Michigan governor candidate's arrest over Jan. 6 involvement adds to chaotic GOP primary

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Republican candidate and election denier Ryan D. Kelley was arrested by the FBI on Thursday in yet another twist in the Michigan GOP's gubernatorial primary.

Ryan D. Kelley, one of five remaining candidates in a historically large and chaotic Republican primary for Michigan governor, was arrested by federal agents at his home in Allendale, Michigan, on Thursday, in connection with his presence at the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Kelley, a real estate agent, was charged with four misdemeanors: "knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct; knowingly engaging in any act of physical violence against person or property in a restricted building or grounds; willfully injuring or committing depredation against property of the U.S."

The charges would carry fines of up to $100,000 each, and up to one year in prison.

Kelley was released on a personal recognizance bond and is set for a zoom trial on June 16.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had received multiple tips regarding Kelley's presence at the U.S. Capitol on the day of the riots carried out by former President Donald Trump's supporters, according to a report made by a special agent investigating the case. The report noted that "many private individuals were able to review a large amount of photos and videos produced that day."

Visual evidence from informants appeared to show Kelley climbing parts of the Capitol structure and waving protesters on toward the building entrance. The report compared this footage with other photos and videos from election denial protests in Michigan in November 2020, which allowed the FBI to verify his identity.

Kelley's arrest came only hours before the Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 riot aired on Thursday night, during which the panel referred to the breaching of the Capitol as an "attempted coup," in, or after which, nine people died and 100 police officers were wounded. Testimony included a firsthand report that the crowd outside the Capitol had chanted for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged for refusing to overturn the results of the election.

Kelley's is the first case related to the insurrection to be brought against a candidate seeking statewide office.

His arrest took place several days after the release of a report earlier this week from the Department of Homeland Security, which warned of an elevated threat of domestic terrorism around this year’s mid-term elections.

"The continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence," the report stated.

Kelley started to gain prominence with Michigan conservatives in 2020 after he helped lead efforts to oppose Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 policies. He organized an armed protest at the Michigan statehouse in April 2021, to which he allegedly invited militia members.

As the self-described "Founding Father" of the American Patriot Council, he petitioned the Department of Justice and the FBI to arrest Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, claiming that their policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic amounted to felonies and infringements of the U.S. Constitution. 

The FBI responded to his petition in a letter, which the council posted on its website, saying: "Thank you for providing these materials and your perspective. We have carefully reviewed these materials and considered your arguments, however no federal criminal charges have been substantiated and we decline to investigate the matter further. The matter is therefore closed."

If elected, Kelley has suggested that he would charge state school boards with felonies if they refused to remove "sexually explicit material" from their websites. He has also sharply criticized schools for teaching lessons about racial injustice, which conservatives have misleadingly referred to as "Critical Race Theory."

Thursday's arrest came as the GOP primary race for governor was processing another tectonic shock. Last month, five other candidates failed to make it onto the ballot owing to fraudulent ballot petitions, propelling Kelley to the top of the field. Donald Trump, although he has not formally endorsed any candidates, did mention conservative pundit Tudor Dixon by name at a rally in April. The other candidates left in the race are car dealer Kevin Rinke, chiropractor Garrett Soldano, and pastor Ralph Rebandt.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.