December 14, 2020
A protester carries a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag during a rally at the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., last month. (Paul Sancya/AP)
By Teo ArmusDec. 14, 2020 at 5:40 a.m. CST
In April, maskless protesters armed with assault rifles crowded inside the Michigan Capitol, screaming at police and rallying against stay-at-home orders. Months later, federal law enforcement agents unearthed an alleged plot by several of those demonstrators to storm the building and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
Now, “credible threats of violence” ahead of the state’s electoral college vote Monday — a pivotal step in cementing the swing state’s votes for President-elect Joe Biden — have forced Michigan’s top lawmakers to close all legislative offices in Lansing.
Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesperson for state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R), confirmed on Sunday to The Washington Post that Michigan House and Senate leadership consulted with the state police regarding the threats. The state Capitol, where the vote is set to take place, was already set to be closed to the public Monday.
Details about the threats remain unspecified and unconfirmed. D’Assandro declined further comment about the closures, Michigan State Police referred a request for comment to lawmakers, and the offices of Whitmer and Democratic leaders in the state legislature did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Sunday.
Amber McCann, a spokesperson for Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R), said in an email to The Post that the decision to close legislative offices “was not made because of anticipated protests, but was made based on credible threats of violence.”
Yet after a year filled with volatile rallies in Lansing and several instances of high-profile political violence, the lawmakers’ public statements about the threats show that all sides are on edge ahead of Monday’s electoral college vote — one of the most decisive steps in a vote-certification process that has generated protests, lawsuits and headlines like no other in recent memory.
In Arizona, another key swing state, security has been increased in the state Capitol executive tower in Phoenix, Bart Graves, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, confirmed to The Post.
‘A dark, empty place:’ Public officials face personal threats as tensions flare
The steps necessary to determine an electoral-college winner are normally conducted with little fanfare or public attention. But they have been closely watched this year amid a baseless, weeks-long campaign by President Trump to overturn the election results.
As The Post’s Elise Viebeck has reported, Trump has peddled unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, filed lawsuits challenging election results and pressured state lawmakers to back new slates of electors. None of those efforts have been successful.
In accordance with federal law, members of the electoral college will gather to cast their ballots for president and vice president in state capitals across the nation on Monday. As in many other states, the electors in Michigan are individuals who have pledged their loyalty to the political party that won the state’s popular vote.
Michigan’s 16 Democratic electors this year include a middle-school history teacher, a 96-year-old retiree, and the party’s chair in Jackson County, according to the Detroit Free Press.
They are set to vote Monday at 2 p.m. in the state’s Senate chambers, according Whitmer’s office. Besides the delegates, only a few others, including the governor and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), will be allowed to attend, although the event will be live-streamed.
On social media late on Sunday, several Michigan state legislators expressed concern over the unspecified threats — in some cases, tying them to tense political rallies and protests by conservative groups at state capitol in April and May.
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D) wrote on Twitter that he was “thankful for the courage of our electors who will be exercising their democratic duty and selecting our next President.”
Meanwhile, state Rep. Donna Lasinski (D) pointed fingers across the aisle.
“The meeting of the Electoral College should be a celebration of our democracy but instead has now become a target for threats, intimidation and violence,” wrote Lasinski, who is set to become the Democratic minority leader in her chamber. “It is a sad fact that the shameful actions by certain Republicans to smear our democratic institutions and deny the clear will of the voters has undeniably created this dangerous, hostile atmosphere.”
At times, armed crowds at the demonstrations in Lansing in April and May demanded to be allowed into the legislative chambers, forcing the Capitol to shut down. Several events were attended by the six members of extremist groups who have since been charged in an alleged plot to “snatch” Whitmer and put her on “trial” for ordering coronavirus restrictions, a Post investigation found.
The latest closure felt like another in a long line of threats to some lawmakers. State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D) wrote, “Another day, another alert that the Capitol is being shut down out of concern for everyone’s safety.”
Omar Sofradzija in Lansing, Mich., and Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.Updated December 13, 2020
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Teo ArmusTeo Armus is a reporter for The Washington Post’s Morning Mix team. He previously covered race, immigration and identity issues for the Charlotte Observer. Follow
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