Hours before the FBI revealed an alleged kidnap plot against Gretchen Whitmer, Donald Trump railed against the Michigan governor as the Covid “lockup queen”.
Within weeks, his supporters were chanting “lock her up” as the then-president used the threat against her life to rally support in the key swing state during the final days of the 2020 election.
The trial against four militia members, which began this week, heard that the so-called “Wolverine Watchmen” were “sent overboard” by Covid and the “tyrant” governor’s mask mandates and lockdowns.
The FBI announced their arrest on 8 October 2020, the same day that Trump appeared on Fox News to stoke anger against her coronavirus policies.
“I won Michigan, which hadn’t been won in decades and decades … and we should win it again because I brought so much business there because she’s the lockup queen,” Mr Trump said.
“What she’s done to that place is horrible. She’s locked it up. She’s got people like living in prison. The courts just overturned her. They said what you’re doing is unconstitutional,” he added.
But rather than tamp down his rhetoric in light of the suspected domestic terror threat, MR Trump ramped up his attacks on “that woman from Michigan” as he campaigned to hold onto the state he flipped to Republican for the first time since 1988.
Ms Whitmer, for her part, blamed Mr Trump for “giving comfort” to white supremacists and hate groups as she spoke in the hours after the allegedly foiled kidnap plot.
“Just last week the president of the United States stood before the American people and refused to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two Michigan militia groups,” she said.
“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry, a call to action.”
The then-president didn’t take kindly to the allusion and jumped onto a call with Sean Hannity to lament Ms Whitmer for complaining when his Justice Department “arrested the people that she was complaining about”.
“But instead she goes and does her little political act, and she keeps her state closed,” he said.
A protester with a sign comparing Gretchen Whitmer’s to Hitler over lockdown orders (AFP via Getty Images)
The pair first began to clash as the coronavirus pandemic escalated in early 2020, when Mr Trump famously refused to mention “that woman from Michigan” by name.
The alleged kidnapping plot only provided more fodder for the intense political battle between Mr Trump and Joe Biden, who at one stage had shortlisted Ms Whitmer as a potential vice president candidate
After attacking Mr Trump as giving comfort to white supremacy, she appeared on Meet the Press todirectly accuse him of “inciting domestic terrorism” for attacking her in the wake of FBI militia arrests.
“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 … [is] inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” she said.
“It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere,” she continued.
Her comments came after Trump supporters at a campaign rally in Muskegon, Michigan, chanted for the president to “lock her up”, repurposing his 2016 campaign rallying cry against Hillary Clinton for his latest heel.
“Lock them all up,” Mr Trump said in response.
✕ Trump launches fresh attack on kidnap plot governor Gretchen Whitmer at Michigan rally
“I guess they said she was threatened and she blamed me, she blamed me and our people were the ones that worked with her people, so let’s see what happens,” he continued over the chants.
“Hopefully you will be sending her packing soon anyway.”
As he trailed further behind Mr Biden in the polls, Mr Trump continued to insert Ms Whitmer into his airing of grievances during Michigan campaign rallies, asking how the state “put her there” in the governor’s office.
In a campaign rally in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, six days before the election, Mr Trump continued to lament Ms Whitmer “blaming” him for the attempted abduction, which, he claimed, may not have actually been a thing.
“And we’ll have to see if it’s a problem, right? People are entitled to say, ‘Maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t,’” Mr Trump said.
The trial against four militia members, to determine if they were a problem, continues.