nationalism, and hate crimes targeting Jews across the country, as well as increased political violence and threats against public officials — particularly right here in Michigan,” he said.

Arbit told the Advance that the incident would not deter their work to find solutions to try and stem the tide of hate.

“I was very heartened to see in the governor’s [Gretchen Whitmer] executive budget recommendation, for the first time I believe, certainly the first time since she’s been governor, a recommendation that the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes have a special line item in the budget.”

The Alliance is a statewide coalition of law enforcement agencies, civil rights organizations, community-based groups, educators, and anti-violence advocates.

American Jewish Committee’s State of Antisemitism in America Report for 2022

Arbit says the $574,000 proposed for the group within the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) budget would be the first time the state will “fully fund the MDCR and make sure that department is actually fully staffed, fully functional and can protect people.”

Arbit says he’s also moving forward on his plan, reported on by the Advance in December, to update the state’s ethnic intimidation statute, which he believes is vague and insufficient. He said there would be a rollout in March.

“That’s the work that I’m trying to do, that I promised my constituents that I would do,” Arbit said. “And, you know, I was criticized for that by some politicians who were elected previously by saying that wasn’t a kitchen-table issue. But I think issues like this very much are kitchen table issues because everyone has the right to navigate through life being safe and well in their communities.”

Arbit also said he’s working on codifying the definition of antisemitism into the law in terms of civil statutes.

“That’s the best place to do it, “ Arbit said, “Basically, to make sure that state agencies and institutions have sort of a guideline for how to look at what is hate against Jewish people — what does that look like?”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

School board meeting goes off the rails amid furious battle with right-wing 'parental rights' activists

Threats of rape and selections from a pornographic website were some of the features at a meeting last week of a school board in Southeast Michigan.

Milan Area Schools, which serves students in both Washtenaw and Monroe counties, has not been immune from the ongoing battle from right-wing “parental rights” activists with complaints starting last year over the content of certain books available to students that often involve LGBTQ+ issues. That follows protests in 2020 from activists over masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Leading that charge in Milan has been Jayme McElvany, a well-known activist who organized Let Them Play Inc., a group that had sued the state to end COVID-19 restrictions on high school sports. While that lawsuit ultimately failed in the courts, the state ended its ban on contact sports soon after it was filed.

In addition to saying she attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally in Washington D.C., that later resulted in a mob storming the Capitol building, McElvany has also prominently posted debunked election fraud conspiracies and QAnon rhetoric.

She was a featured guest at a 2021 rally for Garrett Soldano, a failed 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate who also weighed in on Facebook on the Milan school board meeting.

McElvany, whose child graduated from the district in June, has been speaking out at Milan school board meetings since last summer and again addressed the board on Jan. 12, when she launched into three minutes of sexually explicit dialogue she said came from books at Milan High School.

As she spoke, an acquaintance held up various books while McElvany read aloud passages depicting sexual acts.

When her three minutes were up, she then held up a piece of paper and shouted, “All the stuff I read right here was from Penthouse,” before pointing to the books and saying, “And these books are from your school. How is that OK?”

But to many observers it was not at all clear what she had been reading and they came away with the impression that most, if not all, of what she quoted was from Penthouse, a magazine and website that has adult pornographic content.

McElvany told the Michigan Advance her intent was to compare passages from books in the school’s library with those found in Penthouse.

“Actually, if you watch the video, the parts I read from Penthouse were extremely mild compared to what I read from the books,” she said. “They should be ashamed that they couldn’t even tell the difference between that book and the books from their school library.”

The Michigan Parent Alliance for Safe Schools (MIPASS), a grassroots group of parents from across the state that advocates for school safety, condemned the incident in an online post.

“Under no circumstance are such books being read to children by their teachers,” stated the post. “Yet this person took it upon herself to read actual pornography in front of several minors who were at the meeting without their parents’ knowledge or permission. The books these individuals question are typically not part of any required reading and these parents ALREADY have the right to notify the school district of books they do not want their children to check out. However, these parents also believe themselves to be legal experts on what the definitions of ‘porn,’ ‘sexually explicit’ and ‘obscene’ are when it comes to these books. Labeling a book as such, does not make it so. Removing a book prior to finding that it indeed meets the criteria, is a first amendment violation.”

MIPASS says such behavior “is emboldening the worst among us to make death and rape threats to teachers and board members in the Milan School District.”

Later in the meeting, a board member addressed that very issue.

“It becomes very difficult though to continue to compromise and have honest discussions about these books when the following language is routinely thrown at you: ‘disgusting, shameful, pervert, groomer,’” said Board Secretary Michelle Heikka. “The playbook seems to be that if I can’t convince you of my point of view, I’ll resort to name calling and try and get you there. And once you reduce someone to something as horrific as a pervert or a groomer, the next step becomes very easy and it incites some to actually resort to physical threats.”

Heikka then read several profane comments the board had received concerning their unwillingness to simply ban books outright and instead commit to a review process.

“You stupid c–t,” read one. “You best remove those books from the library like ASAP dumb f–ks. You are all brainwashed. Perhaps too many vaccines.”

“You are a piece of s–t and you know that,” read another. “You sold your soul to Satan. I hope one of those parents kicks the s–t out of you. Stay away from vaccines. It’s quite obvious it has warped your brains. Burn in hell.”

Heikka then quoted a third email, “I pray your families are raped and murdered by the trash crossing the border and you find them in the act, then they do the same to you after making you watch them finish with the others. You are f–king scum.”

Heikka noted that comments on Facebook suggested that tarring and feathering the board might be an option or even having them criminally charged.

“None of this solves the real issues that our schools are facing,” she said “Us board members are dealing with death and rape threats instead of curriculum safety, our students’ mental health, their preparedness to enter the world when they graduate, and how to recruit and retain quality teachers. I encourage everyone to stop with hyperbole and the name calling and quite frankly the incitement of violence. Let’s focus on the students, their needs and how we can come together to solve these issues our schools and community are facing.”

When asked about the threats of violence, McElvany called them “horrific” and “100% unacceptable,” but then used language that could seemingly justify it.

“You would think that this would be one topic that the two sides would be able to come together on,” she said. “But the minds of these children are precious and must be protected at all costs. Obviously there are going to be some things that the sides disagree on as far as what they want their child to have access to, but I don’t understand how a single parent on the planet would want their child reading this stuff. It’s mind-blowing to me.”

The threats were not only directed at board members, but at students, as well.

One student who spoke at the meeting expressed exasperation at the notion fellow students were being scandalized by the books.

“This is getting pretty old,” he said. “You guys reading this stuff, it’s really not that bad. Your kids can just look this stuff up on their phone. Your kids all have phones. They’re not going to check books out of the library just to read that. They’re not. They’re teenagers. What do you expect? Just get over yourself. You’re not protecting them from anything.”

He then said that the books in question were better than many things they can find on the internet.

“You know, reading does make them a bit smarter. Rather them do that than, you know, watch porn on the internet. Just saying, just a lesser of two evils. So, you know, stop reading the porn. It gets kind of annoying. I’m kind of tired of hearing it.”

However, that statement was twisted in a social media post by Soldano, who is seeking to be co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party on a ticket with Matt DePerno, who is running to be chair.

Soldano lost the Michigan GOP gubernatorial primary in August, while DePerno was defeated in his bid last November to be attorney general. Both DePernor and GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon campaigned hard on anti-LGBTQ+ and parental rights issues.

On his campaign Facebook page, Soldano posted an edited clip of the student speaking and took the statement out of context.

“Student says reading [porn] makes you smarter, so it’s better than watching porn on the internet,” said the post. “It’s unfortunate that these adults are manipulating the minds of these young children.”

That elicited a string of responses that included calling the student a “weirdo,” “porn addict,” “basement dweller,” and “heathen” along with one threat that “this kid needs to get his teeth knocked out.” Another posted the student’s name, which the Advance is not printing, as he is a minor.

Soldano posted a photo of himself, DePerno and a group of right-wing activists he calls his “grassroots army” at the school board meeting.

A request for comment to Soldano about the violent rhetoric went unreturned.

Garrett Soldano participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, June 2, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Among the books McElvany says she quoted from at the meeting were “Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah Maas and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe. While a judge in Virginia ruled last year that neither book is obscene, “Gender Queer,” which details Kobabe’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, was labeled by the American Library Association as the most banned book of 2021.

Also on that list was “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, which McElvany and other Milan parents object to being available to students in Milan. That particular book is a memoir of Johnson’s journey growing up as a queer Black man.

Because many of the books are written by, and/or have characters who represent, BIPOC and the LGBTQ+ community, McElvany says she and others critical of the literature have been unfairly characterized as being biased.

“Every time we read the books out loud, the opposing side would say, ‘These books are not pornographic; you’re just racist’ if a character or author happened to be other than white,” she said. “Or they would say, ‘You’re just homophobic’ if the character or author happened to be part of the LGBTQ group. Or they would say ‘you’re victim shamers’ if the book happened to be about rape or incest. We continually insisted that none of those things were true, but that all of these books were pornographic/sexually explicit.”

However, McElvany over the weekend posted a video on Facebook attacking a program through the National Education Association (NEA) LGBTQ+ Caucus that provides badges to teachers that say, “I’m Here” in order to “tell everyone that you are a safe person with whom to discuss LGBTQ+ issues,” says the group’s website. “Affirming LGBTQ+ youth couldn’t be easier than by identifying yourself as a safe and supportive person.”

The back of the badge contains a QR code that leads to an “I’m HERE Toolkit” that includes links to a variety of LGBTQ+ issues, organizations, and resources.

In the video, McElvany questions why the online toolkit contains explicit sex education information, including about various forms of masturbation.

“The problem that people have right now with the books and then with this crap is, ‘Why is everything about sex?’ I know so many members of the LGBTQ community that are disgusted by this because it’s like, ‘We’re not all about sex. It’s not everything that we do or think is sex, sex, sex and push sex on these kids,’ she says. “I want to read some of this to you guys so you guys can be as baffled as me. Again, this isn’t about LGBTQ, this is about sexually explicit repulsive disgustingness. That’s what it is.”

McElvany mentions that the issue over the badges has created “big fights” in Ohio and indeed, a controversy over the badges erupted in September in Hilliard City Schools in Columbus when parents expressed outrage over the explicit nature of the information found in the online toolkit.

However, the Hilliard Education Association, which sponsored the badge program, said the toolkit was not for students.

“The QR code on the back of the badge links to a long list of resources for educators –not students—to ensure trusted adults are equipped to support their students and provide assistance as needed,” read a statement on their website.

After noting that LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers due to being stigmatized by the people around them, the HEA said the “I’m Here” program is needed to show kids there are adults who care about and value who they are.

“Unfortunately, extremists working to amplify the playbooks of a national network of political radicals are once again trying to manufacture controversy and weaponize LGBTQ+ issues,” said the group, adding that LGBTQ+ kids “don’t need to have pundits and political puppeteers spinning up a moral panic around badges that simply identify some educators as trusted adults. It’s disingenuous and cruel, and we must all come together to demand better for our kids.”

Back in Milan, however, Heikka said that great lengths had been undertaken to ensure that parents did have a voice in the type of material their children could read.

“There is a compromise here that we can work towards so that we can address the concerns of those who don’t think that children should be able to read these books and those who believe that these books provide important windows and representation for some of our children,” she said. “That’s exactly why I proposed early on our new policy here at the schools where as parents you can sign up and so that you will get a notification from the school every time your child checks out a book and then you can exercise your parental choice and decide whether or not your child can read that. It’s also exactly why at the last board meeting that I made the motion that the book ‘Fun Home’ (by Alison Bechdel) would be removed from the shelf and would be segregated and required parental consent before that book can be viewed or checked out by anyone in the district.”

Another parent who addressed the board Thursday, Ashley St. Clair, spoke to that very point and questioned whether critics like McElvany were actually interested in finding common ground.

“It seems to me that the district’s just trying to help make sure that the parents are staying informed as to their children’s choices,” said St. Clair. “Is it the school board that took a book from the general circulation that now needs parental consent to even look at, let alone check out of the library? Because it seems like you guys (the board) are actually trying to make it harder for kids to get their hands on those books. Could it be the teachers that don’t have any of these books as required reading? I think the teachers are just trying to get the kids to actually do their homework and participate in class. Or is it just the librarian who keeps a book on a shelf?”

St. Clair said she emailed the district to see how many times the books in question have been checked out.

“Surely, if they are being pushed onto our kids, they must be flying off of the shelves,” she said. “It turns out your kids are not reading these books. Let’s start with the book that the board just pulled from the shelves, Fun Home. It was checked out one time in 2022 and one time in 2021. Now it does get interesting though when you get to the book, ‘Push.’

“Between 2010 and 2020, that book was only checked out 12 times in 10 years. One time in 2021 and seven times in 2022. So it kind of is showing that the parents who keep coming to these meetings are peaking the interest of the student body. It seems like the people pushing these books on kids are the very adults yelling at school board meetings about them, compiling them into easily accessible public lists and reading them aloud on their public Facebook pages for everyone to hear and enjoy. It’s almost like if you tell kids not to read something, they will.”

As for the continued protests at school board meetings, MIPASS said last Thursday’s gathering in Milan represented a new low and one that could no longer be ignored.

“A series of cases have already ruled on these issues and therefore we are calling on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue an opinion in order to put a stop to the madness taking over our schools, before someone gets hurt,” said the group.

A message was sent to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office asking for a comment on the MIPASS request, but was not returned.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Michigan Republicans whine as they express difficulty dealing with their loss of power

Several Republican legislators are protesting their committee assignments in the Michigan House as they continue to adjust to the fact that the GOP is now in the minority.

Democrats are in control of the House for the first time since 2010 and have taken charge of the Senate for the first time since 1984.

Three of those House members initially denied initial committee assignments have helped, in varying degrees, to perpetuate the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen: State Reps. Angela Rigas (R-Hastings), Mike Hoadley (R-Au Gres) and Matt Maddock (R-Milford). However, all three were later added to the House Committee on Housing, which Rigas complained was “an obscure housing subcommittee with no clear direction.”

After multiple attempts by Republicans to overturn the 2020 election President Joe Biden won over former President Donald Trump, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly called for investigations and resolutions condemning the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The GOP majority House last term took no action.

Rigas attended the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol where pro-Trump protesters sought to stop Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s win. Rigas claims she had a weapon and was tear-gassed within the Capitol grounds. She has said she considers being called an “insurrectionist” and “terrorist” a “compliment.”

The riot left more than 140 police injured and five people dead.

Maddock was one of 11 Republican House members to put their names to briefs in a failed lawsuit that sought to overturn election results and one of five GOP legislators who attempted to enter the Michigan Capitol on Dec. 14, 2020, with a slate of 16 fake Republican electors — one of whom was his spouse, Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock. The Maddocks also were in Washington, D.C., for pro-Trump protests over the 2020 election and were at a Jan. 5, 2021, rally.

Rigas called her initial lack of an assignment “an apparent act of retribution” for her vote against Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) as House speaker.

Rigas was one of eight Republican House members, all members of the newly declared far-right Freedom Caucus, who voted against Tate in what in the past had been mostly a ceremonial procedure that produced a unanimous tally. Some members who voted against Tate did get assignments.

Tate, who is Black, is the first person of color to serve as House speaker in Michigan.

Rigas said on Thursday she received word from Tate that she would not be serving on any committees along with two other legislators who voted against the new speaker, Hoadley and Maddock.

Hoadley is a freshman who was endorsed in his House run by Trump because he saw “the greatest crime in American history–the theft of the 2020 presidential election.”

This is not the first time that Maddock has clashed with leadership. Last term when Republicans were in the majority, Maddock was booted from the GOP caucus for allegedly failing to keep discussions private. The Advancefirst reported after the November election that Maddock had been welcomed back into the smaller Republican caucus for the 2023-24 term.

Committee is a forum for respectful debate and discussion and some representatives made clear they are most focused on partisan games and division.

– Tate spokesperson Amber McCann

Maddock took to Facebook to complain about his initial lack of a committee assignment, also explicitly connecting it to his vote against Tate.

“I’ve been kicked out of the caucus in the past, given bad committees, removed as chair of committees, because I try to fight for the things I believe in, the things I campaigned on, and the things that will help everyone in Michigan,” said Maddock. “I have a lot of great colleagues, but its hard to stand strong in Lansing. I don’t think many appreciate how powerful leadership is, how influential the lobby is, how many decisions are made by unelected staffers, and how the dishonest Lansing media operates to police dissenters more than it tries to inform readers. It’s going to be a long two years if this week is any indication.”

Rigas called the decision “cheap political theater.”

“It won’t work,” she said. “I won’t be silenced and won’t back down. I will continue to fiercely advocate for my constituents.”

Despite her contention that her vote against Tate was the rationale for her initial lack of a commitment assignment, the other five GOP legislators who also voted against Tate received committee assignments: State Reps. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), James DeSana (R-Carleton), Joseph Fox (R-Tecumseh), Neil Friske (R-Petoskey) and Josh Schriver (R-Oxford).

However, one of them says it wasn’t good enough.

Friske decried his seating on only a single committee, the Families, Children, and Seniors Committee, as “clearly a reprimand for conservative defiance on the vote for Speaker of the House,” adding that he felt “completely disrespected” that his “voice has been actively diminished due to the Democratic-majority.”

Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) commented on Twitter: “Local man feels disrespected by the consequences of his own actions.”

Friske was involved in a lawsuit against Whitmer over her COVID-19 health restrictions. He is the son of former Rep. Richard Friske, who was a former community organizer for George Wallace’s presidential campaign and was embroiled in a scandal when it was discovered he was a pilot for Nazi Germany during World War II.

State Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale), who voted for Tate as speaker, complained that Appropriations subcommittee assignments had yet to be announced this week and took a shot at Democrats as being “disorganized.”

Last session, then-Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) sent a press release on Jan. 21, 2021, announcing committee assignments.

PR House Committees 01212021.docx

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Michigan Supreme Court justice apologizes after igniting a furious backlash

Following a dispute that threatened to upend what had been a promising political alliance, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein on Monday apologized to fellow Justice Kyra Harris Bolden for comments he made regarding her hiring of a clerk who had served prison time for a 1994 robbery in which he fired shots at police.

Both Bolden and Bernstein were nominated by the Michigan Democratic Party in 2022 and campaigned together. While Bernstein won reelection, Bolden, a state lawmaker, finished third. She was then appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for an open slot.

“Today, I apologized to my colleague Justice Kyra Harris Bolden in-person at the Hall of Justice and she has accepted my apology,” said Bernstein’s statement. “I regret overstepping Justice Bolden’s hiring process and should not have disturbed her ability to lead her Chambers.”

In comments made last week to the Detroit News, Bernstein said he was “completely disgusted” by Bolden’s hire of Peter Martel as her clerk, adding that “there are certain jobs you should never be allowed to have after you shoot at a police officer, and one of them is clerking for the highest court in the state. I’m no longer talking to her. We don’t share the same values.”

Martel, 48, earned a law degree following his parole in 2008, worked with the State Appellate Defender Office and was enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Michigan.

However, Martel resigned following Bernstein’s comments, which Bolden accepted.

“He did not want to be a distraction or in any way divert the court from its important work,” she said in a statement. “I respect his decision and do not intend to comment further.”

But others did comment, as criticism of Bernstein came from fellow Michigan Democrats accusing him of improperly interfering with the hiring decision of a fellow justice, especially as Bolden is the first Black female justice in Michigan history.

Criminal justice reform advocates were especially incensed and questioned how Bernstein could be impartial in cases involving law enforcement, given his public comments.

“He was saying he is intensely pro police-officer,” wrote Radley Balko, a former Washington Post opinion columnist who called for Bernstein to resign on his Substack page. “And he said so in order to contrast himself to one of his fellow justices, whose actions he clearly thinks are not only insufficiently deferential to police officers, but were a deliberate effort to signal her hostility to them.”

Even former Chief Justice Bridget McCormack — who Bolden replaced on the bench — defended Martel as one of her best students when she taught at the University of Michigan.

“He’s been open about his past and his regrets about it, and how he’s eager to be an example for others, to show them that you don’t have to be defined by your past,” she said.

In his statement, Bernstein also apologized directly to Martel, and stated his desire to move on from the controversy.

“I would also like to apologize to Mr. Peter Martel. Mr. Martel is not an elected official and my actions invited people into his life in a way that he had not signed up for and he deserved more consideration,” said Bernstein. “I am committed to working with Justice Bolden in the coming years to advance our many shared values, including immediately working to expand opportunities in the legal field for those who have repaid their debts to society.”

However, not everyone was convinced the matter was closed.

“Nothing in Justice Bernstein’s statement accepts accountability for costing someone his job or affirms the critical life experience and value that returning citizens bring to the criminal justice conversation,” tweeted state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia). “This is not an apology.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Barry Croft Jr. sentenced to nearly 20 years for ‘leadership’ role in Whitmer kidnapping plot

The second of two defendants convicted on federal charges of planning to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, has been sentenced to serve nearly two decades in prison.

Calling him “the idea guy” who took a leadership role in the plot, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker on Wednesday ordered that Barry Croft Jr., 46, serve a term of 235 months, or just over 19-and-a-half years.

Croft’s defense attorney, Joshua Blanchard, said he planned to appeal the sentence, which he felt was unnecessarily harsh.

“I object to the sentence as procedurally unreasonable…because the court refused to include full and complete information as I requested in my objections to the presentence report,” he told the judge.

On Tuesday, Jonker sentenced Adam Fox, 39, to 16 years in prison.

Both men were found guilty in August by a federal court jury in Grand Rapids on conspiracy charges connected to a plot to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan.

Fox and Croft were also found guilty of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction related to their attempt to purchase explosives that could be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home in order to slow police responding to the kidnapping.

A mistrial was declared during an initial trial in April for Croft and Fox after a jury could not reach a verdict against the two, while acquitting two others, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Evidence presented during both trials indicated Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout out the area around Whitmer’s second home with Croft and an undercover agent coming along on one of the trips.

Croft, a trucker from Delaware, was also convicted on an additional explosives charge.

While the scheme was seemingly in retaliation for Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic, authorities say the ultimate goal of the defendants was to create chaos in the leadup to the November 2020 election.

Prosecutors sought Croft to be sentenced under an enhancement of terrorism, which Jonker agreed was appropriate. However, the judge declined to use it to impose a life sentence despite statements Croft made that were introduced as evidence at trial.

“This fight started in heaven, gentlemen,” Croft said in recordings that prosecutors played in court. “There’s been giants at my gate before. Not worried about it. I’m getting ready to go f—k him up, and I’m going to hurt him bad. I’m going to terrorize. You want a terrorist? You’ve labeled me a terrorist. I’m going to go be what I am, I’m going to go be what I am.”

Prior to sentencing, Blanchard argued that his client had a serious substance abuse problem and lifelong mental health issues, and pleaded with Jonker to take that into account when handing down a sentence.

“Mr. Croft was not the leader that Adam Fox was,” Blanchard said, adding that Jonker called the terrorism enhancement a “blunt instrument” when he declined to use it to sentence Fox to a life prison term and said that it shouldn’t apply to Croft.

In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler pointed to statements Croft was recorded making, noting in a pre-sentencing memorandum that the terrorism enhancement applies where the felony “involved, or was intended to promote, a federal crime of terrorism,” and that a crime of terrorism is one that “is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”

In court Wednesday, Kessler then quoted Croft from the recordings.

“Once we get a foothold, one criminal governor in our possession and we’ve captured the flag in that state. We can then start to issue terms,” Croft said in the recordings.

Kessler asked that the sentence serve as a deterrent against future plots, noting that while the FBI infiltrated the group early on, it was because of a “lucky break” that someone came forward as soon as the discussion turned to committing violence.

“We may not be so lucky next time,” said Kessler.

The defendants, who called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen, came to the attention of federal law enforcement after a member of the group, U.S Army veteran Dan Chappel, agreed to become an informant after discussion among the plotters began to include explicit plans to attack and kill police who would oppose them.

The FBI arrested the plotters in October 2020 after authorities say they discussed raising $4,000 to purchase the explosive to blow up the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home.

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to convince jurors that authorities had entrapped their clients, whom they described as “big talkers” that liked to smoke marijuana and then indulge in heated rhetoric about Whitmer and the government.

Assisting the prosecution was testimony from two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

'Ringleader' Adam Fox avoids life sentence in Whitmer kidnapping plot, ordered to serve 16 years

The man called the “driving force” behind a plot to kidnap and assassinate Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 has been sentenced to prison, although not nearly as long as prosecutors had sought.

Adam Fox, 39, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker on Tuesday to serve a term of 16 years in prison, with five years of supervised release.

While Fox declined to speak on his own behalf before the sentence was handed down, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler argued for a life term, telling the court that the plot was not about COVID protocols but instead about overthrowing the government.

“This is about something completely different and it’s serious,” Kessler said, adding that Fox and co-defendants “had enough guns and armor for a small war.

“They spent all their free time and money training for it, and they went to the governor’s house in the middle of the night,” Kessler continued. “For anyone who’s a public servant, you have to try and imagine the idea of armed gangs, of private soldiers showing up at your house in the middle of the night. We’ve seen in other countries, that’s how it is. Nobody decent wants a job of being a public servant because they’re afraid. Once we start down that path, it is hard to come back. And I think this sentence needs to say to the public and to everyone who might be deterred, that that is not how things are going to work in America.”

However, Jonker said while Fox’s actions were indeed serious, they didn’t rise to the level of a life sentence, noting among other factors the lack of a previous criminal history. He also said the intervention and quick actions by law enforcement made it unlikely that Fox and his co-defendants would actually have been able to carry out their plan.

The sentence followed the guilty verdict handed down in August by a federal court jury in Grand Rapids on conspiracy charges connected to a plot to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan in retaliation for her COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic.

Also found guilty was Barry Croft Jr., 46. He is set to be sentenced on Wednesday.

It was the second trial for both after a jury in April could not reach a verdict, while acquitting two others, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta.

Authorities say the plotters sought to create chaos in the days leading up to the 2020 general election.

Fox and Croft were also found guilty of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction, related to their attempt to purchase explosives that could be used to blow up a bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home in order to slow police responding to the kidnapping.

Evidence presented during both trials indicated Fox twice traveled to northern Michigan to scout out the area around Whitmer’s second home with Croft and an undercover agent coming along on one of the trips.

Croft, a trucker from Delaware, was also convicted on an additional explosives charge.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a statement after the sentence was announced.

“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that domestic terrorism will not be tolerated,” said Nessel. “Adam Fox’s actions undermined the security of every Michigan resident. I remain deeply grateful to Judge Jonker, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the Michigan State Police and every person who worked together to ensure justice was served.”

Assisting the prosecution was testimony from two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, who earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

The investigation began when a U.S Army veteran, Dan Chappel, agreed to become an informant after joining a group whose members called themselves the Wolverine Watchmen. He said he did so to maintain his firearm skills, but agreed to assist the FBI after discussion among the group turned to making plans for attacking police.

The FBI then placed a pair of informants and another pair of undercover agents in the group, finally deciding to arrest the plotters in October 2020, after authorities say they discussed raising $4,000 to purchase the explosive to blow up the bridge near Whitmer’s vacation home.

Garbin, an airplane mechanic, said the men trained at his other property near Luther, Michigan, constructing a “shoot house” to resemble Whitmer’s vacation home and “assaulting it with firearms.”

Franks backed up Garbin’s testimony, saying the men willingly entered into the plot, the goal of which was to kidnap Whitmer.

In a filing ahead of Tuesday’s sentencing, Kessler said that had the plotters succeeded, Whitmer’s life would have been in great jeopardy.

“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” said Kessler, adding that Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”

Defense attorneys presented a different view, focusing on the approximately $50,000 Chappel was paid for his services and the hours of recorded conversations he had with Fox, described by the government as the group’s leader.

Fox was described at trial by his own attorney, Joshua Gibbons, as lacking those skills, saying, “Adam Fox is not the leader the government wants him to be.“ He was also referred to by his co-defendants as “Captain Autism”.

Instead, Gibbons said Fox was usually high from smoking marijuana while living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop. Gibbons also said Fox sought the approval of Chappel, known as Big Dan, who he said led his client on.

While that portrayal was effective in the first trial, it failed to make an impact on the second jury, which convicted both Fox and Croft on all charges.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Jan. 6 panel report sheds new light on Mich. GOP leaders’ post-2020 election meeting with Trump

With Monday’s historic decision to refer former President Donald Trump and other key Republicans for criminal prosecution, the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol placed Michigan near the center of the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Before referring the former president to the Justice Department for charges, including inciting or aiding an insurrection, the bipartisan panel used its final public meeting to recap its findings of the events and people that culminated in the deadly attack on the Capitol, with particular emphasis on a White House meeting a little more than two weeks after the election in which Trump met with GOP leaders from Michigan.

That was after Trump lost Michigan to President Joe Biden by more than 154,000 votes. Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was less than 11,000 votes.

The Oval Office gathering, which took place on Nov. 20, 2020, included state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell), incoming Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and former House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), along with Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who joined in via telephone.

According to the committee’s summary, Trump and Giuliani “went through a “litany” of false allegations about supposed fraud in Michigan’s election.” It also quoted previously unknown testimony provided to the committee by Chatfield in an “informal” interview in October 2021.

“Chatfield recalled Trump’s more generic directive for the group to “have some backbone and do the right thing,” which he understood to mean overturning the election by naming Michigan’s Electoral College electors for Trump,” stated the report. “Shirkey told Trump that he wouldn’t do anything that would violate Michigan law, and after the meeting ended, issued a joint statement with Chatfield: “We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”

At the time, however, it was unclear exactly what had taken place.

After the meeting, Trump tweeted that it was “much different than reported by the media. We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!”

Meanwhile, Chatfield and other lawmakers were seen drinking champagne at the Trump Hotel in Washington later that night.

In subsequent media interviews, Shirkey said that while the election did come up, he said he told Trump lawmakers had no role in awarding electoral votes.

The committee’s report then detailed what appeared to be retaliatory actions by Trump as Shirkey’s and Chatfield’s unwillingness to violate the law.

“When Trump couldn’t convince Shirkey and Chatfield to change the outcome of the election in Michigan during that meeting or in calls after, he or his team maliciously tweeted out Shirkey’s personal cell phone number and a number for Chatfield that turned out to be wrong,” the report stated. “Shirkey received nearly 4,000 text messages after that, and another private citizen reported being inundated with calls and texts intended for Chatfield.”

The report cites a Detroit News article published just two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt that features screenshots from the former Petoskey resident “being bombarded” with phone calls and text messages from individuals who refused to accept he wasn’t Chatfield.

“The individual, who moved to California months ago, asked for privacy and plans to change phone numbers,” stated the story.

In addition to Trump, the committee also referred Trump associates, including attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to the Justice Department for charges, alleging they likely also played criminal roles.

The Justice Department, which is already investigating Trump’s conduct related to the 2020 election, will determine how to pursue the referrals, which are not binding and essentially symbolic.

Potentially carrying more weight are the referrals the panel made of to the House Ethics Committee of four GOP members of Congress for refusing to testify: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and California’s Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to become the next speaker when Republicans take control of the House in January.

It would be up to the ethics panel, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, to decide whether to proceed with an inquiry into the four members who were named.

However, the committee’s report says all four “had materially relevant communications” with Trump on Jan. 6 and the days leading up to the attack, and withheld that information from the panel.

Jordan dismissed the accusation as a “partisan and political stunt,” Biggs, Perry and McCarthy did not immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.

Michigan also figured prominently in the committee’s investigation of what it called a “scheme … to prepare a series of false Trump electoral slates for seven States Biden actually won.”

“A series of contemporaneous documents demonstrate what President Trump and his allies, including attorney Kenneth Chesebro, were attempting to accomplish: they anticipated that the President of the Senate (which, under the Constitution, is the Vice President) could rely upon these false slates of electors on January 6th to justify refusing to count genuine electoral votes,” said the report. “The false slates were created by fake Republican electors on December 14th, at the same time the actual, certified electors in those States were meeting to cast their States’ Electoral College votes for President Biden.”

Sixteen of those 84 fake electors were from Michigan, including Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, the wife of state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford). The Maddocks are close Trump allies and have several connections to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Just a day beforehand, Matt Maddock and 10 other Republican lawmakers from Michigan wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, urging him not to certify the election, questioning “the validity of hundreds of thousands of ballots” in battleground states.

Meshawn Maddock also helped organize and promote buses of supporters from suburban Detroit to Washington, D.C., for the events that preceded the riot and storming of the Capitol.

The committee’s report then details the efforts that Trump’s allies took to try and complete the scheme, which ultimately relied on Pence to violate his oath of office.

“The fake electors followed Chesebro’s step-by-step instructions for completing and mailing the fake certificates to multiple officials in the U.S. Government, complete with registered mail stickers and return address labels identifying senders,” stated the report.

And in fact, the report lists among its evidence copies produced by the National Archives of the seven slates of electoral votes they received from Trump electors in states that Trump lost, including a certificate and mailing envelope from Michigan dated Dec. 14, 2020.

“Despite pressure from President Trump, Vice President Pence and the Senate parliamentarian refused to recognize or count the unofficial fake electoral votes,” stated the report. “(Counsel to Pence) Greg Jacob testified that he advised Vice President Pence on January 2nd that “none of the slates that had been sent in would qualify as an alternate slate” under the law and that the Senate Parliamentarian “was in agreement” with this conclusion.”

The report concluded that ultimately none of Trump’s efforts succeeded in changing the official results in Michigan, or any of the other six states at the heart of the scheme.

“That these efforts had failed was apparent to Donald Trump and his co- conspirators well before January 6th,” stated the report. “By January 6th, there was no evidence at all that a majority of any State legislature would even attempt to change its electoral votes.”

The committee also noted evidence that even though Trump had been warned that some of the allegations and evidence being cited in an effort to overturn the election was “inaccurate,” he and his attorneys “ultimately filed the complaint with the same inaccurate numbers without rectifying, clarifying, or otherwise changing them.”

The panel concluded: “The numbers were not correct, and President Trump and his legal team knew it.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Wolverine Watchmen defendants sentenced to prison over plot to kidnap and murder Whitmer

Three men convicted for supporting a plot to kidnap and assassinate Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been sentenced to prison.

Pete Musico, 44; his son in-law, Joe Morrison, 28; and Paul Bellar, 24, were sentenced on Thursday by a Jackson County judge after a jury convicted the trio in October of providing “material support” for a terrorist act, which carried a maximum term of twenty years behind bars. They were also convicted of membership in a gang and felony firearms counts.

Musico was ordered to serve consecutive terms of five to 20 years in prison on the supporting terrorism and gang charges and two years for felony firearms. Morrison, meanwhile, was handed consecutive terms of four to 20 years on the first two counts and two years on felony firearms, while Bellar was handed five to 20 year sentences on the first two counts, although they would be served concurrently, and then a consecutive sentence of two years for felony firearms.

Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani argued for tough sentences for all three defendants. In Bellar’s case, she noted that he had many multiple statements about wanting to do serious violence.

“We’re not just talking about inappropriate comments, Judge, or concerning comments,” she said. “We’re talking about comments, and these are all admitted evidence, saying things like, ‘I hope the cops put their back plates in tonight,’ you know, because he wanted to shoot cops in the back,” adding that he had also stated, ‘I swear to God, I’m going to f–king Molotov her house,’ in reference to throwing a Molotov cocktail in the governor’s house because he was mad at her pandemic restrictions. These are not just inappropriate comments.”

The sentences followed a recorded victim impact statement from Whitmer, in which she said she and her family had changed as a result of the plot, and asked the judge to impose a sentence that “meets the gravity of what they have done,” adding that “our system is stronger than plots created in basements.”

Defense attorneys had unsuccessfully sought to prevent the statement from being played.

Prosecutors said the gang the three were convicted of being part of was a paramilitary group known as the Wolverine Watchmen, which they described as a criminal enterprise that trained to attack Whitmer’s northern Michigan vacation home, open fire on her security detail and then kidnap her.

In all, seven men have either been convicted or entered pleas in the plot, including Adam Fox, 39, and Barry Croft Jr., 46, who were previously found guilty in federal court. They will be sentenced later this month.

An initial trial found two others, Brandon Caserta and Daniel Harris, not guilty.

Two other defendants, Ty Garbin and Kaleb Franks, earlier pleaded guilty as part of a deal to testify for prosecutors. Garbin was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Franks was ordered to serve four years.

Testimony during the trial indicated the defendants held several practice raids in rural Jackson County alongside Fox, who targeted Whitmer in retaliation for her COVID-19 restrictions early on in the pandemic.

Jurors also were presented evidence that the plotters sought to start a civil war that would create chaos in the days leading up to the 2020 general election.

Defense attorneys argued at trial that the three men had broken away from Fox prior to the plot taking shape and noted they were not among those who traveled to northern Michigan to scout Whitmer’s vacation home nor did they take part in a training session inside a “shoot house” located on property Garbin owned in Lake County.

They also attacked one of the undercover informants used by the FBI, Army veteran Dan Chappel, who said he had joined the group to maintain his firearm skills, but then went to authorities after discussion among the group turned to making plans for attacking police.

Meanwhile, five more defendants in the plot have been bound over to face trial in Antrim County: Shawn Fix, Brian Higgins, Eric Molitor, William Null and Michael Null.

They are due for a pretrial conference on Monday.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Michigan officials warn GOP group they ‘will not permit disruptive behavior’ from challengers at recounts

The GOP group responsible for an ongoing recount at hundreds of precincts across the state is being accused of disrupting the process, prompting a warning from state election officials.

On Friday, Michigan Elections Director Jonathan Brater sent a letter to Daniel Hartman, an attorney who represents both Jerome Jay Allen, the Bloomfield Township man who filed for the recount, and Election Integrity Force (EIF), the group that helped to finance it.

Citing an incident in Marquette in which an EIF challenger had to be escorted out of a recount operation, Brater said the individual demanded to see both sides of the ballots, even though the recount strictly involved Proposals 2 and 3, which appear on the reverse side. When an official challenge was denied, the person in question became disruptive.

“After he refused the direction of Bureau of Elections staff to leave the recount,” stated Brater, “it was necessary for law enforcement to be called to the recount site and escort him out.”

Brater added that EIF challengers had also reportedly touched ballots and ballot containers and attempted to access restricted areas.

“To the extent challengers are engaging in this behavior, they run the risk of hindering or delaying the conduct of the recount,” wrote Brater, who warned that the Bureau of Elections “will not permit disruptive behavior.”

A request for comment was made by Michigan Advance to Hartman, but was not returned.

Brater’s warning came two days after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office was prepared to act if the disruptions required a law enforcement response.

“Recent reports of threatening behavior and interference at locations where recounts are taking place cause unnecessary disturbances and may even rise to the level of criminal acts,” said Nessel, who was responding to reports of disruptions in Jackson County, where a joint recount was being conducted for townships in Jackson, Lenawee and Calhoun counties.

EIF responded to Nessel’s statement by alleging that it was their volunteers who had been “treated in an unfair manner,” and that they had filed reports with Nessel’s office.

“Election integrity is not a partisan issue, and we strive to bring transparent and fair elections to the state of Michigan for all,” read the statement.

The recounts were approved Dec. 5 by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers for both Proposal 2, which expanded voting rights, and Proposal 3, which enshrined abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution.

The Nov. 8 results on the ballot measures were not close. Proposal 2 passed by a 20-point statewide margin, while Proposal 3 won by 13 points. The measures were opposed by the Michigan Republican Party.

Despite the petitions making disproven claims about software altering votes and election equipment being connected to the internet, board members said state law required them to proceed even though they had no statistical chance to change the outcome.

State law allows for any voter “who believes that there has been fraud or error” to seek a recount within two days of that certification, as long as they pay a deposit of $125 per precinct. The recount is expected to cost at least $75,000, although officials say it will likely be much higher.

EIF, a Michigan GOP group that has made numerous false claims about the 2020 election, immediately took credit for the petitions, saying the cost of the recount had been made possible by financial support from The America Project. The Sarasota, Fla.-based group is led by Patrick Byrne, who has been a former President Donald Trump supporter and is a former CEO of Overstock.com.

Allen filed to recount 47 precincts in Kalamazoo, Macomb, Muskegon, and Oakland counties for Proposal 2, and 560 precincts across dozens of other counties for Proposal 3.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, a Democrat, told the Michigan Advance they also experienced issues similar to those reported elsewhere when they did their recount last week.

“They wanted to see the front and back [of the ballots],” she said. “They were told that if somebody over voted in any race on the ballot, that the whole ballot should be thrown out, which is not Michigan election law. So they came in thinking incorrect rules and processes and were agitated that it wasn’t what was going to happen.”

Brown says while they didn’t have to have anyone forcibly removed, the sheriff’s deputies who were present did have to spend time talking to the challengers because of what she called their ”misguided” beliefs.

“I think many of them came in ready to argue,” Brown said. “I mean, they were definitely told that there would be things happening that were not happening. The challenge they put forth was that stubs weren’t being counted. OK, well stubs don’t even have to be kept and don’t have anything to do with anything, especially because if you vote on the voter assist terminal, which is the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant equipment, there is no stub. So you can’t match stuff to votes. That’s not a recount. The recount was specifically for Props 2 and 3, not how many ballots, because some people might skip that, right? Some people don’t vote the proposals. So they wanted to do things that had nothing to do with what the petition actually was for.”

Mark Brewer, an elections lawyer and former Michigan Democratic Party chair, has been supervising the recount effort on behalf of Promote the Vote, the coalition that supported Proposal 2. He tells the Advance that the disruptions he has witnessed and been informed about are beyond anything he has ever experienced.

“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “I have never seen such aggressive and disruptive challengers. They’re doing exactly what the Board of Canvassers told them not to do. They’re not to treat this as some way of conducting an investigation. This is about counting the ballots.”

Brewer concurred that examining the entire ballot is a common request, saying it has been made every day, at every site conducting a recount.

“They insist that they are entitled to examine the entire ballot, when the recount is just about those two proposals because they’re fishing around for other things,” said Brewer. “They’re demanding that if a particular precinct is not countable, for whatever reason, that the [county] board of canvassers on the spot conduct an investigation. That’s not what the law says.”

That very scenario was brought up at last week’s Michigan Board of State Canvassers meeting when Hartman argued that if any issues arose during the recounts, county canvassing boards would have the authority to investigate, including the issuance of subpoenas.

Republican Chair Tony Daunt, hotly contested that notion, calling the effort a “fishing expedition.”

Brewer says it appears that EIF is training challengers to do things that they’re not allowed to do.

“We’ve had incidents where these challengers have touched valid material, which is absolutely forbidden,” he said. “And again, they are making demands and claims about all kinds of stuff that is way beyond the scope of a recount.”

When asked what he’d like to see happen to those making the disruptions, Brewer said he didn’t want to second guess the actions of authorities like Brater and Nessel, but would definitely like to see them stop attacking the elections officials just trying to do their job.

“I mean, all these people are just trying to do their job and these challengers with their hostility, their threats of legal action, criminal complaints, calling the police, have just made the working conditions at these sites oppressive,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything this bad, not remotely as bad, in any recounts I’ve ever done.”

Meanwhile, a new report suggests that states should tighten up the rules around recounts, noting that only in races where the margin is exceptionally close is a change in outcome even plausible.

FairVote, a nonprofit organization that advocates for electoral reform, issued the report last month examining 22 years of statewide recounts across the country. It found that while such recounts are rare — 35 out of more than 6,000 elections — reversals of the outcome were even rarer.

“Only three of those 35 recounts overturned the outcome of the race,” noted the group. “In all three, the original margin of victory was less than 0.06%. Of course, the margins of victory for Proposal 2 and 3 are both well over 10%.”

The report recommends that states establish an upper threshold for campaign-requested recounts in order to prevent frivolous efforts, saying that the recent trend of recounts in races with no realistic possibility of an outcome reversal has revealed a flaw in many states’ current recount statutes.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

State officials indicate a criminal investigation is underway into Michigan GOP lawmaker

A state senator from West Michigan, who made election integrity a key issue in his reelection campaign, is under criminal investigation after allegations of signature fraud were made against him in late 2016, the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office has confirmed.

On Nov. 7, 2016, Clerk Jennifer Badgero in Newaygo County’s Brooks Township filed a report with Michigan State Police alleging state Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) forged absentee ballots at least twice. Badgero is also a Republican.

While the name of the individual making the complaint was whited out in a copy of the state police report obtained by the MichiganAdvance, the fact that it was the Brooks Township clerk was not. When contacted, Badgero confirmed to the Advance that she did make the complaint.

Bumstead won reelection Nov. 8 when he defeated state Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon). Requests for comment were made to Bumstead’s office, but were not returned.

Badgero, who has been the clerk in Brooks Township since 2007, said her first encounter with Bumstead over absentee ballots was in 2010 when he was running for state representative. She said she questioned the signature on the absentee ballot of his daughter, Jona Bumstead, as it did not appear to match the one that was on file.

“I called him and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think the signature matches on this,’” Badgero recalls telling him. “‘It needs to match by election day in order for it to be counted.’ And he says, ‘Oh, my ex-wife must have signed it.’ I gave her [Bumstead’s daughter] a new ballot, and that came back with her signature.”

Badgero said in August 2016, she received an absentee ballot from Bumstead’s daughter, but again noticed it did not look like her signature.

“It clearly looks like his writing to me,” she said. “So at that point in time, I pulled his voter card, her voter card and made a copy of both of them.”

Badgero said she then invalidated the ballot, and while she reluctantly decided not to make an official complaint at that point, she retained the ballot still sealed in the envelope the way it had been returned to her.

“Then it happened again in November [2016] that her ballot was returned with what appeared to be his writing,” she said.

Badgero said she did some investigating and found multiple Facebook posts that indicated Jona Bumstead was in Florida at the time the absentee ballot was mailed out and returned.

A message was sent to Jona Bumstead asking for comment, but was not returned.

Badgero said that when Sen. Bumstead later came into her office to pick up his absentee ballot, he said he was going to go see his daughter in Florida. Badgero said that was when she decided to contact the police.

“I just hemmed and hawed, but I lost sleep over it because it’s just not OK,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking to walk into a State Police post with this information,” she said, noting Bumstead was a public figure in a small community and from her own party.

Badgero said she specifically chose to go to the Michigan State Police Post in Rockford because it was outside of Newaygo County and she was concerned about a potential conflict of interest. Robert Springstead was the Newaygo County prosecutor at the time and had also been chair of the Newaygo County Republican Party.

“I just wasn’t confident in what would happen in Newaygo County or what the repercussions for me would be in Newaygo County,” she said.

Badgero said she relayed the details of what had occurred and provided investigators with copies of the invalidated ballots and signature cards, as well as screenshots of the Facebook posts.

“Bumstead replied she lives in Tampa with her boyfriend and she moved there a little while ago, as her boyfriend had a business opportunity,” said the state police report.

The police indicated they were looking at the case as a forgery investigation, Badgero said.

“I said, ‘Well, it’s not forgery, it’s election fraud.’ I mean, that’s a different thing,” she said.

Badgero noted that rejecting an absentee ballot due to a signature mismatch is a fairly rare occurrence.

“I have rejected five ballots in 15 years, and three of them were related to this,” she said. “Most of the time there’s a reasonable explanation for it. So one example of another voter that I have, I got an application for a ballot, and I was like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t even look anywhere close.’ Well, he’s had a stroke and he’s in a wheelchair, so his driver’s license signature no longer matches what he’s capable of signing.”

Badgero said investigators told her they would request the report be sent to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office, but she never heard from them, or any other official, about the matter.

Newaygo County Prosecutor Worth Stay, who was not in office at the time, confirmed for the Advance that a report was submitted in mid-March of 2017.

“My office requested a special prosecutor from the AG, who appointed the Kent County Prosecutor as special prosecutor, I have that date as 3/22/2017,” he said.

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office returned a single email, dated April 10, 2017, from Prosecutor Christopher Becker to Stay, along with representatives from the AG’s office and MSP.

Becker said after reviewing the complaint against Bumstead, and after speaking with his appellate staff, it was their opinion that no crime was committed and they would not be issuing any charges.

“The key language we based this decision on was, “a person who forges a signature…” Case law and the forgery statutes require an intent to defraud,” noted Becker in the email. “There is no intent to defraud here. He is simply attempting to assist his daughter in filling out an absentee ballot when she is unable to and doing so at her direction. The proper thing happened when the ballot was to be counted, it was invalidated, but this does not make it a crime.”

Becker said the AG’s office was contacted for guidance and they had never heard of a similar case “being treated in a criminal fashion.” He also noted that the Secretary of State’s office had failed to respond to requests for its input.

At the time, the office was run by Ruth Johnson, who has since become a Republican state senator from Holly.

However, when the Advance contacted the SOS for a comment on the rationale for declining prosecution back in 2017, Jake Rollow, the chief external affairs officer for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, responded by saying, “We decline to comment due to the pending criminal investigation.”

When asked directly if there was a pending investigation, Rollow said, “I can’t comment due to the pending investigation.”

Shanon Banner, manager of the MSP Public Affairs Section said, “As a matter of practice, the MSP does not confirm nor deny the presence of criminal investigations.”

While the Michigan Attorney General’s Office also declined to comment on the Bumstead allegations, Communications Director Amber McCann pointed the Advance to an online recap of cases that Attorney General Dana Nessel pursued following the 2020 Election.

One of those cases involved the January 2021 plea by a Canton Township man accused of forging his daughter’s signature on an absentee voter ballot.

Paul Parana was originally charged with impersonating a voter, a four-year felony, and election law forgery, a five-year felony. He ended up pleading guilty to a 90-day misdemeanor election law violation and was sentenced to 90 days probation and ordered to pay court costs and fees of roughly $1,100 in Wayne County Circuit Court.

“While voter fraud rarely occurs, we are vigilant in pursuing such activity when it does,” Nessel said at the time. “This is an example of how my office reviews legitimate claims of voter fraud to discover the facts and prosecute according to the law.”

Badgero said she still believes Bumstead should face consequences.

“He should have been prosecuted,” she said. “He should not be in public office at this point in time.”

Badgero said she isn’t focused on the potential backlash for speaking out against a prominent member of her own party.

“Should I be worried about doing my job? No, I shouldn’t,” she said. “I came to the conclusion that if I was going to get persecuted for doing what was right in the first place six years ago, so be it. Because I’ve done my job for 15 years and it’s stuff like this that makes people not want to do it.”

Sabo, who lost to Bumstead on Nov. 8, provided a statement about the MSP report on Bumstead to the Advance prior to the election.

State Rep. Terry Sabo and House Democrats, Sept. 3, 2019 | Nick Manes

“We applaud Clerk Badgero for standing up for what’s right and protecting the security of our election process,” said Sabo. “Most clerks want to do the right thing and want the results to be accurate and above approach. I personally find it ironic for Jon Bumstead to be questioning votes and the integrity of elections through his bill sponsorships when he himself has allegedly committed election fraud.”

Sabo noted that Bumstead has supported voting restrictions. His Senate webpage places the issue of Election Reforms right at the top, in which he promotes the Michigan Senate GOP Election Integrity package. That package includes restrictions to absentee ballot boxes, including a prohibition on voters using a drop box after 5 p.m. the day before the election, as well as strict Voter ID requirements, both for absentee ballot applications and in-person voting.

Many of the proposed reforms mirror those found in the GOP-backed Secure MI Vote initiative, which would restrict voter access. Proposal 2, which was easily approved by voters on Nov. 8, would essentially invalidate those restrictions.

Bumstead was also criticized last year by Benson for using taxpayer funds on a mailer to residents she said was “misrepresenting several election bills” and would “make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

After Whitmer scores a big win, speculation about a future presidential run ramps up

With her double-digit win on Nov. 8, there’s been no shortage of speculation about the political future of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, with national media postulating her viability as a future presidential candidate as early as 2024 if President Joe Biden decides not to seek a second term.

Whitmer did pledge during the campaign to serve a full second term if reelected.

The Democratic incumbent beat GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon by 10.5 points, helping to lead a historic sweep of state government that will place Democrats in control of the legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years.

With some of the blame for the Republican collapse being aimed at former President Donald Trump, some Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids), who lost his bid for reelection, are pinning their 2024 hopes on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He was reelected last week by a nearly 20 point margin. Trump is expected to announce his 2024 candidacy on Tuesday in Florida.

Meanwhile, Democrats concerned about Biden’s age have informally looked to potential replacements should Biden defer trying for another term, with Whitmer’s name consistently making the short list.

President Joe Biden speaks about electric vehicle manufacturing during a stop at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Sept. 14, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

The White House has rejected the idea that Biden won’t seek a second term, while Biden himself said he intended to do so, although he left some room for doubt.

“I think everybody wants me to run, but we’re going to have discussions about it,” Biden told reporters following last week’s midterm election, adding that he planned to discuss the decision with his family over the holidays and announce a final decision in early 2023.

With that lack of certainty, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Time, The Hill and NBC News have all published articles and/or opinion pieces naming Whitmer as a top contender in 2024, noting her selection to deliver the party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union address in February 2020 and high-profile battle with him over his pandemic response, which then placed her among Biden’s potential choices for a running mate later that year.

Biden ended up tapping now-Vice President Kamala Harris, but Whitmer was on the short list. Biden and Whitmer are personal friends.

Whitmer’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the Michigan Advance for this story.

When asked by a reporter for WXYZ-TV the day before the election if she would run for president in 2024 should Biden decide not to, she seemed to leave no room for doubt.

“No,” she replied. “Everyone else speculates and writes stories without actually talking to me, but no, I’m running for four more years as governor. My hope is to win this election and my absolute dedication is to serving out four years.”

However, Whitmer was less concrete when asked the same question on the same day by NBC News.

“I’m proud of being a Michigander,” said Whitmer. “And that’s where my focus is at the moment.”

Republicans, including Dixon, made the case during the election that Whitmer will leave Michigan to the Oval Office.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at a rally for former Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit, March 9, 2020 | Andrew Roth

A major appeal of a potential Whitmer candidacy could be leading a swing state and her staunch support for abortion rights.

Even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Whitmer filed suit to prevent Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban from taking effect and then remained steadfast in using the issue to differentiate herself from Dixon, who said she opposed exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, but then tried to distance herself from those comments.

Whitmer’s strategy paid off on Nov. 8, as evidenced by the solid victory for Proposal 3, which enshrined abortion rights in Michigan’s Constitution. It won with nearly 57% of the vote and nearly 2.6 million votes cast in support.

Meanwhile, exit polls that showed abortion was the top issue for voters in Michigan.

One pundit who took note was Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

“She built her big majority by immediately grasping the power of the abortion issue after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade,” he wrote. “A referendum to enshrine abortion rights in Michigan’s constitution undoubtedly brought out a big Democratic vote on Tuesday.”

Looking ahead, many strategists see abortion remaining an effective campaign issue for Democrats nationwide, especially if Republicans continue to embrace positions that seek to restrict or ban it outright.

Even voters in GOP-dominated states like Kentucky backed abortion rights on Nov. 8, a further sign that a majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are not in favor of eliminating or severely restricting access to the procedure.

Dionne also remarked that Whitmer’s appeal to a national audience went beyond just abortion.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks to the crowd gathered outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing for a protest against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022. | Photo by Andrew Roth

“After much ink-spilling since Trump’s election over the loss of blue-collar industrial jobs, she joined Biden and Democrats elsewhere in describing a new manufacturing future involving making more electric cars, “semi-conductors and clean energy right here in Michigan,” said Dionne. “Watch this theme: How to build a new economy is the big issue of the next decade.”

Dionne added that in her victory night speech, Whitmer also praised organized labor as well as “movements for women’s rights and civil rights and LGBT rights” while also urging Michigan residents to fight for “family, friends and community.”

“Two litanies, progressive and traditional, defined the ground on which a broad Election Day alliance was built,” he concluded.

David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and is also a part-time Michigan resident, told the Washington Post there was “no doubt” Whitmer’s name would be near the top when Democrats consider future national leaders.

“That was an impressive win on difficult terrain, but she’s proven herself to be smart and resilient and she has a kind of non-coastal appeal,” said Axelrod, who described her as “someone who doesn’t present like a garden-variety politician spit out of a computer.”

The Hill ranked Whitmer fourth on its list of Democrats who could run in 2024, behind Biden, Harris, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — who also now lives in Michigan — making her the top choice outside the administration.

Noting that Whitmer had been a lower on the publication’s previous lists, The Hill said she emerged from the midterms in a stronger position.

“She was a rising star in 2020 but even more so now,” they quoted one Democratic consultant as saying.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at a rally with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Attorney General Dana Nessel and other Michigan Democrats in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Nov. 4, 2022. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Not all of the coverage is glowing, however. The New York Times, while noting Whitmer’s appeal as “Pabst Blue Ribbon with just the right measure of merlot,” also said it was “unclear how commanding she’d be on a larger stage” while describing her debate performance against Dixon as “solid but unspectacular.”

Los Angeles Times columnist and Michigan native LZ Granderson saw it differently, saying Whitmer was definitely someone to keep in mind for 2024.

“If President Biden decides not to seek reelection, do not underestimate her chances for the Democratic nomination and the White House,” he said. “She outraised her opponent, Tudor Dixon, who was endorsed by Trump and financially backed by his Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her family. Whitmer was also greatly aided by the Democratic Governors Assn., which has emphasized that the party needs not only Michigan but also her.”

Granderson said Whitmer’s win last Tuesday was an audition.

“Eyes will be on Whitmer,” he said. “The governor has an opportunity to show the rest of the country what a Whitmer administration could look like, what her brand of progressive policies would look like and how she handles the criticism of those policies now that the heat’s been turned up.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Michigan GOP finger-pointing underway following Tuesday’s historic loss at the polls

A post-mortem memo on the historic losses suffered Tuesday by the Michigan Republican Party blames candidates being too closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, prompting major donors to withhold their support and leaving the party without the cash needed to compete.

Not only did Democrats sweep the top statewide offices, but they won a 7-6 majority in the congressional delegation, maintained a majority on the Michigan Supreme Court and took both houses of the Legislature for the first time in almost 40 years.

Michigan Republican Party Chief of Staff Paul Cordes released the memo Thursday to party members, noting that gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon came out of the August primary as an “untested candidate” who was “relatively unknown” and low name recognition.

“Dixon’s campaign had no money, no statewide operations, and was attempting to transition from three weeks of working for and receiving an endorsement from Donald Trump, into a general election audience with a more unfavorable opinion of the former President Trump than of President Joe Biden,” said Cordes.

Dixon left her job as a right-wing commentator, after stints as an actress and in her family’s steel business, to run for governor last year. She rose to the top of a crowded GOP primary field with the early backing of the billionaire DeVos family of West Michigan and a late endorsement from Trump.

Dixon, along with GOP attorney general nominee Matthew DePerno and GOP secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo, were all easily outdistanced at the polls Tuesday by their Democratic incumbent counterparts. Dixon lost to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, DePerno fell short against Attorney General Dana Nessel and Karamo got trounced by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

All three GOP candidates were endorsed by Trump and in turn repeated his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, a notion that polling indicated was rejected by large majorities of Michiganders.

Republican losses at the top of the ticket have led to a historic power shift in Michigan in favor of Democrats, who captured all executive branch offices, Legislature and a majority on the state Supreme Court.

Cordes said that in the past, Republican gubernatorial nominees had been able to come out of the primaries with “several millions of dollars and built out teams … with preparations to expand an already strong operation,” but that had not been the case with Dixon.

Dixon badly lagged Whitmer — who won with a 10.5-point margin on Tuesday — in fundraising until the final weeks. As a result, the Democratic incumbent and her allies were able to dominate the airwaves with ads that touted Whitmer’s accomplishments and blasted Dixon for her strong anti-abortion stance.

“With almost no cash on hand and work to be done to gain the trust of the Party’s grassroots, Dixon had to start from scratch while Gretchen Whitmer and allies were sitting on tens of millions of dollars, of which they immediately deployed, blasting Dixon on statewide TV, digital, and radio throughout, early and often,” Cordes wrote.

Dixon, in a series of tweets, pushed back against the memo and went on the attack against Cordes, Michigan GOP Chair Ron Weiser and Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, a strong Trump ally.

“This is the perfect example of what is wrong with the @MIGOP,” she said. “It’s an issue of leadership – Ron Weiser, Meshawn Maddock, and Paul Cordes all refuse to take ownership for their own failures.”

Weiser and Maddock had publicly been bullish on Republicans’ chances in the gubernatorial race and predicted a “red wave” sweeping across the state.

THIS is why Republicans will win HUGE tomorrow! An entire community having the courage to realize they’ve been used for far too long, family values and love for their children will win the day! #Dearborn@TudorDixon@deperno4mi@KristinaKaramo#NoOnProp3pic.twitter.com/JpBuaDJ1ZM
— meshawn maddock (@CoChairMeshawn) November 7, 2022

When Dixon won the nomination in August, Maddock stood side by side with her and told reporters that Dixon was a “younger, smarter and hotter” version of Whitmer.

Dixon said that it was “easy to come out and point fingers now,” the lack of support from party leaders jeopardized the entire ticket.

“We need fresh leadership at the @MIGOP or Republicans will never have a voice in Michigan again,” said Dixon. “Our state party failed on Let MI Kids Learn and Secure MI Vote. Because of their failure, we now have Prop 2. We have to do better than this current incompetent leadership.”

It’s unclear what Dixon was referring to with the two GOP-backed ballot measures, which would restrict voting and allow school vouchers. They failed to make the 2022 ballot because committees didn’t gather enough signatures in time. However, Republicans were hopeful that the GOP-led Legislature would approve them before they would head to the 2024 ballot — as allowed under Michigan law — and Whitmer would have no power to veto them.

With an incoming Democratic-majority Legislature, the fate of those two petitions looks dicier.

GOP consultant Fred Wszolek was a spokesperson for both ballot initiatives and also ran the pro-Dixon super PAC Michigan Strong. He was spinning a Dixon win even up to election night, when he tweeted to a reporter at Dixon’s Grand Rapids party, “I think you’re in the right place for the big story tonight.”

Grant I think you’re in the right place for the big story tonight.
— Fred Wszolek (@FredWszolek) November 9, 2022

Dixon had the support of other prominent GOP operatives until the end, including Tori Sachs of the DeVos-funded Michigan Freedom Fund — although she mostly retweeted right-wing accounts backing Dixon and attacked Whitmer in her own tweets.

Gretchen Whitmer has never put kids first.
That’s why we need @TudorDixon for #migov. https://t.co/C93smETkAa
— Tori Sachs (@Tori_Sachs) November 7, 2022

Dixon also had strong defenders in right-wing media. She appeared as a frequent guest on Fox News shows during the last months of the election where she had friendly interviews with hosts including Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.

The Republican was endorsed by the conservative Detroit News editorial page, whose members Nolan Finley and Kaitlyn Buss frequently praised her and hammered Whitmer, with Finley slamming the Democrat in 2020 as an an ”arbitrary and condescending dictator.”

In an Oct. 26 column following the second gubernatorial debate, Finley and Buss lauded Dixon, saying she “never buckled. She was never caught by surprise, answered nearly every question with confidence and, more importantly, demonstrated that her showing in the first debate was not a fluke.”

They even claimed the debate “reflected the reality of a race that has tightened to a near dead heat,” even though the Detroit News’ own polling never reflected that. The paper’s last poll from the Glengariff Group, released after the column, showed Whitmer beating Dixon by 9 points — which was under the Democrat’s Tuesday margin of victory.

Ingrid Jacques, a USA Today columnist and Detroit News opinion page alum, also highlighted Dixon in a column just before the election, claiming that “GOP candidates like Tudor Dixon connect with voters on schools, economy.” Jacques, who has been a staunch supporter of the DeVos school choice agenda, also wrote that “there has been an astonishing movement in support for Republicans, especially among the key groups of independent voters and white suburban women.” That claim did not materialize in Tuesday’s election in Michigan and elsewhere as Democrats’ abortion rights support won over women voters.

Ironically, podcaster Charlie LeDuff, who also writes a Detroit News column and has been a ferocious Whitmer critic for years, had a widely cited interview with Dixon in which she said that a 14-year-old incest victim was the “perfect example” of her anti-abortion stance that excludes exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s health. LeDuff protested the interview ending up in pro-Whitmer ads.

The public Republican infighting could set up a battle for the Michigan GOP chair race early next year. There’s been speculation amongst politicos that Dixon or someone else in the DeVos orbit could be interested in the role.

Ryan Kelley, who was arrested in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and finished fourth in the Michigan GOP gubernatorial primary, has indicated he might run.

Other Republicans with grassroots support include DePerno and Garrett Soldano, another GOP gubernatorial candidate. And former Michigan GOP Chair Laura Cox, a former House member who’s married to former Attorney General Mike Cox, has been highly critical of the Weiser-Maddock operation.

Exit polls showed that while inflation was a top concern for voters in other states, abortion was the key issue for voters in Michigan. That was seen in the overwhelming approval of Proposal 3, which permanently placed reproductive rights in the Michigan Constitution.

Dixon, DePerno and Karamo were strongly opposed to Prop 3.

On the “abortion question,” Cordes said that the lack of financial resources allowed “the Democrats to spend millions defining not just the abortion narrative, but Tudor Dixon herself,” and that neither “her campaign nor the Party had the resources to push back.”

Cordes said with Proposal 3 on the ballot and Democrats “in sole possession of the airwaves,” the terms in which abortion would be discussed centered on “Dixon’s position of no exceptions,” and not, as he put it, “Whitmer’s radical stance” on abortion.

The Michigan GOP opposed Proposal 3, along with the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan, two groups which spent heavily against it. Wszolek served as a spokesperson against Prop 3.

Cordes said the measure also allowed Democrats to “aggressively” target women and young voters, “driving them to the polls in record numbers to hold Tudor Dixon accountable for her comments.”

Cordes concluded that those two accomplishments, “all but determined the fate of Dixon and the Anti-Proposal 3 campaign.”

Dixon’s strategy in the last two months of the campaign focused on anti-LGBTQ+ issues, such as banning “pornographic” books, supporting a Florida-style “Don’t Say Gay” law and barring trans athletes from playing on school sports teams. That agenda was endorsed by Maddock and was used by other Republicans like DePerno, Karamo and legislative candidates including state Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte), who lost his congressional race to U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing).

Cordes took aim at Dixon for concentrating only on “red meat issues.”

“Tudor’s efforts focused largely on Republican red meat issues, in hopes of inspiring a 2020 like showing at the polls,” Cordes wrote. “There were more ads on transgender sports than inflation, gas prices and bread and butter issues that could have swayed independent voters. We did not have a turn out problem — middle of the road voters simply didn’t like what Tudor was selling.”

Cordes’ final comments indicate a split may be emerging within the party over fealty to Trump and his priorities moving forward.

Trump was widely hailed in 2016 for narrowly winning the state and many Michigan Republican leaders lined up in 2020 to endorse or indulge his lies that he won Michigan and the entire election.

In 2022, he twice rallied Republicans in Macomb County. Although DePerno promised a November rally, that never materialized. Trump stumped in nearby Ohio on Monday, the day before the election.

Cordes slammed both DePerno and Karamo, who won the Michigan GOP’s early endorsement convention in April over more experienced establishment candidates. Their support from Trump proved decisive, but Cordes said it cost Republicans in donations.

“Donors for the most part decided against supporting Trump’s hand-picked AG and SOS candidates from the April convention, and also withheld millions in traditional investment into the State Party, despite Chairman Weser’s historic contributions of more than $5 million into MIGOP, candidates and caucuses,” said Cordes.

Cordes argued that was fatal to the GOP’s chances in November.

“In what many of them saw as sending a message to Donald Trump and his supporters, longtime donors to the Party remained on the sidelines despite constant warnings of the possibility of the outcome we saw come to fruition on Election Day: A statewide sweep and one-party Democratic rule in Lansing, something that has not been seen in nearly 40 years in Michigan,” he wrote.

Maddock, who was one of the fake GOP electors in 2020, has continued to be a Trump loyalist during the 2022 midterms.

Cordes added that “countless hours” had been spent by the party courting donors who expressed concern about “Mar-a-Lago’s influence [Trump] over our process, Party and voters.”

At the same time, Cordes said Democrats were raising tens of millions of dollars and investing record amounts across the state and in legislative districts.

“By the time some GOP donors did engage in October – one month before the election – most of the investments paled in comparison to Democrat counterparts,” he said. “And money spent in October doesn’t go nearly as far as money spent in August and September. Being late to the game was devastating. The narrative was set, the damage was done and the statewide races had likely been out of reach since mid-September.”

Rich Studley, the former Michigan Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, was one Republican supporter who didn’t necessarily share Cordes’ interpretation of the election results.

“State party leaders need to accept responsibility for this debacle; engage in serious introspection; & think about stepping aside,” he tweeted. “The Mich GOP needs less dogmatic & more pragmatic party leaders.”

After sitting on the sidelines for most of the election, the Michigan Chamber — which has been a huge force in Michigan GOP politics and policy for decades, pushing against business regulations, for Right to Work, for corporate tax cuts and more — made a last-minute endorsement of Dixon the week before the election.

After Democrats’ historic wins on Tuesday, the Michigan Chamber put out a statement Wednesday congratulating Democrats, titled, “The Votes Are In – Time to Move Michigan Forward, Together.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

NOW WATCH: 'Do you need a timeout' Journalist tells Kari Lake to 'grow up' after she calls Arizona a 'banana republic'

Journalist tells Kari Lake to 'grow up' after she calls Arizona a 'banana republic'www.youtube.com

GOP education message falls short as Democrats sweep Michigan’s statewide education board seats

Despite a strong push from Republicans to make the State Board of Education (BOE) races a referendum on LGBTQ+ issues, how racism is taught and past COVD-19 health policies, the party failed on Tuesday to pick up either seat on the Democratic-led board.

Republicans also tried to make education — such as funding for vouchers and banning books — a key 2022 election issue, with GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon leading the charge. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won in a rout with a 10.5% margin of victory — bigger than her 2018 win.

Both of the Democrats vying for two, eight-year terms on the panel have been elected, Vice President Pamela Pugh and newcomer Mitchell Robinson. The board will maintain a 5-2 Democratic majority.

The state board is charged with setting curriculum standards and is also in charge of appointing the state superintendent. Otherwise, the board mainly serves in an advisory role when it comes to the education system in Michigan.

The six open seats on university governing boards also went to Democrats in the election.

Pugh, who garnered 25.2%, according to unofficial returns, is from Saginaw and has served on the board since 2014. She has more than 24 years of public health experience and launched InPact at Home, led by the University of Michigan, a program to offer free online workouts to students.

Robinson, who won 24.2%, resides in East Lansing and has been a teacher for more than 40 years, currently teaching at Michigan State University where he is the music education chair and coordinates the music student teaching program.

Pugh reacted with gratitude on social media to the news.

“Thx y’all! We did it for the children,” she tweeted. “With much gratitude.” She then offered congratulations to Robinson and said she couldn’t wait to serve with him.

Robinson was equally eager.

“Looking forward to strengthening Michigan’s schools, defending our state’s teachers, and making sure *every* child gets a great education!,” he tweeted.

Currently, the state board has five Democrats and two Republicans. There is also one vacancy following the resignation of Democrat Jason Strayhorn in July. Whitmer is set to appoint a replacement to finish his term that lasts until 2028.

The current president, Democrat Casandra Ulbrich, did not run for reelection.

Pugh and Robinson’s wins mark an almost clean sweep for Democrats to statewide offices — with only GOP-nominated Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra winning on Tuesday — as voters rejected hardline Republican candidates Tamara Carlone and Linda Lee Tarver.

Carlone, a certified public accountant from Howell, listed among her goals if elected was to, “Stop the Leftist, Marxist, Communist indoctrination” of students.

Tarver, a businesswoman from Lansing, has falsely suggested the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, She also was involved in a lawsuit urging state lawmakers to interfere in the 2020 election results after Trump lost.

GOP Board of Education nominee Linda Lee Tarver at a Tudor Dixon press conference in Lansing, Sept. 27, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Just last month, the board rejected a Republican resolution to remove state Superintendent Michael Rice over videos designed to help teachers learn about students’ different identities and how to avoid outing students.

Michigan political parties nominate candidates for these boards and the state allows voters to cast a straight-party ticket. When one party has a good election at the top of the ballot — as Democrats did Tuesday, with Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson all winning reelection — that often trickles down to the bottom of the ballot.

Michigan is the only state that uses statewide elections to elect members to boards at public universities.

University of Michigan Board of Regents

The two open seats on the University of Michigan Board of Regents will go to incumbent Democrats Michael Behm and Katherine White.

The board will continue to have a 6-2 Democratic majority.

The duties of the board include overseeing the university, its expenditures and they are charged with hiring and firing the university president, something that they did earlier this year with the dismissal of former President Mark Schlissel, who was fired over allegedly having a relationship with a subordinate. In July, the board hired Santa Ono.

Behm, who won 24.6%, has served on the Board of Regents since 2014. He is also an attorney from Grand Blanc who has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Flint Institute of Arts, volunteered for Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a founding member of the Flint Youth initiative.

White, who took 25.2%, has served on the Board of Regents since 1998. She is a patent attorney and law professor at Wayne State University and a brigadier general in the Army National Guard who was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Fame.

Behm and White defeated Republican candidates Lena Epstein, who chaired former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in Michigan and unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2018, and Sevag Vartanian. a financial analyst from Novi.

Michigan State University Board of Trustees

Democrats Renee Knake Jefferson, an incumbent, and newcomer Dennis Denno were elected to the two openings on the Michigan State Board of Trustees, which oversees the university, its expenditures and is in control of hiring and firing the university president.

The board will have a 6-2 Democratic majority.

The new board will be tasked with finding a permanent replacement for former MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr., after he announced earlier this month he would step down after votes of no confidence from the university’s Board of Trustees from MSU’s Faculty Senate and the Associated Students of Michigan State University.

Last month, the board appointed Provost Teresa Woodruff as interim president.

Jefferson, who won 24.9%, was appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019 and is a law professor at the University of Houston who previously taught at Michigan State University.

Denno, who earned 24.4%, is from East Lansing and has owned a political polling and surveying company for 22 years. Denno ran on a platform to make budget priorities a focus and to ensure MSU employees are paid $15 an hour.

They defeated Republicans MIke Balow, a U.S. Navy veteran, and Travis Menge, an orthopedic specialist.

Wayne State University Board of Governors

Democrats Danielle Atkinson and Marilyn Kelly, an incumbent, both won election to the Wayne State University Board of Governors, which leads the university’s finances and oversees the president.

The board will have a 6-2 Democratic majority.

Kelly, who won 24.9%, is from Detroit and has served on the Wayne State Board of Governors since 2015. She was previously a Michigan Supreme Court chief justice and has also served on the Women’s Bar Association, the State Attorney Discipline Board and the State Bar of Michigan.

Atkinson, who garnered 24.9%, is from Royal Oak and is the national executive and founder of Mothering Justice, a policy advocacy organization aimed at helping women of color have more equitable lives.

They defeated Republicans Craig Wilsher, an adjunct professor at Schoolcraft College, and Oakland County parent Christa Murphy.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

GOP candidate doesn’t disavow bizarre conspiracy comments on slavery and Dems

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon seemed to confirm this week her belief in a conspiracy theory she offered up in 2020 that the Democratic Party was behind a plot to use COVID-19 and social justice protests to “topple” the United States in retaliation for losing the Civil War.

The comments, originally reported by CNN, were from the June 23, 2020, episode of a show she hosted on Real America’s Voice, a right-wing streaming platform. In media interviews since then, Dixon has declined to walk back the comments, saying kids should be taught “proper history.”

“The country today is divided, and this was the plan,” she said on her show. “It’s been in the works for years. The idea that you can topple the greatest country in the world. But to topple a country like the United States of America, you must be planning this for decades. Why wouldn’t that come from the party that lost the Civil War? The party that wanted to own people because they viewed them as less than human? Do you think that the Democrats are over losing to the North?”

Democratic Party officials in the 1850s and 1860s largely either supported slavery or had little interest in checking its expansion. While Republicans frequently bring up the Democratic Party’s history of racism before, during and after the Civil War, they often fail to acknowledge that both the Democratic and Republican parties underwent significant changes in the 20th century.

Beginning with the New Deal under Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and accelerating after Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the voting base of both parties realigned. White southern Democrats, known as “Dixiecrats,” increasingly defected to the Republican Party, while Black voters fled from the GOP and Republican President Richard Nixon pushed the “Southern strategy” to appeal to the racial and cultural grievances of white voters in the South. In recent years, former President Donald Trump formed alliances with far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

On her show, Dixon further alleged that Democrats were using pandemic restrictions and “white guilt” in the aftermath of the 2020 police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, to enslave “people of all colors.”

“Democrat leaders, meanwhile, they sat back in their designer suits, eating their fillet with their nice béarnaise sauce while they watched the country rip itself apart because they were getting it all back, the slaves again,” said Dixon. “This time they’d be people of all colors – poor and broken, looking to them and begging for help. And they will gladly own you.”

Two days after CNN reported on Dixon’s comments, they were mocked by former President Barack Obama when he campaigned for Dixon’s opponent, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in Detroit.

“First of all … what? What, what?” said Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, as the crowd laughed. “Imagine if instead of coming up with a story about how us having to watch ‘Tiger King’ in our sweatpants was some kind of government plot, she spent some time coming up with some ideas about how to create some more jobs here in Michigan.”

While she criticized Obama’s visit as a “last-minute fly-in” to support Whitmer, who was “panicking because she’s been exposed as a failed governor,” Dixon did not refute the comments.

Her campaign similarly declined to address the substance of the dialogue for both CNN and Bridge Michigan when asked whether Dixon truly believed in the conspiracy, instead castigating the press as favoring Whitmer.

Dixon was asked again on Monday by a reporter for FOX-17 in Grand Rapids whether her comments about the Civil War and Democrats were an accurate depiction.

“Don’t you think that that is a distraction from the fact that Gov. Whitmer came out and said that our kids were not out of school longer than three months, and then all of a sudden, she drops a bunch of her opposition research?” she asked. “I made the point that I believe that our kids should be educated with a proper history. The people who are preventing that from happening are Democrats still to this day, they are preventing that from happening.”

Dixon has focused on student curriculum in her campaign, mostly centered on right-wing cultural issues such as gender identity and critical race theory, a university-level concept not being taught in the vast majority of Michigan’s K-12 schools. It is part of a GOP attack nationally on educational guidelines.

The American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, and PEN America authored a joint statement last year stating their “firm opposition” to legislation that would restrict the discussion of “divisive concepts” in public education.

“Politicians in a democratic society should not manipulate public school curricula to advance partisan or ideological aims,” read the statement. “Educators, not politicians, should make decisions about teaching and learning.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

'So disgusted': Republican Tudor Dixon faces backlash for accepting Tulsi Gabbard's endorsement

Democrat Shadia Martini says she is “disgusted” that Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon would celebrate the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, someone she says is an apologist for the brutal Syrian dictator who destroyed her native country and murdered countless civilians.

Martini, who is seeking election to Oakland County’s 54th House District on Nov. 8 against Republican Donni Steele, talked to the Michigan Advance this week about fleeing Syria decades ago and the “horrible night” her family home and hospital were attacked during the civil war.

Last week, Dixon announced a “major endorsement alert” of Gabbard, adding she was “honored” and couldn’t wait to campaign with Gabbard at events on Saturday and Sunday in the state.

“Today’s Democratic Party has moved so far left and is out of touch with reality. They have abandoned American principles to instead focus on their unpopular woke agenda,” Dixon said. “Tulsi understands that and has been a voice of reason and common sense across party lines. She is courageously speaking her mind and showing us all what it means to be a leading independent thinker.”

Dixon is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8. A request for comment was made by the Advance to the Dixon campaign, but was not returned.

Martini last week expressed on Twitter her anger at Dixon accepting Gabbard’s endorsement.

“10 years ago, Bashar al-Assad blew up my parents’ house while they were still inside,” she wrote. “Yesterday, Assad’s former best friend in Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, endorsed Tudor Dixon and will campaign with her next week. I am so disgusted I can’t even express it in words.”

Martini, who was born in Aleppo, Syria, told the Michigan Advance that the fact Dixon would welcome someone like Gabbard doesn’t speak well for her character.

“You either have to be very ignorant to not know what or who Tulsi Gabbard is, or you don’t care,” said Martini. “And either is horrible, because if she’s ignorant, she’s not fit to be a governor. And if she knows, that’s even worse. She knows who this woman is and who she supports, and she is happy that she endorsed her?”

Martini said both of her parents, who were surgeons, built a hospital in Aleppo in the 1980s, with their home on the top floor, where she grew up.

Martini fled Syria in 1992 after studying abroad, saying she did not want to return to life under the “brutal dictatorship” of Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad. She has a B.S. in architectural engineering from the University of Aleppo and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan, according to her website.

When mass protests erupted in Syria in 2011, Bashar al-Assad ordered his military to brutally put them down, starting a civil war that in the decade since has killed more than half-million people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In 2012, Martini said she learned that her parents’ hospital had been attacked.

“One of my cousins, who is the pharmacist at the hospital, put a Facebook post saying that the Martini Hospital was hit,” she said. “And of course, I went crazy because my parents lived there. So I started calling. I called my mother; I called my father; I called the hospital. No one was answering the hospital phone. I was crying. I mean, it was just so stressful. So I called my cousin and he said, ‘They’re all in the basement with the patients and everybody, they’re hiding in the basement.’ Even recounting the story, I’m so shaken. It was just a horrible, horrible night.”

Martini says she later learned that the attack occurred when a tank shot at soldiers manning a checkpoint in front of the hospital.

“They couldn’t care less if there was a hospital behind it,” she said. “I mean, that’s the Syrian regime for you. That’s standard practice.”

It’s that type of brutality that Martini says Gabbard aided and abetted and shouldn’t be forgiven.

Gabbard endorsed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in 2016, which led some to label her a progressive.

However, in 2017, Gabbard, then a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, stunned party leaders when she announced that she had met with Bashar al-Assad during a trip to Syria, which she described as a “fact-finding” mission.

She drew criticism from both sides of the aisle when she described the opposition to al-Assad as “terrorists,” and later was skeptical al-Assad’s regime was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in April 2017 that killed more than a hundred people.

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town on October 15, 2019 in Ceylanpinar, Turkey. The military action is part of a campaign to extend Turkish control of more of northern Syria, a large swath of which is currently held by Syrian Kurds, whom Turkey regards as a threat. U.S. President Donald Trump granted tacit American approval to this campaign, withdrawing his country’s troops from several Syrian outposts near the Turkish border. | Burak Kara/Getty Images

She has also been labeled by those on the left and right as a Vladimir Putin apologist, helping push Kremlin-backed talking points.

In 2020, Gabbard unsuccessfully ran for president as Democrat, even though Sanders ran again. Both lost to now-President Joe Biden. Earlier this month, Gabbard announced she was leaving the Democratic Party. She began campaigning for many Republicans across the country who won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, like Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who is facing Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

“The Democrats of today are hostile to people of faith and spirituality,” Gabbard said. “They demonize the police and protect criminals at the expense of law-abiding Americans. The Democrats of today believe in open borders and weaponize the national security state to go after political opponents.”

But for Martini, the memory of that day 10 years ago when she thought she had lost her parents goes beyond politics.

“Just remembering this story makes me so anxious and upset,” said Martini. “And then this woman comes in and she wants to come to Michigan and she wants to support Tudor Dixon? I don’t know what to say. It’s just beyond words.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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