At a small late-October ceremony, Michigan State Rep. Rachelle Smit presented awards to twin brothers Michael and William Null.
“Michael Null is an outstanding example of the kind of person who is not content to sit idly while the forces of tyranny attack our Republic,” a certificate read. “Through his courageous efforts to expose the government’s false-flag Whitmer conspiracy, he has made it clear that we all have opportunities each and every day to put our love of country to good use in helping out our fellow citizens.”
The “false-flag Whitmer conspiracy” referenced in the document was a plot by members of a far-right militia group to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020. Five members of the plot were found guilty at trial, while another four pleaded guilty, and five more were found not guilty. The Null brothers were the last to be acquitted in September. Some figures on the right, including current and former GOP officials, are already moving to valorize them.
“It’s this normalizing, inch by inch, of political violence, making what would’ve previously been intolerable tolerable in the sense that we just have become numb to it,” Jeff Timmer, former executive director of the Michigan GOP, told The Daily Beast.
“It’s not too distant—if it’s distant at all—from the Republican Party, its elected officials, and its party officers,” he said, adding that, “many of whom, prominent members of Congress from Michigan, members of the legislature, members of the elected party apparatus, have ties to these people who were part of the kidnapping plot.”
The Null brothers did not return a request for comment through an attorney. Smit, the state representative, did not return a request for comment.
But her award to the Null brothers echoed a campaign of online commentary that cast the Whitmer plot as a hoax, even after most of its alleged participants were convicted or pleaded guilty.
“Michael Null could have given up,” Smit’s award to Michael Null reads. “His government— state and federal—betrayed him: it sent members of its secret police forces to concoct a plot to ‘kidnap’ Gretchen Whitmer, and to persecute innocent men in this government-orchestrated conspiracy, for the purpose of political theater and political gain.”
When the FBI announced the arrests of 14 men accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor in 2020, commentators on the right were quick to call it a hoax. While on the 2022 campaign trail, Michigan Republicans even falsely accused Whitmer of concocting the plot herself.
When two men were acquitted in the scheme, a GOP gubernatorial candidate running against Whitmer baselessly asserted that “the FBI conceived a plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer and preyed on Michiganders to push it along.” In a press release, he went on to ask, “Did Gretchen Whitmer play a role in these targeted efforts to influence the 2020 election? Was Gretchen Whitmer working with the FBI to fake her own kidnapping?”
Another then-politician, Republican state Rep. Robert Regan, claimed that “everyone who has followed this story from the start knew this was fabricated by the tyrant in Lansing.” (Regan was unseated after researchers unearthed his advice for women to “lay back and enjoy” rape, and his promotion of a meme that called feminism “a Jewish program to degrade and subjugate white men.”)
Some of those commentators have suggested the presence of FBI informants in the kidnapping plot was evidence that the entire incident was part of a greater Deep State ploy—maybe to run cover for Joe Biden.
“I keep contrasting dates with Whitmer timeline,” right-wing commentator Julie Kelly wrote in October, shortly after the Null brothers’ award ceremony. “In August, when FBI agent Brian Auten claimed Hunter Biden coverage was foreign disinformation, FBI accelerated Whitmer hoax by introducing another FBI undercover agent to entrap the group. All roads related to 2020 election interference and Biden crime family cover up lead to Whitmer fednapping.”
Other figures from Michigan’s far right doubled down on the hoax language after Rep. Smit awarded certificates to the Null brothers last month. Shane Trejo, the former chairman of Michigan’s 11th Congressional District Republican Committee, penned an article about the award, calling the plot a “kidnapping hoax” and a “fake, non-existent Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping operation.” (Trejo previously hosted a podcast with a white nationalist and participated in a far-right group chat where he defended neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. When asked in the chat to clarify whether he was personally a neo-Nazi, Trejo reportedly replied, “Its none of your fuckin business what I am or am not.”)
The praise for two acquitted defendants in the plot risks whitewashing the rest of the scheme, said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Smit’s award, “to me is a very dangerous and reckless move,” McQuade told The Daily Beast, noting that the Null brothers had participated in paramilitary training and surveillance operations on Whitmer’s residence with some of the convicted defendants.
The Null brothers contended that they did not know the extent of the other participants’ schemes. At trial, William Null said he should have called police when a convicted member of the plot suggested blowing up a bridge near Whitmer’s home.
“They were acquitted at trial,” McQuade said. “And certainly that means that the jury found that the government had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and we should respect that verdict. But it’s quite another thing to celebrate political violence.”
Whitmer and her circle have been on high alert since the kidnapping plot, she said in an interview this spring, noting that Donald Trump had made her a national target for far-right ire during the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
“The former president made me a target and threw a lot of gas on the fire and it has continued to burn. And I think about it everywhere I go,” Whitmer said.
Those fears returned to the fore this summer when a man who worked for a Republican opposition research firm was caught climbing a bluff near Whitmer’s home. The man said he was climbing the cliff to take pictures of Whitmer’s house, the Associated Press reported. The AP found that the man, who no longer works for the research firm, had previously posed as media in an attempt to get into an event with a U.S. senator and “call her out.” The man was not charged over the incident near Whitmer’s home.
In statements about the matter, police and Whitmer’s staff both noted previous threats against lawmakers.
“We are monitoring this situation to understand the scope of the individual’s intentions and connections to any known previous or ongoing threats against all government officials,” Michigan’s state police director said.
After Smit’s ceremony for the Null brothers, Whitmer’s spokesperson said the award only heightens the risk of future violence.
“Let’s be clear: last week Republican leadership awarded a tribute praising individuals that were charged with plotting to kidnap and kill the governor,” Whitmer spokeswoman Stacey LaRouche told The Daily Beast.
“This goes beyond the pale. These types of actions normalize and incite violence against our political figures, and only serve to shake our faith in our values and our institutions. This tribute will further encourage and embolden radical extremists trying to sow discord and harm public officials or law enforcement. Rep. Smit and Leader Hall must answer for this disturbing and extreme behavior.”
The post The Right Is Rewriting the Whitmer Kidnapping Case appeared first on The Daily Beast.