Michigan Republicans who pushed false fraud claims: Don’t blame us for riots

Months before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, militia members with guns demonstrated at the Legislature in Michigan, one of the few states that doesn’t ban firearms in its capital building. (Bridge file photo by Dale Young)

Michigan Republicans who spent months pushing false claims of voter fraud condemned violence that erupted Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, but denied their actions influenced rioters who supported President Donald Trump.

“Are we not allowed to look into election concerns?” said Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, one of 11 Michigan senators who sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday asking lawmakers to investigate voter fraud claims.

“Does looking into concerns make us violent?” 

Such equivocations ring hollow to racial justice activists like Angela Waters Austin, founder and co-leader of Black Lives Matter Michigan.


She said Michigan has had several “dress rehearsals” for Wednesday’s mayhem, and all were preceded by partisan vitriol from Republicans who this year stoked anger about wearing masks during a pandemic, sowed doubts about the election and condemned protests for racial justice. 

Wednesday’s mob scene may have shocked the nation, but Walters Austin said it paralleled protests April 30 at the Michigan Capitol, when armed right-wing militia members easily entered the building and loomed over lawmakers.

“We saw police stand down in both places,” Waters Austin said. 

Compare that, she said, to the heavy police presence her group routinely experiences when it hosts demonstrations against racism and police brutality.

“When Black people are there, police are the aggressors,” she said.

Waters Austin and other political leaders and activists cast Wednesday’s events as the inevitable culmination of years of worsening right-wing extremism, capped by an election season in which Trump and many of his supporters stoked violence, repeated demonstrably false claims of a rigged election, and failed to forcefully condemn earlier incidents of violence and intimidation. 

But GOP lawmakers say their desire to investigate accusations of election fraud had nothing to do with the violence at the U.S. Capitol.

Ahead of Wednesday’s joint session, three Republicans from Michigan had announced  they would object to the Electoral College vote count: Reps. Lisa McClain of Bruce Township, Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and Tim Walberg of Tipton.

Separately, a letter from Michigan Republican senators sent Tuesday originally asked Congress to delay certification of the 2020 presidential election due to unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud. 

The letter was later revised to exclude the provision asking lawmakers to delay making election results official, and Barrett said his signature was added to the original document “without his consent.”

But he has no regrets after Wednesday’s chaos about signing the final version. 

Rep. Curtis VanderWall, R- Ludington, said he was disappointed by assumptions that the letter may have fueled voters’ rage that led to the storming of the Capitol.  

“That was never my intent,” he said.

Lawmakers should “look at everything” regarding the election, he said.  

But State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, called Wednesday’s chaos “a direct consequence of the toxic rhetoric that we've been seeing in politics.”

Besides armed protests, Michigan also experienced an alleged kidnapping plot against Whitmer that ended in October arrests in the past 12 months. Pohutsky said she  hopes Wednesday’s storm in Washington will be “a turning point."

“I am not applauding anyone who has just decided to show up [Wednesday] and start calling for an end to violence,” she said. “They're, frankly, late to the party.”

Some condemnation

Wednesday’s violence drew widespread condemnation from all sides, including Republicans like VanderWall who said he was “appalled by the criminal behavior taking place in our nation's capital.”

But he and other Republicans were reluctant to address Trump’s role in the mob, which stormed the Capitol not long after the president encouraged a massive crowd of supporters to “show strength.” 

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump wrote in a Wednesday night tweet that Twitter later deleted.

When asked by Bridge if Trump’s social media and words provoked violence, VanderWall replied, “we’re not going to go down a rabbit hole of where we're at and who did what.”

McClain, Walberg and Bergman —  the Michigan U.S. representatives who planned to object to the Electoral College —  did not mention the president in statements that condemned the violence and did not return requests for comment.

Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said Trump did what he could to condemn the violence.

“We need to restore that faith [in elections],” he said. “The only way to do that in my mind is to shed light on everything, whether anything happened or not.”

U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, slammed Trump on Twitter, saying “this is not leadership” and calling on the president to “acknowledge Biden as president-elect and end this madness.”

Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, released a statement saying the “assault on our institutions of government — and on ordered liberty – is an outgrowth of the rhetoric, lies, and conspiracies spread by the President and other elected Republicans who’ve falsely and feverishly claimed November’s election was stolen.” 

“Their actions over the last two months have today produced disastrous and violent consequences,” Daunt said.

Double standard?

Black Michigan leaders said they found it impossible to ignore the racial undertones of a mostly-white mob forcibly entering the U.S. Capitol. 

If the people storming the Capitol had been Black, said KB Stallworth, chair of the Black Caucus Foundation of Michigan and a former state representative, they never would have made it inside. 

“We’d be dead on the steps,” he said. 

Wednesday’s breach, Stallworth said, fit a pattern of police responding forcibly to Black protests even when no laws are being broken, while hanging back when white crowds commit crimes. 

Compare, for instance, the Michigan State Police reaction to April’s armed protests at the Michigan Capitol, he said, to “how quickly the MSP put metal detectors at every entrance” when Black people came to the state Capitol to protest Michigan’s 1999 takeover of Detroit Public Schools.

Last summer, the “Capitol was shut down” after a peaceful Black Lives Matter cookout in Lansing, Pohutsky said.

“There’s absolutely a racial component,” Pohutsky said.

Stallworth said he expects the incoming Biden administration — along with Democratic wins in the Georgia runoff election for two U.S. Senate seats — to present “an opportunity to exhale and recover” from a Trump presidency marked by civil unrest and political vitriol.

But, he said, that recovery is “not going to be easy with 70 million people that falsely believe they won.”

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

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Maureen Martin
Wed, 01/06/2021 - 8:51pm

Really. There is no need whatsoever to do this ‘bit of comment from both sides’ when 11 members of Congress spread lies snd instability. Who cares if they say, ‘who, me?’ Today. They are complicit. Blood is on their hands.

And bridge - you should be a bit more assertive. This isn’t actually about BLM. It’s about democracy.

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 9:27pm

Those claims aren't false, the evidence is mounting, even as the media tries to cover it up.

The peaceful protest at the Capitol building was far less destructive than any single day of the BLM "peaceful protests". No buildings were burned, no stores looted, very little property damage and only 1 person killed and that person unnecessarily and by a cop.

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 3:50pm

Please stop with the lies and untruths about BLM rallies, yes some things happened but no one invaded the Capitol Building causing destruction and chaos. Keep to the point, the group in Washington this week were domestic terrorists not peaceful protesters.


Stop already
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 3:00am

Are you Lindsey Graham? This isn't about the crimes of vandalizing private property. Of course those people should be punished. Instead, this is about the destruction of public property and democracy itself. If you don't see the problem by now, you are just not paying attention or willfully not interested in truth.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 3:22am

Looks like some Republicans had an epiphany, found Jesus, at least that's what they want us to believe, but it's too late. They are all complicit in the sedition; repeating the Trump lies are just as inciting as Trump himself does.

Heinous GOP
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 3:32am

How many must die for this farce? A woman was shot and now COVID will kill many more because of this GOP reckless farce. What the superspreader insurrection may have failed to accomplish, a GOP representative succeeded:

Congressman announces he's positive for Covid-19 four hours after voting on House floor

From CNN's Kristin Wilson and Daniella Diaz

GOP Rep. Jake LaTurner of Kansas has announced via Twitter that he has Covid-19. He is not experiencing any symptoms, according to the tweet.

He voted in person four hours ago on the House floor per this vote tally.

See his tweets:

Congressman LaTurner is following the advice of the House physician and CDC guidelines and, therefore, does not plan to return to the House floor for votes until he is cleared to do so.
— Rep. Jake LaTurner (@RepLaTurner) January 7, 2021

Stop the BS
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 3:51am

This started with the storming of the Capitol in Lansing and Trump demanding his followers "Liberate Michigan". Everyone thought Michigan was uniquely crazy. SHAME on all you people who stand with Trump. You are call aiders and abettors to insurrection blessed by our inept GOP legislature in Michigan. BAN GUNS IN THE MICHIGAN CAPITOL NOW!

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 6:58am

Republicans are 100% to blame. There is no way to escape this.

I want to see my state rep Brad Paquette try to claim his "bipartisanship" now.

G Scott
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 7:21am

Many words will be expended but the terrorist riot at the Capital yesterday proves the republican party is in a downward spiral and unfortunately will take our Republic down with it. These delusional hordes will not go away tomorrow. The next Timothy McVeigh is'nt far behind. I could'nt help but wonder what the law enforcement response would have been had this crowd been black, armed and as rabidly delusional. The Justice department and all law enforcement better up their game and recognize who the true enemy of of our existence is.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 8:18am

Yep Do not blame them trump backing republicans for lying to trump brain damaged sheeps!!!

A yooper
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 8:44am

From Bergman’ press release after the Capitol Building domestic terrorism:
The Electoral Count Act of 1887 gives Congress the opportunity to object to any state where any member believes votes were either “unlawfully certified” or “not regularly given.” That is what I did today, and what many before me have done - including in recent elections.“
Over 50 court rejections to this garbage. The U. S. Supreme wouldn’t hear the baseless claims and Bergman says this? The dead people from yesterday are on you and Cruz,et.all., including your President. Shame on you and the rest!

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 8:45am

Who allowed angry hillbillies to enter our own statehouse with guns and encouraged them to continue the"cause." These marauders are the Republican's peeps. Republicans were scraping up supporters from then bottom of the barrel of humanity. How could they be such hypocrites to deny that they are complicit in what happened in Washington? They are accessories to violence and the demise of their party.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 8:56am

Spineless “pastor “ Walberg will not accept responsibility for any of his cowardly behavior because his moral compass is broken ( if it wasn’t already defective from the manufacturer)!
Time for a recall .

Beth Clawson
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 9:01am

Yes, I blame them. I blame all republicans that supported the false election claims and conspiracy theories endorsing trump's authoritarian activities for the outcome at Michigan's capitol in 2020 and again in DC on Wednesday January 6, 2021. I blame them and hold their sin to them as they have proven to be feeble minded in their ability to reason and resource facts. I stand as witness to their subversive natures.

Terri J Herns
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 9:48am

After what MI has witnessed with the terrorists trying to kidnap, torture and kill our governor, this comes as no surprize. YES THE SEDITIOUS GOP LEGISLATORS ARE TOO BLAME, without a doubt. They are unfit, having broken their oath of office. They are unworthy to represent us, and need to be removed. Shame on them, and shame on the Michiganders who voted for them.

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 3:12am

We must stop Trump and all the violence he encourages. He literally spoke about "carnage" as far back as his inauguration four years ago. The man is demonstrably unhinged/deranged. Now we have this ongoing domestic terrorism that Trump incited with calls like "liberate Michigan" from "that woman":

Death threats sent to Gov. Whitmer, state workers in Bitcoin extortion attempt

We either have a government by the people for the people or anarchy. This stuff is serious and every day more and more people see through the Trump lies. Thankfully the immature followers of Trump do not reflect the reasoned majority. Too many elected Republicans have been too afraid to stand up to Trump out of fear that they would be primaried. Well now out country is falling apart. It's time to for Republicans to act responsibly or leave office.

Robert Snideman
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:10am

Of course - you share the Blame !! Don't give us your Horse-Hockey. It was, and is, Fascist Populism. Same stuff that Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Duterte, Erdogon, Putin, etc. Spew out.
You are responsible for pure Poison.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:23am

Statements like Sen. Outman’s claim that the President did what he could to end the violence or those from US Rep. Bergman and the others who tried to prevent the counting of the votes of their own constituents that didn’t even mention Trump’s role are simply examples of the GOP complicity and its craven allegiance to a corrupt and criminal despot. Other GOP legislators who have finally decided to speak out but still try to equivocate also ring hollow. Officials like Rep. Moolenaar, who joined the Texas lawsuit in an attempt to discount millions of votes including those of our own State and later decided not to object to the counting of our Electoral votes, should get no credit for their duplicity. Sen. Shirkey and Rep. Chatfield in our own legislature and their caucuses refused to address the security of our Capitol in Michigan, enabling the armed thugs who attempt to intimidate our elected officials. The President caused the insurrection in DC yesterday, but the refusal of the GOP to speak truth to power and their willingness to perpetuate and nurture the cult like behavior of the Trump base is also responsible. Trump will leave soon, one way or another, but the rancor and contagion he has spread with the help of the GOP will infect our nation for a very long time.

Doug L
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:30am

Seriously?! with all of the destruction, rioting and looting associated with Black Lives Matter protests over the last year, you really want to give Angela Waters Austin, founder and co-leader of Black Lives Matter Michigan, a voice in condemning violence in someone else's protest? Totally absurd! And now that I have that off my chest, I consider yesterdays attack on the US capital to be an attempted coup, and those involved, including the president, guilty or treason. Those attempting to break into the Capitol should have been shot. And the police should have been far better prepared for an attack, it was well known that the president intended to stir them up on January 6th, he announced it back in December.

Cindy L
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:45am

Any elected official that has entertained UNSUBSTANTIATED calls of fraudulent elections must accept that they are complicit in the 4 year stoking of the fires that culminated in DC yesterday. As lawmakers you know there are channels to work through any snags in each state's election system. In Michigan, all accusations have been deemed false, with no evidence to back them up, even with signed affidavits. This is not new information.
So use your worktime to sort this out in the way you have been elected to do so. Stop your posturing and theater to gain the attention of the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. If you don't have the backbone for his wrath on Twitter, and don't trust your capacity to serve without his support, what are you doing in office?

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 10:46am

I do hold Republican leaders who spread "dis-information" accountable. I will remember this in two years when it's time to vote. Our elections, Michigan's elections, were scrutinized and the results were reported. If the elections were held today, I can tell you I would change my vote and not vote any Republicans on the federal level.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 11:25am

Trump and his Republican allies are complicit in creating the insurrection in Washington, DC. The Republicans aid and abet Trump in his nonsensical declaration that he won the election in Michigan and other States. They are a shame to this nation for failing to following their oaths to follow the US Constitution.

Wake Up!
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:19pm

Trump Derangement Syndrome is real. 25th Amendment.

Stephan Nason
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:19pm

I call BS on Reps. McClain, Walberg and Bergman. Their actions to advance their own political careers in this instance which is just part of the continuation of their positions over the past 2 years that served to encourage Trump and Trumpism are disgusting. There have been numerous investigations, hearings and recounts in the states. I notice none of them offered to step down from their elected positions do to the "irregularities" that might have happened in MI.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:28pm

Because all of those claims have been proven to be false and adjudicated as such, every Republican that still went forward with the protest is complicit in the attempt to try to overthrow American democracy. Every one of them knew what Trump was calling for and said nothing and then went along. Every one of them is a traitor.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:29pm

I have been reading the Bridge for a while, have enjoyed it's coverage of Michigan issues, and had decided to become a subscriber when I could afford it. However in this issue and the last I have seen "both-sides" and bad faith reporting that is very dismaying. The previous article was about schooling during the pandemic which left out important information and included wildly erroneous conclusions. Now comes this article on terrorist action at the nation's Capitol with "one side says this but the other side says that" with little indication that one side is facing reality while the other side continues to spread lies. You make it sound like a classroom discussion instead of a direct threat to our democracy. A free press is written into the Constitution to hold government accountable and there is no accountability here. You have become " just a player in the game" instead of an important safeguard of democracy. "We report the facts, you make up your mind" doesn't work when one side is completely fact free. You are the weather reporter saying "some people think it's raining, others say it's dry as a bone; you decide" when it's been pouring down all day. Shameful.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:44pm

"Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said Trump did what he could to condemn the violence.
'We need to restore that faith [in elections],' he said. 'The only way to do that in my mind is to shed light on everything, whether anything happened or not.'"

What? Restore faith in elections?? You Sir and most everyone in your party have done nothing but shake that faith. Your candidate lost, it happens, get over it. It has been proven time and again that there were no significant irregularities. If the GOP can't abide by the will of the people then they have no business being in government.

George Hagenauer
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 12:48pm

After years of listening to mainly Republicans talking about personal responsibility, it is sad to see so many of them not taking responsibility for their words and actions. Investigations into this election have been done repeatedly. It is pretty obvious that the Republican party failed to prove any of their points with real documentation as opposed to perceptions backed up by no proof. Crying fire in a crowded theater with no fire is not free speech it is irresponsible and those that have done it need to take some personal responsibility for the chaos that followed.

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 2:29pm

Those representatives who supported the fraudulent election claims and disgraceful day at the Capitol should be held accountable. Recalls should be started, at the very least. They are complicit in the Trump insurgency.

Kurt H Schindler
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 6:18pm

The past month's news with Trump operatives calling to ‘suspend’ the Constitution and/or declare martial law to make Trump president for another four years – that has gone way over the line. Then January 6, 2021 events cements that a very important and basic line was crossed.

The GOP used to be a party of ethics, morals, and core beliefs. Both Democrats and Republicans used to regularly set aside partisanship to work for what is best for the country.

But that Republican Party is gone. It no longer exists.

It is the party that supported Donald Trump – the man who averages 12 lies every day. A man who is immoral. This is not politics, this is morality. It is the difference of right and wrong. And it is wrong.

It is a matter of thinking about right and wrong It is about undermining the moral fabric of this country. That is not politics. That is an attack on the very founding principles of this country. January 6, 2021 turned that rhetorical vocal attack to a real physical attack on the United States.

Most Republican leaders have gone along with the president. This reflects badly on the entire party, not just Trump.

The Republican party is at a crossroads. It is at a point where it needs to decide to put country first and doing what is right first -- ahead of party. It needs to start by cleaning its own house. That means expunging those who pushed false fraud claims and support a president who lies, is immoral, a con, and more. The alternative is something that is no longer the Republican Party.

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 1:22am

I blame YOU.

Fri, 01/08/2021 - 11:15am

Lindsey, Lindsey, Lindsey. What you are doing is mere deflection. No one on this board is approving of protesters looting store owners in Portland. We looked on it in horror but that horror wasn't instigated by OUR PRESIDENT and his weakling minions.

Charlotte Morton
Fri, 01/08/2021 - 1:25pm

A lot of blame must go to Far Right new media sources, like Fox News and many Far Right, Social Media sources that spout all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories. Those Sources have used fear to "brainwash" many Republicans and fuel the hatred of Anarchists and White Supremist. Trump as their leader, has perpetuated these lies in his loyalists . The Trump Loyalists have been groomed by these influences, which created their irrational fears and hatred that incites the violence.

Charlotte Morton
Fri, 01/08/2021 - 1:27pm

A lot of blame must go to Far Right new media sources, like Fox News and many Far Right, Social Media sources that spout all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories. Those Sources have used fear to "brainwash" many Republicans and fuel the hatred of Anarchists and White Supremist. Trump as their leader, has perpetuated these lies in his loyalists . The Trump Loyalists have been groomed by these influences, which created their irrational fears and hatred that incites the violence.

Ed Szumowski
Sat, 01/09/2021 - 10:21am

The right-wing Republicans typically take pride in their "Christian" faith. They should heed the words of scripture. "Reap what you sow." You can't spread lies and conspiracy theories about elections in the name of "investigating irregularities," and then avoid responsibility for the toxic behavior that results from it. For once I wish they would act like adults. Take responsibility for the consequences of your words and actions. Admit that you made a mistake in supporting a demagogue and sociopath as the leader of your Party. If the Republican Party is serious about regaining any credibility, they need to renounce Trumpism, admit that Biden has won, and move on. Enough already!

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 2:41am

So now that Trump enablers abetted Trump with storming the US Capitol, are they willing to spend the money to fortify our State Capitol and provide police protection for all our elected officials and their families along with anyone else threatened by these mobs?

Mon, 01/11/2021 - 2:48am

These attacks must stop now and Trump should not have the right to pardon these domestic terrorists/seditionists.

After 9-11, Republicans used to talk about terrorists like this: you are either for them or against them. We now have domestic terrorists who according to the FBI are continuing to plan ongoing attacks according to CNN:

In New Jersey, state homeland security officials are tracking planned events for both January 17 and January 20, as well as "several one-off protests that we're still determining credibility," said a New Jersey law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the state's security efforts.

"Some of the online rhetoric has called for protests at all 50 capitols plus DC," the official said. "FBI in particular has been continuing to put our threat assessments and we are at the state level as well."

"I think DC Is bracing for large scale protests and potential violence," the official said, adding that briefings state officials have received "have outlined a much larger scale prevention and response to minimize a recurrence of last Wednesday."

CNN's Pervaiz Shallwani, Patricia DiCarlo, Mark Morales, Nicky Robertson, Barbara Starr, Curt Devine, Kay Jones and Andy Rose contributed to this report

GOP responsibility
Mon, 01/11/2021 - 2:55am

Trump incited the violence and about 60 Trump court cases failed even before judges appointed by Trump, all the way up to the Supreme Court. We are a country of laws and order, not mob rule.

Sen. Rick Outman is promoting Q-Anon BS just like the president so he should resign or be impeached:

Sen. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, said Trump did what he could to condemn the violence.

“We need to restore that faith [in elections],” he said. “The only way to do that in my mind is to shed light on everything, whether anything happened or not.”