Michigan GOP candidate's group lists Gretchen Whitmer on fake 'criminal watch list'

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Ryan Kelley has come under fire for attending the Capitol insurrection and for his ties to militia members arrested in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley is the self-described "founding father" of an organization that currently lists multiple Democratic governors and state officials on a so-called "criminal watch list," while soliciting that action be taken against them.

On Jan. 28, Kelley filed paperwork declaring his candidacy to run for the Republican nomination for governor. Democrat Gretchen Whitmer currently holds the office.

Kelley is behind the organization American Patriot Council, founded in early 2020 to oppose coronavirus restrictions. Its mission, it says, is to "restore and sustain a constitutional government in the United States of America."

The American Patriot Council features a section on its website labeled "criminal watch list," which in its list of "confirmed" individuals lists several Democrats: Govs. Tom Wolf (D-PA), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), along with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Also on the site, Kelley appears in a "call to action" video in which he accuses Whitmer, Nessel, and Benson of being "felons."

"They have committed federal felonies, and we need to stop pretending that it's anything different," said Kelley, who identified himself as the "founding father" of the group in the video.

Kelley's allegation is based on his opposition to Whitmer's June 5, 2020, order placing temporary limits on gatherings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Recent research, including from the Brookings Institution, has supported the notion that hateful speech leads to violence in the real world.

And Whitmer has already been targeted thanks to violent right-wing rhetoric. Following Donald Trump's call to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" after the state implemented virus safety measures at the start of the pandemic, several men were arrested and charged for their involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the state government by abducting Whitmer, with the goal of putting her on trial for treason.

Armed pro-Trump protesters also gathered outside the home of Benson in December 2020 to protest the state's election results after President Joe Biden won there.

Kelley is currently the planning commissioner for Allendale Township, Michigan. He was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the building.

Video stills show Kelley climbing over police barricades and scaffolding as part of the group of protesters. But when asked about the incident by a local station, Kelley said, "I never went inside the Capitol building, never had the intention to and did not go inside, nor did I have any altercation with police officers. That was never the intention."

And while Kelley does not support coronavirus safety measures, he has rallied his efforts behind monuments to the Confederacy. In June 2020, he organized a protest of the proposed removal of a statue of a Confederate soldier in Allendale.

"So if we continue to tear down things like this and erase our history, when do we erase the Constitution?" Kelley said in an interview at the time.

Also in attendance at the pro-Confederate demonstration alongside Kelley was William Null, one of the 14 men charged in the plot to kidnap Whitmer.

The groups Michigan Association Civil Rights Activists and Justice for Black Lives, along with Allendale residents, called for Kelley's ouster after they said he invited Null and other militia members to the statue protest, but he was ultimately not removed.

Kelley said he did not regret inviting members of militia groups to his protest and cited ongoing protests in other states against police brutality during the summer of 2020 to justify his stance.

"What was happening at that time? Statues were being ripped down around the country violently, people were setting things on fire and destroying things and so we said 'Hey look, we want peace in this town,'" Kelley told Michigan Live. "I don't think they were going to burn down the town, but how do we know?"

Weeks earlier, Kelley had held an event called the "Well Regulated Militia Rally," where the Whitmer kidnapping plot was alleged to have been first organized. However, Kelley has denied any wrongdoing.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.