Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that President Donald Trump is "complicit" in fomenting extremists as she addressed a thwarted plot to kidnap her revealed earlier Thursday.
"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, pointing to Trump's comments about the "Proud Boys" group during last week's presidential debate. "'Stand back and stand by,' he told them. Stand back and stand by."
"Hate groups heard the president's words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry," she said. "As a call to action. When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit."
Whitmer thanked law enforcement after more than a dozen men were charged with federal and state crimes in connection to the plot. Six of the men were arrested on federal charges while seven more were hit with state charges. Federal investigators had utilized informants and were tracking the individuals for months.
According to the federal criminal complaint, the men sought to take Whitmer hostage before the November election and conducted surveillance of her vacation home. They had also conducted combat training and sought this week to purchase explosives.
The president has repeatedly criticized Whitmer over her strict efforts to contain coronavirus, calling her the "lock-up queen" in an interview just hours before news of the alleged plot broke. In an April tweet that began recirculating after the charges were announced, Trump wrote: "LIBERATE MICHIGAN."
Responding to the charges, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump and lashed out at Whitmer, accusing her of "sowing division by making these outlandish allegations. America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot."
Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller called Whitmer's comments on Thursday "shameful."
"I mean, if we want to talk about hatred, then Gov. Whitmer, go look in the mirror — the fact that she wakes up every day with such hatred in her heart for President Trump — President Trump is the one out there condemning these radical groups, whether they be on the left or the right," Miller said on Fox News.
Trump on Thursday night attacked Whitmer, tweeting that the governor "has done a terrible job" and "locked down" her state, referring to coronavirus restrictions. "My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement" announced the foiling of a dangerous plot, he tweeted.
"Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist," Trump wrote.
"I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President!" he added in another tweet.
"Mr. President, I thought you weren’t interested in a virtual debate?" Whitmer responded on Twitter, referint to Trump's stated refusal to participate in the next presidential debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced it would take place virtually "in order to protect the health and safety of all involved."
Whitmer also encouraged Trump to watch her earlier speech, saying the president clearly had not done so. "If you’re as tired of this divisive rhetoric as I am, there’s something we can do about it," Whitmer said in another tweet, with a link related to voting.
Whitmer, whose national profile skyrocketed over her response to Covid-19, has long drawn the ire of such militia groups in her state.
Right-wing protests to her coronavirus lockdown restrictions took place over months in Lansing, including one where armed protesters brought weapons into the state Capitol. Michigan has a deep history with the modern militia movement, as its origins can be traced back to the state.
"The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire," Trump tweeted May 1 about the armed protesters. "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."
Joe Biden criticized Trump's past remarks on Whitmer, saying the "words of a president matter."
"I just think it's got to stop. The president's got to realize the words he utter matter,” he said. "Why can't the president just say stop? Stop. Stop. Stop. And we will pursue you if you don't, so stop."
"There is a throughline from President Trump’s dog whistles and tolerance of hate, vengeance, and lawlessness to plots such as this one. He is giving oxygen to the bigotry and hate we see on the march in our country," Biden said. "We have to stop it."
In a 4-3 decision last week, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against Whitmer's emergency powers. Michigan was one of the hardest-hit states during the initial outbreak. Deaths, hospitalizations and cases fell dramatically from mid-April through early-July, though cases are now on the rise again.
Leading state Republicans were quick to condemn the kidnapping plot on Thursday.
"A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all," state Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey tweeted. "We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
And state House Speaker Lee Chatfield wrote: "Violence has no place in politics. Ever."
"It’s never a solution to disagreements," he tweeted. "The people who targeted @GovWhitmer and police officers are un-American. Justice should be swift and severe. It’s time to send a message that violence will not be tolerated."