Intimidation of Public Officials
“Anyone who was paying attention,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday, “saw this play out in Michigan eight to nine months ago.”
She was referring, of course, to the armed protesters who took over the Michigan Capitol in April and May, demanding an end to COVID-19-related restrictions imposed by Whitmer. In October, FBI agents arrested six men on charges that they planned to overrun the state capitol and to kidnap Whitmer.
Trump stoked opposition to Whitmer and her coronavirus containment policies from the earliest days of the pandemic. He told Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor, not to call “that woman from Michigan.” Later, the president sent tweets calling for his followers to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all states led by Democratic governors. (The Whitmer kidnapping plot was apparently hatched before Trump’s “liberate” tweets.)
Whitmer blamed Trump for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol this week, as well as many instances of intimidation of public officials leading up to it.
“We have a leader in our White House who has been egging this on, who has been encouraging and excusing this,” she said. “These same people that were threatening to kill me are who he tweeted were very fine people that I should negotiate with.”
“We didn’t see anyone in the Republican establishment stand up and say, ‘Domestic terrorism will not stand,’” she said on MSNBC. “Now we see some people standing up, and I’m glad that they are now, because whether I am the target or Dr. Fauci or the secretary of state in Georgia or our whole Congress is, it is wrong. It is anti-American. These people need to be held accountable.”
As Whitmer indicated, Trump supporters had also been targeting Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state who oversaw Georgia’s elections, after Trump lost the state to Biden in the November election. The president’s electoral failure became a major issue in two runoff elections for U.S. Senate spots in Georgia, with Trump and his supporters claiming contrary to all evidence that the election was “stolen.” The president eventually pleaded
with Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” for Trump, and told the Georgia official he was “taking a big risk” of criminal prosecution if he didn’t comply.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a Republican who eventually lost his seat in the runoff election this week, stoked the controversy by calling on Raffensperger to resign. Raffensperger blamed Perdue for threats he and his family received in the wake of that action.
“Sen. Perdue still owes my wife an apology for all the death threats she got after he asked for my resignation,” the Georgia secretary of state told Fox News. “And I have not heard one peep from that man since.”
“If he wants to call me face to face, man to man, I will talk to him off the record,” Raffensperger continued. “But he hasn’t done that.”
Meanwhile, angry crowds have increasingly shown up at the private residences of government officials, including the Michigan secretary of state, Ohio public health director and the mayors of Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
“As my four-year-old son and I were finishing up decorating the house for Christmas on Saturday night, and he was about to sit down to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas
, dozens of armed individuals stood outside my home shouting obscenities and chanting into bullhorns in the dark of night,” Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, wrote
on Twitter in early December. The protesters were contesting Trump’s loss of Michigan in the November election.
And, of course, protests at several state capitol buildings
this Wednesday prompted evacuations and lockdowns there, too, even as events were unfolding in Washington.
What is striking about the many instances of public officials being threatened or intimidated, in their workplaces or in their homes, is how rarely their political opponents condemned the actions.
“I called on Donald Trump. I … spoke directly to Mike Pence. I called on Republican leaders in Michigan: We have to bring the heat down,” Whitmer said. “The death threats were rolling in. And none of them did a darn thing.”