LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer accused President Donald Trump of inciting domestic terrorism during a national TV appearance Sunday, in her strongest criticism of Trump to date.
“It’s incredibly disturbing that the president of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial, and execute me — 10 days after that was uncovered — the president is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” Whitmer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” following a Trump campaign appearance in Michigan Saturday.
“It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere,” said Whitmer, calling on opinion leaders everywhere to “call this out” and demand Trump tamp down his remarks.
On Saturday night, Trump held a campaign rally at an airport near Muskegon, where he again repeated criticism of Whitmer for measures she has taken to address the coronavirus pandemic, prompting chants of “Lock her Up,” and appeared to summarize the alleged plot against Whitmer with the words: “I guess they say she was threatened.”
Trump has said Whitmer should be appreciative because federal officials uncovered and foiled the plot. In response to the chant from the crowd, Trump laughed and said: “Lock them all up.”
Trump and his surrogates pushed back at Whitmer Sunday, with Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president was only “having fun” at the Michigan rally, and Trump’s campaign accusing Whitmer on Twitter of encouraging Trump’s assassination.
Federal and state officials have charged 14 men in connection with alleged domestic terror plots that included a plan to kidnap Whitmer from her family’s vacation home in northern Michigan. Defendants in the case conducted surveillance of the home on two occasions and discussed abducting her by boat and taking her to Wisconsin to “stand trial” for treason, according to evidence in the case.
Whitmer has said Trump is “complicit” in the plot by using highly charged words to criticize her, by sometimes refusing to condemn right-wing groups, and by giving encouragement and legitimacy to such groups by tweeting comments such as, “Liberate Michigan,” and by urging Whitmer to meet and negotiate with Capitol demonstrators.
In Sunday’s remarks, Whitmer, a national co-chair of former vice president Joe Biden’s Democratic campaign for president, took those earlier comments a step further, by saying Trump actually incites terrorism.
Michigan, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016 after it had been won by the Democratic presidential candidates in each election since 1988, has emerged as a crucial state to both campaigns in the Nov. 3 election.
Lara Trump, an adviser to the Trump campaign, said on CNN that Trump “wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all,” but was merely “having fun at a Trump rally.”
Trump’s campaign said on Twitter that Whitmer, who displayed a small “8645” button, beside a potted plant in the background of her TV appearance, was “encouraging assassination attempts against President Trump.” Some Democrats have promoted 8645 logos and T-shirts as part of their messaging to defeat Trump, the 45th president, and remove him from the White House. To “86” someone most commonly means to have them removed from a service establishment, such as a bar or restaurant. Trump campaign spokesman Chris Gustafson said that 86 “can be shorthand for killing someone.”
Whitmer also said that with coronavirus cases rising nationally and in Michigan, all of the progress Michigan has made against the pandemic is “at risk” due to what she denounced as a “partisan” 4-3 Michigan Supreme Court decision Oct. 2 that struck down as unconstitutional the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945.
That statute was the major legal underpinning for Michigan’s state of emergency and Whitmer’s emergency orders related to the pandemic after courts ruled earlier Whitmer cannot extend a state of emergency beyond 28 days without approval of the Legislature, which the GOP-controlled House and Senate have refused to provide.
Whitmer said the Supreme Court decision “has created a lot of confusion and has worked to undermine the work we have done here.” But she said she is using the Michigan Public Health code and other powers to continue a statewide mask mandate, restrict the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings, and set requirements to ensure workplace safety.
Trump told thousands gathered at his Saturday rally they need to get Whitmer to end Michigan’s lockdown. Whitmer lifted Michigan’s stay-at-home order June 1, though some restrictions on business and other activities remain in place.
“We haven’t had a stay-home order since late spring,” Whitmer said Sunday, but Trump “never lets facts get in the way of comments he is making.”
She said Trump’s response to the pandemic is “the worst in the globe,” and that is because he has politicized the crisis, rather than addressing it from a science and health perspective.
We should have acted as though we were in a war,” Whitmer said. “But not a war with one another, a war with a virus.”
Laura Cox, chair of the Michigan Republican Party, repeated on Twitter the Trump campaign’s allegation about the 8645 button and said Whitmer was resorting to “partisan games” during her TV appearance, “to deflect from her failures on COVID-19 and as Joe Biden’s national co-chair.”
It was Whitmer’s third appearance on “Meet the Press,” the most influential of the Sunday public affairs programs and the longest-running program in TV history. She earlier appeared on the program in March and April, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.