ICYMI: NYT Report Highlights Mike Shirkey’s Close Relationship with Militias, Empathy for Insurrectionists

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Shirkey: “I understand where they come from.”

Yesterday, the New York Times detailed Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s ties to militia groups in a troubling report about how the GOP’s behavior is exacerbating the extremism problem in Michigan.

The Times details how Shirkey came to embrace his “new allies” – including the meeting he held with militia groups in his office last summer, his appearances at rallies alongside militia members, and his newfound sympathy for the capitol rioters who tried to hang the vice president and overthrow our democracy.

Militia Mike’s buddies spoke very fondly of him in the report – militia leader Jason Howland gave Shirkey credit for helping with the cause, and said he appreciated Shirkey’s appearance at one of their events. Following the armed protests at the Michigan state house where militia leaders plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Shirkey appeared onstage at a rally led by the same protest organizers. One of the men sharing the stage with Shirkey was later charged with conspiracy to kidnap the governor.

At the rally, Shirkey encouraged militias to rise up: “Stand up and test that assertion of authority by the government. We need you now more than ever.”

According to the Times, Shirkey backed the militia-led protests financially too. A charity linked to Shirkey donated $500,000 to a group dedicated to fighting the governor’s COVID-19 safety measures. The leader of the group, who is now the vice-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, later helped fill 19 buses of Trump supporters headed to Washington ahead of the January 6th insurrection.

Shirkey has previously said he empathizes with the deadly mob on January 6th, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been around mobs before but it’s easy to get caught up.” When asked by the Times, Shirkey doubled down on his statement, saying of the domestic terrorists, “I understand where they come from.”

It’s clear the behavior of Republican leaders like Shirkey is emboldening extremists – the lead organizer of the armed protest at the Michigan state capitol announced he was running for governor last week.

Read more about Militia Mike’s militant allies below.

New York Times: ‘Its Own Domestic Army’: How the G.O.P. Allied Itself With Militants

Dozens of heavily armed militiamen crowded into the Michigan Statehouse last April to protest a stay-at-home order by the Democratic governor to slow the pandemic. Chanting and stomping their feet, they halted legislative business, tried to force their way onto the floor and brandished rifles from the gallery over lawmakers below.

Initially, Republican leaders had some misgivings about their new allies. “The optics weren’t good. Next time tell them not to bring guns,” complained Mike Shirkey, the State Senate majority leader, according to one of the protest organizers. But Michigan’s highest-ranking Republican came around after the planners threatened to return with weapons and “militia guys signing autographs and passing out blow-up AR-15s to the kiddies on the Capitol lawn.”

“To his credit,” Jason Howland, the organizer, wrote in a social media post, Mr. Shirkey agreed to help the cause and “spoke at our next event.”

Following signals from President Donald J. Trump — who had tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” after an earlier show of force in Lansing — Michigan’s Republican Party last year welcomed the support of newly emboldened paramilitary groups and other vigilantes. Prominent party members formed bonds with militias or gave tacit approval to armed activists using intimidation in a series of rallies and confrontations around the state. That intrusion into the Statehouse now looks like a portent of the assault halfway across the country months later at the United States Capitol.

As the Senate on Tuesday begins the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump on charges of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol rioting, what happened in Michigan helps explain how, under his influence, party leaders aligned themselves with a culture of militancy to pursue political goals.


The lead organizer of the April 30 armed protest, Ryan Kelley, a local Republican official, last week announced a bid for governor. “Becoming too closely aligned with militias — is that a bad thing?” he said in an interview. 


Two weeks after the Statehouse protest, Mr. Shirkey, the Republican leader, appeared at a rally by the same organizers, onstage with a militia member who would later be accused of conspiring to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Stand up and test that assertion of authority by the government,” Mr. Shirkey told the militiamen. “We need you now more than ever.”

After the riot in Washington, some argue such endorsements endanger the future of the party. “It is like the Republican Party has its own domestic army,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan party and a vocal Trump critic.


If Michigan Republicans and militant groups had increasingly found themselves sharing the same ideological space, their common ground became literal last year, as an escalating series of events drew them together for protests and rallies. They began with objections to the governor’s lockdown orders.

Republicans have controlled both houses of the Michigan Legislature for a decade and held the governor’s mansion for the eight years before Ms. Whitmer took office in 2019. Mr. Trump’s brash nationalism had alienated moderate Republicans and independents while pushing the party to the right.

By last April 1, Covid-19 had killed more than 300 people in Michigan, primarily in Detroit, and Ms. Whitmer ordered all nonessential businesses closed. Ms. Maddock wasted no time rallying opposition, calling for a protest on April 15.


In the first major protest in the country against stay-at-home orders, thousands of cars, trucks and even a few cement mixers jammed the streets around the Statehouse in Lansing, in what Ms. Maddock called Operation Gridlock. About 150 demonstrators left their vehicles to chant “lock her up” from the Capitol lawn — redirecting the 2016 battle cry about Hillary Clinton against Ms. Whitmer. A few waved Confederate flags. About a dozen heavily armed members of the Michigan Liberty Militia turned up as well.


As the Legislature met on April 30 to vote on extending the governor’s restrictions, Mr. Kelley and his militia allies convened hundreds of protesters, including scores of armed men, some with assault weapons. One demonstrator hung a noose from the back of his pickup. Another held a sign warning that “tyrants get the rope.” Dozens entered the Capitol, some angrily demanding entrance to the lower chamber.

“We were harassed and intimidated so that we would not do our jobs,” said Representative Donna Lasinski, leader of the Democratic minority. Lawmakers were terrified, she added.


Mr. Shirkey, the Senate leader, was initially more cautious. The founder of a manufacturing company who is known for singing hymns from the podium, Mr. Shirkey issued a statement on April 30 criticizing “intimidation and the threat of physical harm” and calling the armed protesters “a bunch of jackasses.”

Yet he had mingled with them in the gallery. Surrounded by militiamen about two weeks later in Grand Rapids, at an event also organized by Mr. Howland and Mr. Kelley, the senator said in a speech that they had taken him to task for his “jackasses” comment and he effectively retracted it.

He also met privately in his office that month with a handful of militia leaders — to establish a “code of conduct,” he explained in an interview. “Do you tell your people to make sure that there’s not a live round in a chamber?” he said, recounting the conversation. “That’d be a good start.”

In May, armed men stood watch for days outside a barbershop in Owosso, defending the proprietor from the police so he could cut hair in defiance of the lockdown.

Ms. Maddock, following suit, then arranged for hairdressers to offer their services on the Capitol lawn, again watched over by armed men.

The state G.O.P. quickly jumped into the fight. In June, a nonprofit group linked to the Republican Party began providing more than $600,000 to a new advocacy group run in part by Ms. Maddock that was dedicated to fighting coronavirus restrictions. A charity tied to Mr. Shirkey kicked in $500,000.


At the peak of the protests against police violence, though, Mr. Kelley’s American Patriot Council still aimed its sharpest attacks at Governor Whitmer and her stay-at-home order. It released public letters urging federal authorities to arrest her for violating the constitution by issuing a stay-at-home order. “Whitmer needs to go to prison,” Mr. Kelley declared in a video he posted on Facebook in early October that was later taken down. “She is a threat to our Republic.”

A few days later, federal agents arrested more than a dozen Michigan militiamen, charging them in a plot to kidnap the governor, put her on trial and possibly execute her.

At least two of the suspects had participated in the April 30 protest at the Capitol, as well as the gathering with Mr. Shirkey in Grand Rapids. Prosecutors said that the men had tried to recruit other conspirators at an American Patriot Council rally. (Mr. Kelley and Mr. Shirkey denied any knowledge of the plot.)

It was culmination of months of mobilization by armed groups, accompanied by increasingly threatening language, and Mr. Trump declined to condemn the plotters. “People are entitled to say, ‘Maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t,’” he declared at a rally in Michigan.


Mr. Shirkey, the Michigan Senate leader who came around to work with the militias, declined to follow the movement behind Mr. Trump all the way to the end. Summoned to the White House in November, Mr. Shirkey refused the president’s entreaties to try to annul his Michigan defeat.

But in an interview last week, the lawmaker said he nonetheless empathized with the mob that attacked Congress.

“It was people feeling oppressed, and depressed, responding to what they thought was government just stealing their lives from them,” he said. “And I’m not endorsing and supporting their actions, but I understand where they come from.”