Officials point to Trump’s tweets urging people to ‘liberate’ their states
RICHMOND-Words have consequences. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and other officials emphasized that multiple times Tuesday. Speaking at a press conference, Northam discussed testimony given earlier in the day by FBI Special Agent Richard Trask during a court hearing in Michigan. Trask said the domestic terrorist group who planned to kidnap Michigan’s governor wanted to do the same to Northam. The Virginia governor thanked everyone who exposed the plot and said threats come with the territory. But he also called for an end to hate speech coming from Washington.
“The people that are making comments and the rhetoric about our elected officials, not just me or the governor of Michigan, these threats, this rhetoric, is not coming from another country,” Northam said. “It’s coming from Washington. That I regret and it needs to stop.”
He was referring to several tweets sent out earlier this year by President Donald Trump. On April 17, he tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”. Then minutes later, he tweeted “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege.”
Attorney General Mark Herring echoed Northam’s call, saying that hate speech spurs groups like this into action.
“Words have consequences. When we have a President who regularly spews hate and openly incites violence, people can be put in serious danger,” Herring said. “From day one, President Trump has used his platform as Commander-in-Chief to vilify his opponents and to urge his supporters to go after anyone who may disagree with them, and that includes both state and national leaders. This kind of harmful rhetoric further divides our country and it needs to stop now before more Americans are hurt.”
Republicans, Democrats Denounce Plot
Members of both political parties came out to denounce what they labeled as a domestic terrorism threat. US Congress 5th District Rep. Denver Riggleman used those specific words.
“I condemn the domestic terrorists behind this threat in the strongest possible terms,” said Riggleman, who lost in the Republican primary this year to Bob Good. “Violent crime against our elected leaders cannot be tolerated in this country. In Congress, I have stood up against the radicalization of political ideas and the violent ideologies that ferment on social media. As a former intelligence officer and counter terrorism expert, I know we need to be vigilant against domestic terrorism and eliminate it wherever it appears.”
Riggleman’s fellow representative, 4th District Congressman Donald McEachin, echoed his comments.
“In a democracy, we do not resolve our differences by violence or threats of kidnapping. We vote,” McEachin said. “That is what has made America a beacon for the world for over 200 years. Let us all commit to keeping that democracy with peaceful resolution of differences.”
The White House even released a statement saying President Trump has repeatedly condemned all forms of hate. The release from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany argued, however, that Whitmer and now Northam are the ones causing problems.
“Governor Whitmer, and now Governor Northam, are sowing division by making these outlandish claims,” the statement reads. “America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
In fact, the only group that didn’t either denounce the threat or offer support to Northam was the Virginia Republican Party leadership. The only mention of the governor came on the group’s Twitter account, where they labeled him a “virulent racist”. After retweeting Northam’s endorsement of Qasim Rashid, a Democratic nominee for Virginia’s First District seat in the US Congress, The GOP wrote “Headline: Qasim Rashaid endorsed by virulent racist-progressives turn blind eye.”
We need a healer, not a divider
Several other lawmakers, both on the state and national level, blamed Trump’s comments for the kidnapping plots. In one case, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said he warned the administration something like this would happen.
“I warned Pence in April that divisive comments like Trump’s “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” tweet could cause violence,” Kaine said. “Thankful to law enforcement who stopped this. We need a president who heals—not divides.”
Trump supporters were quick to point out one of the suspects, 32-year-old Brandon Caserta, previously posted a video online calling the president “a tyrant” and adding that “every single person that works for government is your enemy, dude.”
However, two other alleged plotters pointed to Trump as an inspiration.
“We need to get away from the controllers of this country and become America again,” said 42-year-old Pete Musico on a May 8, 2016 Twitter post. “That’s what Trump wants.”
In a 2017 series of videos, Barry Croft called Trump “inspiring”, while claiming government was going to take away your religious freedom.
As for Northam, when asked what he planned to do, said nothing changes. The governor reflected on his eight years serving with the US Army, especially the time spent in Iraq.
“We knew who the enemy was,” Northam said. “[We] knew it was dangerous. We knew we were in harm’s way. But I wasn’t intimidated. I was proud to fight for my country. I will not work under a cloud of intimidation. That’s not who I am. I was elected to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia and that’s what I plan to do.”