Hours after police foiled an alleged plot to kidnap her, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer argued in a speech Thursday that President Donald Trump's words had been a “rallying cry” for extremists.
Whitmer, a Democrat, said the Republican president has spent the last seven months of the coronavirus pandemic “denying science, ignoring his own health experts, stoking distrust, fomenting anger and giving comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division."
She singled out Trump's debate comments, when he did not condemn white supremacist groups and told one far-right extremist group to “stand back and stand by."
“Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry," Whitmer said. “When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit."
There is no indication in the criminal complaint that the men arrested were inspired by Trump. Authorities also have not publicly said whether the men were angry about Whitmer’s coronavirus orders, which sharply curtailed businesses and individuals in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Democrat Joe Biden sought to tie Trump to the plot as well, pointing to the president's tweet earlier this year to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Whitmer's coronavirus response has faced criticism from conservatives, and the GOP-led Michigan Legislature sued her in May to try to invalidate her stay-at-home order and other measures.
The arrests and Whitmer's comments come less than a month before the presidential election in a key battleground state, where recent polls show Biden has a lead.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others were charged in state court under Michigan’s anti-terrorism laws for allegedly targeting police and seeking a “civil war.”
Trump criticized Whitmer's remarks, saying she has done a “terrible job" and should open the state. Her stay-at-home order was lifted months ago, but mask requirements and gathering restrictions remain.
The president tweeted that “my” Justice Department and federal law enforcement had thwarted a dangerous plot against her.
“Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist,” he tweeted before accusing Biden and Democrats of not condemning “looters and mobs that burn down” Democratic-run cities. Whitmer did not call Trump a white supremacist but accused him of “giving comfort" to hate groups. Biden has condemned violence at protests.
“I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence,” Trump said. “Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!”
Whitmer also called for kindness and empathy during the pandemic and issued a warning to those who threaten violence.
“Hatred, bigotry and violence have no place in the great state of Michigan," she said. “If you break the law or conspire to commit heinous acts of violence against anyone, we will find you, we will hold you accountable and we will bring you to justice."
This story has been corrected to reflect that Trump said “stand back and stand by,” not “stand up and stand by.”
Schulte reported from Omaha, Neb.