Trump and Whitmer Trade Barbs in Wake of Foiled Kidnap Attempt

October 9, 2020 Updated: October 9, 2020

President Donald Trump and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer traded barbs following the foiled kidnapping attempt of the Democrat governor, with Whitmer accusing Trump of being “complicit” and he saying she was exploiting the incident to launch an unfounded attack against him.

“My Justice Department and Federal Law Enforcement announced today that they foiled a dangerous plot against the Governor of Michigan. Rather than say thank you, she calls me a White Supremacist,” Trump wrote in a tweet. While Whitmer did not explicitly label Trump a “White Supremacist,” she falsely claimed he has not condemned white supremacists and instead egged them on to action.

Federal and state authorities said Thursday that the FBI had broken up a conspiracy to kidnap Whitmer, leading to the arrest of six men. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told reporters at an Oct. 8 press conference that the suspects plotted acts of violence against against the government and politicians.

Whitmer, in responding to the thwarted kidnapping plot, called for “national unity” in the face of the pandemic, said it “it doesn’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” before lashing out at Trump.

“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,” she said.

“When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet with, encourage, or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit,” Whitmer added.

During his debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump was asked to condemn white supremacy. He said “sure,” several times before asking for the name of a group to disavow, to which moderator Chris Wallace said, “Proud Boys.” Trump then told the group to “stand back and stand by.” Following the comment, the president faced pressure from some reporters and lawmakers, who claimed this was not a sufficiently decisive disavowal.

Election 2020 Debate
President Donald Trump makes a point as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden listens during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sept. 29, 2020. (Morry Gash/Pool/AP Photo)

Asked later in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity about condemning white supremacists, Trump said, “I’ve said it many times, and let me be clear again: I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”

The KKK is a known white supremacist group but the Proud Boys, who have mixed race members and whose leader is Afro-Cuban, are not.

Trump faced similar false claims of not disavowing militant hate groups, with Biden wrongly claiming in an interview on ABC in February that Trump has “yet once to condemn white supremacy, the neo-Nazis.” Biden has many times since sought to portray Trump as a racist, including at the debate.

“Close your eyes, try to remember the people coming out of the field with the torches, their veins bulging, spewing anti-Semitic bile, accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan. A young woman got killed. And they asked the president what he thought, and he said there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’ No president has ever said anything like that,” Biden said.

Trump, in fact, explicitly said his “very fine people” comment referred not to white supremacists and neo-Nazis but to “people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee—a great general, whether you like it or not.”

At the same press conference where Trump made the “very fine people” comment, he shortly after specifically excluded white supremacists and racists, saying they should be “condemned totally.”

Still, the president faced an outcry following his remarks, prompting him to issue two days later, on Aug. 14, 2017, the following statement:

“As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America,” Trump said at the time.

“No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans,” he continued.

“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.

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