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Mich. gubernatorial candidate arrested on Jan. 6 Capitol riot charge

Republican contender Ryan D. Kelley allegedly waved on mob, tore inauguration stage scaffolding

Charging documents identified Michigan gubernatorial candidate, Ryan D. Kelley, running up stairs in video of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan D. Kelley was arrested Thursday on misdemeanor charges of participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, including a count of damaging federal property, the Justice Department announced.

A contender in the state’s crowded Aug. 2 primary, Kelley, 40, of Allendale, Mich., faces four counts punishable by up to a year in prison, including trespassing, disorderly conduct, committing an act of violence against a person or property on restricted grounds, and depredation of federal property, according to charging papers. His home in Allendale was searched by the FBI on Thursday morning.

Kelley was released from custody Thursday afternoon after a brief initial appearance in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally J. Berens of Grand Rapids, Mich. A follow-up hearing was scheduled for next week. Kelley’s attorney, Heath Lynch, said in an email that Kelley was “heading home to be with his family” and “has every intention of continuing his campaign in earnest.”

“At this time Mr. Kelley declines to make any comment regarding the charges,” Lynch said, referring further questions to campaign manager Karla Wagner.

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Kelley is the latest of more than a half-dozen Republican officeholders, candidates or local party leaders to be charged in the Capitol breach, with several pleading guilty or being convicted at trial. He was arrested as the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 was preparing to hold its first prime-time televised hearings Thursday night.

Kelley, an Allendale Township planning commissioner, launched his run for governor after calling the Jan. 6 Capitol riot an “energizing event.” Scores of police officers were injured in the riot, which was carried out by supporters of President Donald Trump who embraced false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Five people died in the attack or its immediate aftermath.

A look back at the bloody attack on the U.S. Capitol when former President Donald Trump rallied his supporters to overturn the 2020 presidential election. (Video: Ross Godwin/The Washington Post)

Kelley has been identified in videos charging up a key stairway leading to the first Capitol building entrance that was breached after bypassing police barricades setting off restricted areas, charging papers indicate. Kelley has denied entering the Capitol building itself.

Charging papers allege that Kelley waved a crowd up the stairway and supported another rioter who pulled a metal barricade onto scaffolding that was holding up the stage for President Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Kelley “at approximately 2:05 p.m., used his hands to pull a covering off” the inauguration scaffolding, and “continued to gesture to the crowd, consistently indicating that they should move toward the stairs that led to the entrance of the U.S. Capitol interior spaces,” the charging papers state.

In a March 2021 interview with MLive, Kelley said: “I think that event was definitely an energizing event, right? … It will live on in history, absolutely. For a lot of different things.”

“As far as going through any barricades, or doing anything like that, I never took part in any forceful anything,” the Michigan news outlet quoted Kelley as saying. “Once things started getting crazy, I left.”

Kelley’s arrest further upends the Michigan GOP’s gubernatorial primary, which was already in turmoil after five of 10 candidates were disqualified last month because of invalid signatures on their nominating petitions.

Two of those hopefuls had been considered leading candidates for the nomination, including former Detroit police chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson. Michigan courts have so far rejected all of the hopefuls’ legal challenges to appear on the ballot, but the candidates have vowed to take their cases to the Michigan Supreme Court.

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In addition to Kelley, the remaining GOP gubernatorial candidates are business executive Tudor Dixon, pastor Ralph Rebandt, former auto dealer Kevin Rinke and chiropractor Garrett Soldano.

The family of former education secretary Betsy DeVos endorsed Dixon last week. The Republican nominee will face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is seeking another term.

Kelley has tied himself closely to Trump, joining the former president onstage for a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago in March. The following month, Kelley filed as a candidate for governor, framing his campaign as focused on election integrity following what he said was distrust of the 2020 Michigan election result.

Kelley was considered a fringe candidate, but he has emerged atop polls of the remaining candidates in the race. He continues to focus on alleged election fraud.

“So many people around the state from all areas of the state are not happy with how the 2020 election turned out,” Kelley has said, vowing to nullify the state’s voting machine contracts on his first day in office. “There are so many questions here that we need to get rid of these machines,” Kelley said.

President Biden won Michigan by about 155,000 votes out of nearly 5.5 million cast. The Detroit News has catalogued that more than 200 audits, court rulings and an investigation by a Republican-controlled state Senate committee have upheld the state’s election results.

At a meeting with prospective 2022 poll watchers in January, before he announced his gubernatorial candidacy, Kelley encouraged a crowd to unplug voting machines on Election Day if they suspect fraud.

“If you see something you don’t like happening with the machines, and you see something going on, unplug it from the wall,” Kelley said. At the same event, another Republican candidate urged the crowd to bring guns to polling places. “Lock and load” when you come to vote, said Mike Detmer, a state Senate candidate. The remarks were captured on video that was circulated on social media.

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A real estate agent, Kelley made a name for himself in politics in 2020 as an outspoken critic of Whitmer’s decision to shut down the state in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He was a lead organizer and public face at protests outside the Capitol. Several people later arrested in a purported plot to kidnap Whitmer attended those protests, including two that had been hired to provide security as Kelley and others spoke. Two of the men charged were acquitted at trial; the jury deadlocked on charges against the other two.

After the speeches ended at one anti-shutdown protest, Kelley was among members of the crowd that filed into the Capitol and banged on the door of the legislative chamber. Many chanted “Let us in!” and “Lock her up!”

Kelley has circulated a campaign flier touting his endorsement by one of the state’s biggest militias, the Michigan Three Percent.

“When asked how he will compromise with the opposition, what was Ryan D. Kelley’s response? ‘I won’t,’ ” the endorsement read, calling Kelley a man of integrity, including for demanding forensic audits of the 2020 election.

At least seven people who attended a pro-Trump rally that preceded the Capitol attack were elected to public office in November. Dozens more who came to Washington for related events are reportedly seeking state or federal office this year, many with Trump’s endorsement.

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