Last night, known and charged insurrectionist Ryan Kelley announced he tapped Jamie Swafford to be his lieutenant governor. A former GOP vice chair, Swafford was also in attendance during the violent January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol that resulted in five deaths and 140 injured law enforcement officers.
Kelley’s selection of Swafford is the latest proof-point of his commitment to staging a “firebrand” campaign based on his calls to “start blowing up law enforcement” during the pandemic and crusade to “decertify” the 2020 election, according to recent reporting from Bridge Michigan.
Kelley regularly pushes conspiracy theories and extreme policy stances. The self-described “threat to democracy” wants to make Michigan a constitutional carry state and slash budgets for critical services like public education and infrastructure.
See excerpts below from Bridge Michigan on the former “longshot” turned viable contender, even as he faces federal criminal charges for the “disorderly and disruptive conduct” he engaged in during the insurrection, and read the full report here.
Bridge Michigan: Ryan Kelley: Firebrand Activist ‘100% Unapologetic’ in Michigan Governor Bid
By Jonathan Oosting
Ryan Kelley was in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, where his kids had delighted in the sound of a tree falling and sang in the car during a pizza run, when he recommended the experience to his viewers. […]
Then, Kelley walked into the woods and recorded a very different video for the American Patriot Council, which he had co-founded earlier in the year. He demanded authorities arrest and imprison Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for emergency orders she had issued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We need to start blowing up law enforcement across this nation, and we need to make a big deal out of this,” Kelley said in the tense clip. “No more lawsuits, no more thinking a court is going to handle this. These are criminals.”
The videos highlight Kelley’s public transition from a self-described “YouTube entertainment personality” to a firebrand who had already organized a massive anti-lockdown protest at the Michigan Capitol and invited armed militia members to serve as “security.”
Now running for Michigan governor, the Allendale Township real estate broker and former family vlogger has positioned himself to the far right of the five-candidate Republican field competing to take on Whitmer, a first-term Democrat seeking re-election. […]
Once considered a longshot by pundits, Kelley has climbed in the polls since his June arrest on misdemeanor charges of “disorderly and disruptive” conduct at the U.S. Capitol. He has offered a series of provocative policy proposals in his race against Garrett Soldano of Mattawan, Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township and Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills.
Among other things, Kelley has promised to declare the pandemic “over” on his first day in office by lifting any remaining regulations, ban private employer mandates and eliminate any “diversity, equity and inclusion” positions in state government. He also wants to decertify” the 2020 presidential election and replace voting machines with full hand counts, which experts say could delay election results for days, if not weeks or months, and reduce accuracy.
As with other Republicans competing in the Aug. 2 primary, Kelley has never held elected office. […]
If elected, Kelley has promised to “audit” the state budget to eliminate wasteful spending, reduce business taxes and regulations and make Michigan a “constitutional carry” state by eliminating the need for concealed pistol permits. He also wants to form a “people’s cabinet” within his administration to ensure Michigan residents “have a place to make their voices heard.” […]
Kelley burst onto the scene as a political activist in April 2020, when he organized a rally that drew thousands to the Michigan Capitol to protest Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders and demanded Republican lawmakers reject the governor’s request to extend an emergency declaration. They eventually did.
At the time, Kelley told reporters he invited militia members to serve as a “security” detail at the rally and suggested anyone who had a problem with that should read the Constitution and “live life without fear.”
The protest made national news after armed demonstrators entered the Capitol, including some who carried their firearms into galleries overlooking the state House and Senate chambers. Two of the men were later arrested on accusations they helped surveil Whitmer’s home as part of an alleged kidnapping plot. […]
Kelley organized another anti-lockdown rally a few weeks later in Grand Rapids, followed by another at the Michigan Capitol in June, where he urged fellow activists to “unite as a militia” to “protect our citizens in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”
Later in June, Kelley openly carried his own firearm in a counterprotest against potential removal of a Confederate soldier statue in Allendale Township, which he argued was an attempt by groups like Black Lives Matter to “erase our history.” […]
After Joe Biden won Michigan’s 2020 presidential election by 154,188 votes, Kelley’s activism shifted to “stop the steal” rallies, where he coupled conspiracy theories about COVID-19 with claims the election was “rigged” against Trump.
“COVID-19 was made so that they can use the propaganda to control your minds so that you think, if you watch the media, that Joe Biden won this election,” he said in a November 2020 rally at the Michigan Capitol. “We’re not going to buy it. We’re going to stand and fight for America, for Donald Trump.”
The FBI highlighted those comments in a June affidavit when agents arrested Kelley for his alleged role at a pro-Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in 2021. Agents also raided his Allendale Township home in front of his wife and children.
Kelley has acknowledged he was in Washington D.C. to protest the election on Jan. 6 but has denied entering the Capitol, and federal authorities have not produced any evidence to contradict that claim.
But they say video evidence —including footage Bridge Michigan reported on last year as part of an extremism investigation — will prove Kelley engaged in “disorderly and disruptive conduct” in a restricted area and damaged a tarp “covering the northwest scaffolding” outside the building, among other things.
Kelley has argued he was simply expressing his First Amendment right to protest the 2020 election and accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing” the Department of Justice. His GOP primary competitors rushed to his defense, questioning the timing of his arrest, which occured the same day a congressional panel began a series of hearings on the U.S. Capitol attack.
Kelley last week pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor charges, each punishable by up to one year imprisonment. […]
In the meantime, Kelley is prohibited from leaving the state without notifying the court and cannot possess guns despite his attorney’s request he be allowed to continue carrying a concealed pistol for self-defense on the campaign trail.
The arrest has helped his campaign, Kelley said last week, suggesting he’s “seen the support grow across the state” and “the entire country.” He’s raised more than $16,000 for a legal defense fund and has garnered national attention, including a Fox News appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Kelley has polled at or near the top of several recent surveys of the GOP primary field. His arrest appears to have helped him with Republican voters who believe “that government isn’t just incompetent, it’s corrupt,” said John Sellek, a political veteran with Harbor Strategic Public Affairs in Lansing. […]
Kelley’s recent popularity surge reflects a Republican Party that remains locked in the grip of Trump, said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan GOP who left the party over its fealty to Trump and is now working as a campaign consultant for Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who is up for re-election. […]
“They see me as a threat to their democracy, and I am,” Kelley told NBC News last month. “I am a threat to their democracy, because we’re a republic which upholds the individual liberties and rights of the people.”