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FBI arrests Ryan Kelley, Michigan GOP governor candidate, over Capitol riots

Ryan Kelley
Ryan Kelley was arraigned in federal court in Grand Rapids and released on Thursday, hours after the FBI arrested him on claims he participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol. About 50 supporters greeted him outside the courthouse. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

June 10: ‘Pure chaos’ in Michigan as FBI arrest, forgeries rock GOP governor primary

LANSING — The FBI on Thursday arrested Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley and raided his home, a stunning development in one of the state’s most unpredictable primary races. 

A criminal complaint filed in Washington D.C. federal court shows Kelley is facing multiple misdemeanor charges for his role in protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building to try to stop certification of President Joe Biden's win.

The FBI executed both a search warrant and arrest warrant at Kelley's home in Allendale Township in western Michigan and arrested Kelley, spokesperson Mara Schneider told Bridge Michigan. Kelley was arraigned later in the afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids.

He said little at the hearing and was released on a personal recognizance bond. About 50 supporters greeted him outside, some of whom carried American flags and likened Kelley to a political prisoner. One supporter, dressed like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, argued Kelley was only guilty of "running against a corrupt political party."

Related:

Kelley has denied entering the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but court records show he has been charged with multiple misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison:

  • Knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority
  • Disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds
  • Knowingly engaging in any act of physical violence against person or property in any restricted building or grounds
  • Willfully injuring or committing any depredation against any property of the United States

A real estate agent, Kelley rose to prominence in conservative circles in 2020 for protesting removal of a Confederate statue in his hometown and organizing a Michigan Capitol protest against COVID-19 policies.

He's called the state's three top elected officials — Democrats Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — "felons" because of pandemic policies and urged their arrest.

Leading the polls

Thursday's raid comes hours before a U.S. House committee investigating the 2021 attacks on the Capitol will present its findings during a prime-time hearing.

    Kelley is one of five remaining Republican gubernatorial candidates remaining after five others were disqualified from the Aug. 2 ballot for submitting fraudulent signature in their nominating petitions.  According to one poll in late May, Kelley has a slight lead in the GOP primary, with 19 percent support. But nearly half of all Republicans, 49 percent, are still undecided, according to the poll.

    Standing outside the Grand Rapids courthouse, Kelley supporter Jason Briscoe said the arrest and disqualifications are "suspicious" 

    "If we don't stand up, we're going to lose our elections and then we're gonna lose our country," he said.

    Related:

    Fellow Republicans including state party co-chair Meshawn Maddock also questioned the arrest.

    "Do people really get their homes raided and arrested in front of their children over a misdemeanor?" she asked on Twitter,

    State GOP Co-Chair Ron Weiser issued a statement accusing Democrats of “weaponizing our judicial system in an unprecedented way against their political opponents.”

    Lonnie Scott, executive director of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group, cheered the arrest, calling Kelley "a menace to society."

    "Anyone involved in the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol or the surrounding efforts to overturn the will of voters in the 2020 election, must be held accountable," Scott said in a statement.

    Nessel tweeted a photo of Kelley outside the Grand Rapids court with presumptive GOP Attorney General nominee Matthew DePerno, who has led efforts to claim Michigan’s 2020 election was fraudulent.

    ”It’s become mainstream in the MI Republican Party for gubernatorial and attorney general candidates to support insurrection against the United States government,” Nessel wrote.

    Multiple tips

    The FBI, in affidavit accompanying arrest documents, said it received multiple tips about Kelley in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot, starting with an anonymous tip on Jan. 16, 2021, that included information also posted on Twitter by an account called Michigan Tea.

    A confidential human source — who had began providing information on domestic terrorism groups in Michigan in 2020 — also identified Kelley in video archives published by ProPublica.

    The videos described by the FBI do not show Kelley inside the Capitol, but they appear to show him encouraging others to enter the building, helping another protester who pulled down a metal barricade and pulling a "covering" off of an unidentified Capitol structure. 

    Among the scenes described in the new affidavit:

    • On Jan. 19, FBI personnel identified Kelley in video showing a crowd of people "assaulting and pushing past law enforcement officers" outside the U.S. Capitol (the affidavit does not specify Kelley’s actions, just the “crowd” as a whole)
    • After "causing" Capitol police to retreat, the crowd climbed the stairs toward an interior entrance, and Kelley "began to climb onto an architectural feature next to those stairs"

    • Another image appears to show Kelley climbing near scaffolding. He later climbed atop another "architectural feature" next to the north west stairs and "indicated by waving his hand that the crowd behind him should move towards the stairs leading to the U.S. Capitol."
    • In other footage, Kelley was shown "using his hands to support another rioter who is pulling the metal barricade onto the scaffolding." He also "used his hands to pull a covering off a temporary structure" that Capitol personnel had erected for a separate future event. 
    • At 2:20 p.m., Kelley 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."
    • By 2:29 p.m. Kelly was in the Capitol's north west courtyard, where he used his "thumb to motion towards the doors to the interior." 

    It's not clear why it took the FBI so long to charge Kelley after beginning to receive tips in early 2021. In the affidavit, the agency said it consulted with multiple witnesses to confirm Kelleys identity in the videos, including an Ottawa County Sheriff's Office employee who knew Kelley and an FBI agent who had interviewed Kelley on July 30, 2020. 

    "There is probable cause to believe that Kelley violated" multiple laws, according to the FBI affidavit. 

    — Bridge reporter Jared Ramsey contributed

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