The chants — a familiar refrain deployed against political foes at Trump’s campaign events — came a little more than a week after authorities revealed a foiled plot to kidnap Whitmer, allegedly motivated in part by the belief that Michigan’s government was violating the Constitution with its coronavirus restrictions. Trump has repeatedly condemned Whitmer’s pandemic response as overly strict with calls to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and he reprised his criticisms at his Saturday campaign event in the swing state.
“You have got to get your governor to open up your state, okay?” he said to huge cheers at the rally in Muskegon, Mich. “And get your schools open.” The crowd began to chant for Whitmer’s imprisonment, and Trump shook his head at one point while smiling but did not tamp them down.
“Lock ’em all up,” he said, as the chants continued amid a sea of red hats.
Tori Saylor, deputy digital director for Whitmer, immediately criticized Trump’s behavior as dangerous.
“I see everything that is said about and to her online,” Saylor tweeted. “Every single time the President does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media. It has to stop. It just has to.”
Whitmer had the same message, tweeting Saturday evening: “It needs to stop.”
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, also criticized Trump’s “toxic attacks” and said in a statement that the “words of a president matter.”
The alleged kidnapping plans detailed earlier this month confirmed the worst fears of those who worried that the vitriol against Whitmer and her pandemic policies could escalate, while highlighting the threat of violence from extremist groups. According to the FBI, the plotters referred to Whitmer as a tyrant, experimented with explosives and discussed plans to storm the Michigan Capitol.
After the plot went public, Trump continued to condemn the Democratic governor, saying she has done a “terrible job.” Whitmer has defended her policies, saying she made “tough choices to keep our state safe.”
Trump seemed to reference the recent threat against the governor at one point Saturday, as he addressed supporters in Muskegon.
“And then I guess they said she was threatened, right?” Trump said. “And she blamed me! … And our people were the ones that worked with her people, so let’s see what happens. Let’s see what happens.”
He went on to say the FBI “has to start looking at antifa.”
Members of an extremist group that trained for an anti-government uprising called the “boogaloo” are implicated in the plot against Whitmer, according to authorities. People connected to the right-wing “boogaloo bois” movement have been charged with killing a security guard and plotting to use explosives amid protests in the summer.
But the president has continued to focus on left-wing groups and movements such as antifa.
Whitmer was not the only political rival who drew Trump’s ire Saturday. At the rally, he also repeatedly criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), appearing to mispronounce her name. The moment came a day after Republican Sen. David Perdue (Ga.) was called out for mocking the first name of his Senate colleague and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala D. Harris (Calif.).
Trump on Saturday claimed that Omar “doesn’t love our country too much, I don’t think.” He accused unspecified people of craving power and then said, “God help us if they ever did get it … you just have to look all over the world in different places.”
Omar is one of four liberal congresswomen of color whom Trump infamously told to “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” in comments that many decried as racist. Omar became a U.S. citizen as a teenager, and the other three were born in the United States.
“When [Trump] tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ has always been about making America white again,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded at the time on Twitter.