Trump downplays plot against Whitmer at Michigan rally, crowd chants 'lock her up'

Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press

President Donald Trump, speaking at a Michigan rally a week after law enforcement revealed an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, seemed to downplay the threat to her as those at the event chanted "lock her up" on at least two occasions.

Fourteen people have been charged in the alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer, who, according to charging documents was described as a "tyrant" by some of the alleged plotters. Whitmer came under attack by critics and Trump for putting in place strict restrictions at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in order to slow the spread.

At Saturday's rally at Muskegon County Airport in west Michigan, Trump reiterated his criticism of Whitmer and her handling of the virus, saying, "You've got to get your governor to open up your state, OK?" The enthusiastic crowd responded by chanting "lock her up," a refrain that Trump used in regards to another woman, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival in 2016.

On Saturday, when the crowd took up the chant, Trump laughed and responded, "Lock them all up."

Later in the 1 1/2-hour-long speech, Trump again criticized the governor, saying Michigan is "locked up, locked down and closed up for business," even though many of the toughest restrictions have been loosened for months. The crowd then again began to chant, "Lock her up."

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Trump made one mention of the plot to kidnap Whitmer, saying, "I guess they say she was threatened," and then noting, correctly, that Whitmer, a Democrat, had criticized the president when the plot was revealed for having failed to more strongly denounce white supremacists and right-wing hate groups. The plotters were linked to a Michigan militia group.

Trump again on Saturday, rather than denouncing any such groups — or the plot against Whitmer — immediately pivoted to say that federal law enforcement should spend more time investigating "Antifa" and other left-wing movements that have been linked to violence. "Our FBI has to start looking at Antifa and some people they are not looking at the way they should be," he said, as if to suggest its time was better spent there.

On Twitter, Whitmer denounced Trump's remarks, saying, "This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans. It needs to stop."

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Trump on several occasions has declined to denounce right-wing hate groups without, in the same breath, denouncing left-wing groups, even though federal law enforcement says there is more of a threat currently from right-wing groups.

Contact Todd Spangler attspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler. Read more onMichigan politics and sign up for ourelections newsletter.