Michigan Democratic incumbent Sen. Gary Peters' Republican challenger John James is running on a platform of unity and nonpartisanship, but behind the scenes, he undercuts his own claims by associating with individuals and groups that promote violence.
On Thursday, after the bombshell revelation that the FBI had uncovered a kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, James was perfectly politic and nonpartisan in his public response.
He shared a tweet posted by the Republican majority leader of the Michigan state Senate, Mike Shirkey: "A threat against our Governor is a threat against us all. We condemn those who plotted against her and our government. They are not patriots. There is no honor in their actions. They are criminals and traitors, and they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
A few hours later, James himself tweeted his own public denunciation of Whitmer's would-be kidnappers: "I took an oath to defend the Constitution and this nation against enemies foreign and DOMESTIC," he wrote. "Those who threatened our State must be prosecuted to the fullest."
But despite his active Twitter feed, James remained mysteriously silent this spring when armed protests took place at the Michigan State House against Whitmer's stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic.
James did not comment on nationwide news coverage of online personal threats made against Whitmer.
In video footage obtained by the American Independent Foundation from an Aug. 6 GOP meet-and-greet in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at which James spoke, the candidate complains that the country is being run from "the top down" and not "the way it was intended, from the bottom up."
James asks his audience, "Who here is sick of being dictated to?" and is greeted with applause and cheering.
Later, he tells attendees, "Like I said a couple of minutes ago, who here has a beef with some of the things that the governor has been doing in the past couple months?"
The cheers are deafening, and one attendee shouts, "Hell, yeah!"
And for a candidate who recently released a campaign ad proclaiming unity as his core value, James has gotten cozy with some questionable individuals and groups — including some with notable ties to right-wing violence.
In July 2018, during James' first failed Senate campaign, he was publicly endorsed by infamous far-right musician Ted Nugent, who proclaimed James his "blood brother."
Nugent even performed at a James campaign rally that October that was headlined by Donald Trump Jr.
Nugent's endorsements of right-wing violence are well-documented.
"It is clear that Barack Hussein Obama is a communist," Nugent said at a concert in August 2007. "Mao Tse-Tung lives and his name is Barack Hussein Obama. This country should be ashamed. I wanna throw up. ... Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun."
At a 2012 NRA convention, Nugent said that if Obama were reelected, Nugent would find himself "either ... dead or in jail by this time next year." At the same event, he compared Obama's administration to coyotes who needed to be shot, and told his audience that they needed to "ride into that battlefield" and "chop (Democrats') heads off in November."
Nugent expressed unreserved support for a group calling itself the Michigan Militia in May 1995, just a few weeks after the group came under scrutiny for a potential connection to the bombing on April 19 of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The right-wing extremist paramilitary organization claims armed citizens must join a militia in order to protect themselves from tyranny and overreaching government agents.
Less than a year before the bombing, former militia head Norman Olsen had proclaimed at a recruitment meeting: "If this country doesn't change, armed conflict is inevitable." Reporting after the building was bombed suggested that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the perpetrators of the attack, might have attended meetings of the group.
"I shoot with these people," Nugent said in defense of the Michigan Militia. "I have been to target practice with them. I find them professional, hard-working people."
In 2014, Nugent became a card-carrying member of an anti-government, pro-gun group, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
Its leader, radical right-winger Richard Mack, has described his own organization as "the army to set our nation free" and said that the "greatest threat" Americans face is their "own federal government."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mack also has said that he fantasized about the day a sheriff would be the "first one to fire the next shot around the world and arrest a couple of IRS agents."
Besides his association with Nugent, James also has ties to other questionable groups.
He has been photographed with and is alleged to have received campaign contributions from Ryan Kelley, founder of the American Patriot Council. The group hosted a June 18 rally where members of the Wolverine Watchmen militia, some of whom were charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer, reportedly attempted to recruit new members.
And James raised some eyebrows in August when six or seven members of the far-right Proud Boys turned out in their signature black polos with gold trim, some of which sported "Proud Boys" logos, to volunteer at an event James was headlining.
"John was invited as a guest to an event that was hosted and organized by Republican groups," a James campaign spokesperson said in a statement. "John did not have contact or any knowledge of any hate groups that were in attendance. John was at that event for a short time before attending other campaign events that day."
But Randy Bishop, organizer of the event, hosted by the Antrim County Conservative Union, said he knew the Proud Boys were in attendance as they had bought tickets ahead of time, and confirmed that they did volunteer, hanging banners, serving food, and checking in attendees.
"[The Proud Boys were there to] take care of any problems that should arise if somebody wants to get violent or protest against our rights, they're there to simply defend them," Bishop told Interlochen Public Radio in northern Michigan.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.