Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks at Beech Woods Recreation Center, in Southfield, Mich., Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. | AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer excoriated President Donald Trump for continuing his incendiary rhetoric toward her at a Saturday campaign rally in the wake of an alleged plot to kidnap her.
Speaking in Western Michigan as part of a swing through the Rust Belt, Trump urged Whitmer to loosen restrictions on economic activity enacted to curtail the spread of coronavirus, which is surging in the region.
“You’ve got to get your governor to open up your state,” he said to cheers. “And get your schools open.”
Trump’s supporters erupted into chants of “lock her up” — a refrain from the 2016 campaign originally lobbed at Hillary Clinton, but since repurposed against Whitmer and other high-profile Democrats — which Trump did little to dissuade.
“Lock ‘em all up,” he said before pausing to soak up energy in the crowd.
The striking visual quickly came to Whitmer’s attention, who responded while the president was still speaking.
“This is exactly the rhetoric that has put me, my family, and other government officials’ lives in danger while we try to save the lives of our fellow Americans,” she tweeted. “It needs to stop.”
Trump and other critics of the measures taken by governors to combat the virus — which has now infected more than 8 million Americans and killed at least 210,000 across the country — had singled out Whitmer, a freshman governor in a battleground state, on numerous occasions. In April Trump tweeted in all caps “Liberate Michigan” and more recently derided her as the “lock-up queen.”
Earlier this month federal and state law enforcement officials announced an array of charges — including violations of Michigan’s anti-terrorism statute — against at least seven people in connection with an elaborate plot to kidnap and possibly harm the governor.
But the alleged kidnapping plot, which included members of a militia group the FBI also suspected off planning to potentially kill police officers and possibly Whitmer herself, has done little to tamp down criticism against her by Trump and other conservatives.
“I guess they said she was threatened, right? And she blamed me,” Trump said, incredulously. ”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.”
Trump then urged the FBI to target antifa, a frequent comeback when the president is questioned over his previous equivocations on white supremacist and other extremist groups.
Whitmer’s deputy digital director, Tori Saylor, linked Trump's comments to spikes in online abuse against the governor.
“Every single time the President does this at a rally, the violent rhetoric towards her immediately escalates on social media,” Saylor wrote. “It has to stop. It just has to.”
The Trump campaign did not immediately return a request for comment on Whitmer's tweet.
Former Trump aide turned critic Anthony Scaramucci blasted Trump's rhetoric, saying it was "inciting violence," and accusing other GOP leaders of being complicit for not denouncing it.
Lee Chatfield, Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, tweeted after the rally: "I was proud to speak in support of the President tonight! I’m excited to vote for him again. And no, Trump didn’t chant “lock her up” about our Governor. But others did and it was wrong. She was literally just targeted. Let’s debate differences. Let’s win elections. But not that."