Source: Reuters/ Jay Paul
- In court Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Richard Trask alleged that the militia group that planned to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer also discussed targeting Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.
- Like Whitmer, Northam was potentially targeted because of his aggressive coronavirus lockdown orders earlier this year.
- Northam has directly blamed President Donald Trump for emboldening the group, though White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president and denounced this claim.
- One Michigan sheriff, Dar Leaf, is facing resignation calls after people also criticized him for emboldening similar groups after he seemingly suggested that the plot against Whitmer wasn’t a “serious thing” or that the plotters were simply making a citizen’s arrest.
Gov. Northam Was Targeted
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) was discussed as a potential target by the same militia group that is accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), according to the FBI.
That claim is just one of several shocking claims that were laid out in court by FBI special agent Richard Trask on Tuesday.
State and federal agencies have arrested 13 men in connection to the plot against Whimter.
They face a slew charges, including terrorism, conspiracy, and weapons possession. According to prosecutors, their plan involved storming the Michigan State Capitol, trying Whitmer for “treason” in a mock court, and instigating a civil war.
Like Whitmer, Northam was potentially targeted because of the aggressive coronavirus lockdown orders he imposed in his state earlier this year. In both states, those orders restricted much of the economy.
Northam’s restrictions were heavily criticized in April by many conservative groups, including by President Donald Trump, who tweeted, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The same day, Trump also tweeted both “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”
Northam’s press secretary, Alena Yarmosky, directly referenced those tweets Tuesday in a statement regarding the news that Northam had been potentially targeted.
“The president regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him,” she said. “The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially dangerous consequences. It must stop.”
However, in a statement to CNN, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump.
“President Trump has continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate. Governor Whitmer, and now Governor Northam, are sowing division by making these outlandish allegations,” she said. “America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
Nonetheless, Wednesday morning, Northam directly launched more criticism against Trump, saying that “these people take their marching orders from individuals like the President.”
“It’s unfortunate and it needs to stop,” he added.
The Plan for Whitmer Potentially Included Murder
Among other allegations laid out by Trask on Tuesday, some members discussed murdering people they described as “tyrants.”
It’s highly likely that the reference was meant to include Whitmer. In fact, during one plotting exercise, the militia group allegedly discussed mugging a pizza delivery worker, stealing their identity, and posing as that delivery person in an attempt to shoot Whitmer.
Another plan included taking Whitmer out on a boat into the middle of Lake Michigan and leaving her stranded by disabling the engine so someone would have to “come rescue” her.
Trask alleged that the men planned to execute their attack on Election Day.
Calls for Michigan Sheriff to Resign
Connected to the militia plot, many are also calling for Dar Leaf, a sheriff in Barry County, Michigan, to resign, with some calling him a protector of terrorists.
Leaf is in hot water over a few different controversies, but most notably, the calls for his resignation came after it was discovered that he once shared a stage with one of the plotters at an anti-lockdown rally on May 18.
For months, Leaf has been outspokenly critical of Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders, even likening them to an unlawful arrest.
Calls for his resignation also come following comments he made defending the militia group.
After it was revealed that these militia members had allegedly planned to kidnap Whitmer and engage in mock court, Leaf told a local TV station: “Well, it’s just a charge. And they say a plot to kidnap, and you got to remember that, are they trying to kidnap? Cause a lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested, so are they trying to arrest her or was it a kidnap attempt? Cause you can still, in Michigan, if it’s a felony, you can make a felony arrest.”
“I’m hoping that’s more of what it is,” he added. “In fact, these guys are innocent till proven guilty, so I’m not even sure if they had any part of it.”
While Leaf has said that Whitmer deserves the right to be safe, he has openly questioned if the plotters were actually serious in carrying out their plan.
Collectively, those comments have results in fierce backlash.
“As Michigan’s top law enforcement official, let me make this abundantly clear-Persons who are not sworn, licensed members of a law enforcement agency cannot and should not “arrest” government offficials with whom they have disagreements,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “These comments are dangerous.”
Leaf later walked back his comments, saying that he wasn’t trying to suggest the militia group was planning to make a lawful citizen’s arrest.
“I have a hard time swallowing this was a serious thing,” he still said.
Leaf said Tuesday that he has no plans to resign and argued against the point that he and Trump are enabling terrorists.
He also stated that the militia movement “has been brewing for quite some time,” claiming it is growing because of a gradual loss of rights.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (MLive)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Politico)
Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks
The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.
Pelosi Vetoes Republicans
Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.
In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”
Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden.
A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.
The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.
In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”
Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.
McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation
McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.
In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.”
“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.
“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel.
“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
More Republican Are Pushing COVID Vaccinations, But the Party Remains Divided on Its Messaging
The renewed effort to encourage vaccination comes as the surge in COVID cases caused by the delta variant continues to disproportionately impact Republican-led states with low vaccination rates.
GOP Leaders Ramps Up Vaccination Push
In recent days, more Republican leaders and prominent conservatives have ramped up efforts to encourage members of their party to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the U.S. continues to see massive surges from the delta variant.
Some, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been pushing Americans to get vaccinated for months — a call he reiterated again on Tuesday. Many others, however, have been reticent to do the same until recently.
Most notable on that list is Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), the no. 2 Republican in House leadership, who just got his first dose over the weekend after resisting vaccination, claiming he had antibodies from previously contracting COVID. Scalise explained he changed his mind because of delta and encouraged others to do the same.
“There shouldn’t be any hesitancy over whether or not it’s safe and effective,” he said.
The top leader is set to continue pushing that advice. Earlier this week, the GOP Doctors Caucus announced that it would hold a news conference Thursday alongside Scalise and the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), to encourage vaccination.
Rank and File Republicans Continue To Cast Doubt, Spread Misinformation
There are still plenty of Republicans working to undermine the renewed push to get their party vaccinated.
While many have painted vaccination as a matter of freedom of choice, others have sought to downplay the virus. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state currently accounts for 40% of all new COVID cases, dismissed the spikes as the result of a “seasonal virus” on Monday.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk — who has had COVID twice — echoed that in a statement to reporters on Tuesday, where he argued that COVID is just something everyone has to live with.
“This is something we deal with in our lives on a daily basis; ever since I’ve been born, there’s sicknesses, there’s flu, there’s different diseases,” he said.
Some members of the GOP have used their positions of power to actively fight against vaccination. That includes Sen. Ron Johnson (Wi.), who has openly said he is not vaccinated. He has also been widely condemned for promoting unproven treatments and false information about vaccines during interviews and congressional hearings.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who has repeatedly refused to share her vaccination status, has also drawn ire for sharing misinformation and continually comparing COVID prevention efforts to the Holocaust.
Greene was temporarily suspended from Twitter earlier this week for sharing false information on Monday, but she continued to utilize her spotlight to spread misinformation about vaccine-related deaths and side effects during a press conference the following day.
While those who downplay the coronavirus and spread false information about vaccinations are certainly not representative of the entire Republican Party, they are some of the most visible.
Greene and many of her counterparts who push anti-vaccine narratives have frequently been accused of acting in inflammatory ways to get more press — a strategy that more often than not tends to work in their favor.
As a result, Republicans who want to encourage people to get the jabs will have their work cut out for them. Even many of those who have not openly expressed skepticism themselves have still let it flourish in the party for so long by not publicly pushing back against claims from members who sow disinformation.
The GOP’s broader failure to unify around a singular message on vaccines shows clearly among the party’s base.
According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News, poll 86% of Democrats have received at least one shot, but just 45% of Republicans have done the same. While just 6% of Democrats say they are not likely to get the vaccine, 47% of Republicans said they probably will not, and 38% said they definitely will not.
Meanwhile, Republican-led states with low vaccination rates are suffering the most from the new spike in cases and the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country at just 35%, is currently reporting the highest per-capita cases in the U.S. Hospitalizations have gone up 85% in the state in the last two weeks, placing some hospital systems on the brink of collapse — a problem also faced by parts of Missouri, which has the third-highest COVID cases nationwide.