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Michigan Lieutenant Governor Discusses Plot To Overthrow State's Government

NOEL KING, HOST:

How is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration responding to the FBI's announcement that it thwarted a plan to abduct and overthrow her? Yesterday, 13 men were charged, some with plotting her abduction. Others face terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges related to the abduction plot. And some are accused of plotting to storm the state Capitol and start a civil war. Michigan's lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist, is on the line with me. Good morning, sir.

GARLIN GILCHRIST: Good morning.

KING: You are a leader in this administration, which has been targeted. What did you think when you became aware of the threat, and are you doing anything differently today?

GILCHRIST: Well, it was appalling, but it wasn't shocking because this has been the culture that has been created and that has been festering, starting all the way at the presidential level when President Trump has continuously attacked Gov. Whitmer and our administration for doing what we need to do to keep people safe in this pandemic. And Republicans here at our state party, our state-elected leaders, have been complicit in allowing these people to fester these threats and have been giving them cover and encouragement, up to and including when men were armed and came into the Capitol months ago - they met with the Senate majority leader.

KING: In a press conference yesterday, Gov. Whitmer echoed what you just said. She said this problem is not limited to Michigan and that President Trump helped encourage this alleged plot. Let's listen to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: 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. 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, as a call to action.

KING: This is a serious accusation that you're both making, that the president motivated this plot. Do you have evidence to support it?

GILCHRIST: I think it's clear that these groups have been inspired by the words of President Donald Trump and how he has, frankly, attacked Gov. Whitmer. And because of that, they thought that it was OK to continue this plot. I mean, they threatened law enforcement. They threatened to storm the Capitol and take over the Capitol where I preside over the Michigan Senate. And let me be really clear - two of the men who were arrested two nights ago, these are the same men who were in the Senate gallery that I preside over. I saw these men with my own eyes, with long guns, and they were there to intimidate lawmakers and disrupt the lawmaking process. They were - this was a credible threat, and I think they've been encouraged by Republicans up and down. And no one in Michigan, no one in the country, should accept this. And that is why I'm thankful that law enforcement did their investigatory work and they took action to make sure that this was thwarted.

KING: You mention these armed protesters who were at the Capitol earlier this year. Can you explain why people are so fervently angry?

GILCHRIST: You know, the guy - one of these guys said that he was upset because we closed gyms because it wasn't safe to go to the gym during the pandemic. I mean, these are people who clearly have - are looking for excuses to initiate the kinds of gang activity that they've been carrying out. But what's clear is that the people of Michigan have appreciated the fact that we've taken measures to save lives. This pandemic is real and people have been getting sick and people have been dying, especially communities of color. And so we're going to continue to do that work. And the fact that it's been difficult - yes, it has been difficult. It has been hard and frustrating. And we need to really come together rather than plot murder.

KING: Your state attorney general said yesterday on the NPR show All Things Considered that the protests - these protests in Michigan have been used as recruiting grounds for militia groups. What is the evidence that you've seen of that?

GILCHRIST: So in the affidavit, it talks about the fact that one of the organizers, one of the leaders, wanted to use those events to recruit at least 200 people to storm the Capitol. This is something that the FBI has found, and so there's pretty hard evidence of that. They've been trying to use these - what they call Second Amendment rallies but are really opportunities to plan how they can overthrow the government. It's very disturbing.

KING: The operation behind - the operation that thwarted the plot was a big one, a national one. Last night, President Trump responded to accusations made by Gov. Whitmer that he's inspired these plots by saying - tweeting, quote, "my Justice Department and federal law enforcement announced today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the governor of Michigan. But rather than say thank you, she calls me a white supremacist, while Biden and Democrats refused to condemn antifa, anarchists, looters and mobs that burn down Democrat-run cities." Some of this we have heard from the president before but not following a plot like this one. How do you respond to the president?

GILCHRIST: Donald Trump continues to be disconnected from reality, and that's why he should not be our president. We thanked the people who did the work, not the people who enabled the terrorism. And that's exactly what happened. And we always will thank those professionals, the women and men who stepped up and really stood tall for all people, not just Gretchen Whitmer, myself and the people of Michigan, and those who would have been taken hostage had they actually stormed the Capitol, or the law enforcement professionals that they sought to plot to murder. So the president, I think, you know, continues to be disconnected to reality. And he has a lot of nerve for asking for a thank you when he is the one who has sown this kind of derision.

KING: We have 13 men facing charges now. Do you know whether the FBI is looking for more?

GILCHRIST: Well, I can't comment on the details. This is an ongoing investigation, and so they're going to continue to do their work. And that - the justice system, I believe, has the opportunity here to continue to work. And I trust our attorney general. I trust the state's attorneys from the eastern and western districts of Michigan. I know they're going to continue to work hard on this to make sure that they bring these people to justice and that they make sure that these plots will be thwarted in full, not just in part.

KING: And lastly, how is the state protecting Gov. Whitmer and other state lawmakers, including yourself, at this time?

GILCHRIST: Well, you know, there are protocols in place, and I think some of those are going to need to be revisited. Again, the fact that these men had long guns in the Capitol - like I said, I saw them. And they had weapons that they could have used to take out lawmakers in a matter of seconds. And so, yeah, we need to think about this. There is a state Capitol commission because Michigan is only one of two states that actually allows weapons to be brought into our state Capitol. They punted on the decision to ban guns. They need to revisit that. The Republican-led legislature in Michigan can pass a law to ban guns in the Capitol because to be clear, the only reason you bring a semiautomatic weapon into a lawmaking body is to intimidate lawmakers, and that is unacceptable, undemocratic and un-American, and we should not allow that kind of gang terrorism activity to really stain our processes here in Michigan.

KING: Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, thanks for taking the time. We appreciate it.

GILCHRIST: Thank you for having me. Everyone, stay safe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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