LANSING, Michigan — President Donald Trump brought his anger with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to her home state on Tuesday, telling a campaign rally crowd that the kidnapping plot that targeted her "maybe" wasn't a "problem" and coaxing his supporters into a chant of "lock her up."
Whitmer has been one of Trump’s most frequent targets in his last campaign rallies before Election Day, just as she has been throughout the coronavirus pandemic after she took restrictive measures to try to limit the virus’s spread. It's only been about three weeks since the FBI announced the arrest of 13 people involved in an alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer. In an essay for the Atlantic published Tuesday, Whitmer explained how the president’s verbal attacks encourage threats.
“Every time the president ramps up his violent rhetoric, every time he fires up Twitter to launch another broadside against me, my family and I see a surge of vicious attacks sent our way,” she wrote in the Atlantic.
Trump, looking for the state's support in next week's election, said Whitmer is simply “not a good governor.”
His response, made before thousands of his most ardent supporters, resulted in chants of "lock her up," which Trump smiled through before resuming his remarks.
“No, your governor, I don't think she likes me too much,” he told thousands of his supporters who came out to the Capital Region International Airport in Lansing, Michigan, to see him.
Trump then commented on the plot to kidnap Whitmer, but not the way one would expect a sitting president to address an alleged attempt on the life of a United States governor.
“Hey, I'm the one, it was our people who helped her out with her problem, and we’ll have to see if it's a problem. People are entitled to say, maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn't. It was our people, my people, our people who helped her out. And then she blamed me for it."
It’s the same skepticism Robert Bothwell conveyed while standing in line, in the rain, Monday morning to get into the rally. The retiree and lifelong Michigander expressed doubt about the FBI’s findings. “A small number of people have allegedly threatened [Whitmer] and the thing is that we don't know all the facts, yet.” He added, “The FBI’s findings, right now, are preliminary.”
Some Trump supporters came to collect signatures to have Whitmer removed from office. The Recall Whitmer movement’s looking to secure 1,062,647 valid signatures to recall Whitmer from office. They lined up their booths outside the rally, with one incorporating the iconic “Pure Michigan” logo but with a twist: “MY GOVERNOR IS AN IDIOT PURE MORON” and, separately, another sign that read "RECALL 'HALF' WHITMER."
“Oh, she is trying to gain too much power with her executive orders,” William Meyers told BuzzFeed News as he and his 11-year-old daughter Annabel waited outside in the rain to enter the venue. Meyers is particularly annoyed with Whitmer’s order to restrict the sale of home improvement supplies at larger retailers. The Michigan Supreme Court struck down a set of Whitmer’s emergency orders earlier this month, but more recently reissued ones remain, which include mask requirements and restrictions on restaurant capacity and gatherings.
“Like telling us we couldn’t paint our houses during this lockdown or go gardening. C’mon, that’s a little extreme,” he said.
Meyers applauded the FBI for arresting the crew charged with conspiring to kidnap the governor — kinda.
“It was a heinous crime that someone would actually even though she is, a... you know, I don't agree with her. But, it's still wrong that people do stuff like that. No matter what side you're on, it's still wrong. I am glad that they did stop it and it didn’t start a big civil war or worse.”
Overall, Trump supporters aren’t in line with the governor’s strict mandates to combat the coronavirus.
“Gretchen was controlling during COVID so much — controlling people’s rights,” said Kumiko Newman.
Robert Bothwell is convinced that Whitmer is going to have to change to be more in line with Trump. “She's gonna have to, at some point, begin to work with the president,” Bothwell said of Whitmer. “Because if she doesn't she's gonna find herself on the unemployment line herself.”
And even as Bothwell acknowledged the threat is “wrong” and “not a way to handle things,” he blamed both sides rather than suggesting the president is inciting violence against Whitmer when he publicly admonishes her and her family.
“And I will tell you, way back when I was unemployed, I did a short stint with the state police. I was a dispatcher and I began to see the different things that go on and how things take place. And I know that there are two sides to every story. And I think that, in this case, there's definitely two sides to the story.”
After the rally, BuzzFeed News talked to a few protesters about a quarter-mile outside who scoffed at the president’s attacks on Whitmer.
“She’s still our governor,” Evelyn Gillett said.