American Democracy Under Threat: Battleground Michigan

Michigan is a hotspot of far-right extremists, election deniers, and so-called election integrity efforts. Lies from the far right that Michigan’s 2020 election was stolen have metastasized in the past two years, even though audits have shown no fraud and lawsuits have been repeatedly dismissed. The distrust in the election was building in the run up to the November 2020 vote and exploded in the days after. In fact, Trump allies rejected and undermined the election and came very close to turning the 2020 outcome in Michigan into a nation-wide constitutional crisis. As votes were being counted in Detroit, so many volunteer challengers overwhelmed Detroit’s TCF Center, now called Huntington Place, that police had to intervene.

Keep scrolling to read which election denying groups we’ve identified.

The poll watchers who threatened to overtake the TCF Center accused poll workers of “bullying” them and blocking them from voting tables due to pandemic social distancing requirements. They also falsely alleged “phony ballots” were smuggled into the center, helping lay the foundation for what turned into a weeks-long delay in certifying the state’s votes. Many allegations of fraud were rejected by judges who found that these witnesses were ill-informed and simply did not understand what they were seeing, interpreting normal election processes as signs of manipulation or vote-rigging.

The scene at the TCF Center followed a fraught several months of violent anti-lockdown and “Stop the Steal” protests involving militia members and other extremists, sometimes armed, protesting alongside Trump supporters. For example, in Kalamazoo, an August 2020 demonstration by the white supremacist Proud Boys turned violent when they attacked counterdemonstrators both physically and with pepper spray. The Proud Boys  continued to protest across the state up until late 2022, and Lansing had more armed protests led by extremists than any state Capitol besides Phoenix, according to ACLED. The Michigan Liberty Militia (MLM) was also involved in the protests after Biden won. The far-right rallies , which included armed protestors entering the Michigan Capitol in Lansing, received support from Trump. And there was a major domestic terrorism plot involving another militia. In October 2020, 13 men were arrested on suspicion of orchestrating a kidnapping plot of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and using violence to overthrow the state government. About half of the suspects were tied to the Wolverine Watchmen militia group. One man pleaded guilty, and two others were acquitted at trial. Two men were later found guilty of conspiring to obtain a weapon of mass destruction. One of those men was also convicted of another explosives charge. In early October, the trial of three more men charged with providing material support for terrorism in the plot to kidnap Whitmer began. Phil Robinson, who heads MLM, has spoken at pro-Trump rallies in support of the members of Wolverine Watch arrested for the kidnapping plot. Audra Johnson, a failed GOP congressional candidate, is a member of the militia who believes the U.S. is heading towards a “civil war.”

Things got worse as the official Electoral College vote approached in mid-December, as some on the far right were agitating to disrupt the vote and bring their own slate of electors into the Lansing Capitol building. It was later revealed that the slate of fake electors trying to overturn Biden’s election contemplated “hiding overnight” in the Michigan Capitol to cast their illegal votes. The plot, which is now under investigation, was an apparent attempt by the Trump campaign to seat an alternate slate of electors in Michigan. By camping overnight in the Michigan Capitol, the alternate electors hoped to comply with state law requiring they meet in the state Senate chambers on Dec. 14. Starting in June 2022, some of the electors were subpoenaed by federal agents.

Talk of disrupting the Electoral College vote even came from elected officials. Republican state House leaders ended up sanctioning GOP Rep. Gary Eisen for a conspiracy-laden radio interview in which he discussed plans to disrupt the Electoral College vote and wouldn’t rule out the possibility of violence. “It is dangerous,” Eisen said in a December interview, suggesting he and other legislators would attempt to escort the Michigan GOP’s slate of electors into the Capitol. The situation was so fraught that officials were bracing for potential violence at or near the Capitol. Citing a “credible threat of violence,” Republican leaders in the Michigan House and Senate ended up closing all their offices. Michigan State Police offered democratic electors escorts into and out of the building, which was already slated to be closed because of the pandemic.

The slate of fake Republican electors included bona fide extremists as well as election deniers—many of whom simultaneously hold positions in the Michigan GOP. Timothy King signed one of the fraudulent electoral vote certificates and is an executive committee member of the Washtenaw County Republican Party. He has shared propaganda on the ‘Great Reset’ conspiracy on his Facebook page. Amy Facchinello, a QAnon supporter, was on the slate of fraudulent electors. After her support for QAnon conspiracy theories was exposed, she refused to step down from her position on the Gran Blanc School Board. Mari-Ann Henry, another fake elector, retweeted so-called birther conspiracies, alleging that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. Henry serves as treasurer of the Greater Oakland Republican Club, president of the Greater Oakland GOP, and vice chair of Michigan’s 8th Congressional District. MeShawn Maddock, another fake elector, serves as Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair. She is on the advisory board of Women for Trump and claimed to have organized nearly 20 buses of Trump supporters to go to the January 6, 2021, D.C. rally. Both she and her husband Matt traveled to Washington, D.C., but claimed to have not been able to get into the area where Trump was speaking ahead of the storming of the Capitol.

No Fraud Found, Repeatedly

A GOP-led committee found no evidence of widespread fraud in Michigan’s 2020 election and recommended the state’s attorney general investigate those who made false claims “to raise money or publicity for their own ends.” A series of court rulings, more than 200 audits and an investigation by the GOP-controlled state Senate Oversight Committee have upheld Biden’s victory in Michigan, writing in its July 2021 report that citizens could be confident that the final election results represented the “true results.” Numerous lawsuits disputing the election were dismissed in court, including one in which 15 Michigan legislators and four of the state’s congressional Republicans filed legal briefs supporting a Texas lawsuit that sought to delay the Electoral College vote and block electors from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia from participating. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the request. Most recently a group of former federal judges, Republican senators, and Republican-appointed officials released a 72-page report refuting the argument that the election was rigged. The report includes a look at Michigan’s 2020 election results, as well as those of other battleground states.

None of this has stopped vigorous election denialism efforts. For example, the Republican Party of Macomb County, the state’s third most-populous county, voted to censure three GOP state senators who worked on the senate report that found no evidence of fraud. The county GOP’s executive committee was particularly incensed over the section of the report that asked the state’s Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel to consider investigating people who pushed false claims of election fraud in order “to raise money or publicity for their own ends.”

Lawsuits alleging voter fraud continue to be filed. In early September 2022, approaching two years after the Board of State Canvassers voted three to zero to certify the results of the 2020 election, a Michigan clerk who allegedly gave a township tabulator to a group advancing unproven claims of fraud in the election joined a lawsuit to decertify the results. Sharon Olson, the clerk in Barry County’s Irving Township, was one of six plaintiffs in a suit filed in federal court in Michigan’s Western District. The other plaintiffs included the Macomb County Republican Party, U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate for Governor Donna Brandenburg, and a nonprofit, the Election Integrity Fund and Force. The lawsuit that Olson signed onto as a plaintiff contends that Michigan’s electronic voting system software was not properly certified. They asked the court to order Whitmer and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to “work together to rerun the Michigan 2020 presidential election as soon as possible.”

Generally, in Michigan, activists who identify with a larger movement working against Republicans willing to accept Trump’s loss have captured the party leadership in about a dozen counties. They’re directly challenging state party leaders who are trying to harness the grassroots energy without indulging demands to keep fighting over the last election. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Republicans nominated to their board a man who said he would not have certified the 2020 election.

The GOP candidate for attorney general, an election denier, is the subject of an ongoing state investigation into the unauthorized access of vote tabulators. Matt DePerno is one of nine people under investigation for engaging in a conspiracy to access equipment. DePerno is a Kalamazoo-based lawyer who led a failed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results in Antrim County. In August, Nessel called for a special prosecutor to investigate DePerno after finding evidence linking him to a potentially criminal plot the prior year to seize and tamper with voting machines used in the 2020 election. DePerno has denied the allegations. Kristina Karamo, a community college professor and right-wing commentator running for secretary of state on the GOP ticket, has falsely claimed that Trump won Michigan in 2020 and alleged that she witnessed fraud as a poll challenger during Michigan’s count of absentee voter ballots. A self-proclaimed anti-vaxxer who opposes teaching evolution in schools, Karamo could become Michigan’s top election official. Earlier this year, unsuccessful GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley called on Michigan poll workers to unplug election equipment, “if you see something you don’t like happening.” In June, Kelley was charged with trespassing and other crimes in connection with the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Gumming Up the Works

Other aspects of the far-right campaign to prove the election was rigged are affecting Michigan’s election staff’s ability to do their work. Specifically, state election officials have faced a cascade of record requests. As of September, the Michigan’s Bureau of Elections had spent 600 hours processing records requests in 2022, which it estimates is triple the time it has spent on them in the past. In Canton, township clerk Michael Siegrist has contended with a string of records requests from former Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck, who has written a book contending the 2020 election was stolen (In April 2021, Dominion Voting Systems accused Colbeck of waging a “disinformation campaign” while touring Michigan to give presentations entitled “Case for MI Decertification” and sent him a demand letter that he retract his claims). Colbeck has inundated the township with so many records requests that the clerk invited him to his office to let him see how the election management system functions, hoping to allay Colbeck’s concerns. “We have spent hours with him,” Siegrist said of Colbeck. Siegrist rejected one request from Colbeck for computer log files that Siegrist said would have put future elections at risk. “Predatory FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests like this that really are designed to kind of bully, intimidate or potentially gain access to information that legally you’re not entitled to,” Siegrist told The Washington Post, “This really does take away my staff from doing their legitimate job.” Colbeck said by email that he did not trust that Siegrist had protected the township’s systems from malware and accused Siegrist of “gross negligence.”

The Election Integrity Force, which Colbeck helped start, pushes baseless claims about the 2020 election that feed suspicions about the fairness of upcoming elections. In a July session, as first reported by Politico, members of the group coached poll workers and observers to call 911 and bring law enforcement into election-related complaints. The mounting efforts to influence poll workers have prompted concerns over election disruptions, forcing the state to establish a code of conduct for those individuals. The GOP has “made a concerted effort to put election deniers in positions where they can gum up the works, afterward, if they don’t win,” Jeff Timmer, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, told CNN. In the lead up to the 2020 election, with no evidence, Colbeck posted on Facebook that democrats were conspiring to commit electoral fraud and “manipulating the vote tallies transmitted from county election boards to the state board of canvassers.” While serving as a poll challenger in Detroit, Colbeck claimed he saw vote-tabulation machines connected to the internet. He submitted an affidavit to that effect for a lawsuit that Wayne County Republican Party Chairwoman Cheryl Costantino filed alleging widespread voter fraud at Detroit’s TCF Center a week after the election, seeking to stop the results from being certified and requesting an audit. Costantino’s lawsuit, which was backed by Trump, drew national attention to her claims of election fraud. But a state circuit court judge dismissed the suit, stating that “no evidence supports Mr. Colbeck’s position.” Noting Colbeck’s Facebook posts, Judge Timothy Kenny said that his “predilection to believe fraud was occurring undermines his credibility.”

Election Workers Threatened

Election workers have faced an unending string of threats since the November 2020 election.  The situation is so serious that Michigan democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in August 2021 to protect poll workers from harassment or intimidation, but it has been stalled ever since.

Former Rochester Hills City Clerk Tina Barton was shocked the first time she received a death threat over the phone a few days after the 2020 election. Conspiracy theorists, emboldened by Trump’s Big Lie, called Barton and made death threats for what they falsely believed was her role in rigging the election. Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey was sent photos of a dead body with a message to imagine that body as her daughter. Winfrey said a man confronted her outside of her home and also threatened via Facebook Messenger to bomb her residential area. “It’s kind of scary when you know they know where you live,” she said. “My kids, they bought me mace, they bought me a stun gun. I always have something with me.”

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said while her office has not received any threats, she knows of other election officials in Michigan who have been the target of “vile messages.” “One of the email responses that I heard was, if you send me any more emails about this election, I’m going to slit your throat.” In Madison Heights, the city clerk beefed up her home security after threats received related to the 2020 election. And Ferndale Clerk Marne McGrath has incorporated active shooter training into her election worker trainings. “I have seen election administration evolve from our biggest concern being whether we had enough precinct inspectors and pens, to protecting our profession and integrity from disinformation campaigns and election workers from threats and intimidation,” said McGrath. Madison Heights Clerk Cheryl Rottmann highlighted social media comments suggesting she should be in jail after the city posted a video of staff conducting a risk-limiting audit. Rottmann also harbors security concerns after getting a call from someone trying to learn how elections were handled including where the city stored its election software.

During the 2020 election, Canton Township Clerk Michael Siegrist’s office securely collected more than 57,000 ballots. But once the counting was done, the threats started streaming in. Siegrist worked to fortify his office. He brought in federal agencies like the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to evaluate security measures. They evaluated cameras, door locks, and other security measures. They installed bulletproof glass and moved trash cans in case they might be used to hold incendiary devices near voter counters. In early 2022, these measures earned Siegrist’s office a national award. The current model is based on the same process FEMA uses in disaster zones. Siegrist has patrolling law enforcement specifically tasked with checking polling locations. His staff and the volunteers have been through active shooter and incident training. Even so, Siegrist still worries about polling locations in schools or churches where such measures may not exist, exposing volunteers to possible violence.

And Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said her family has faced so many threats that her 6-year-old son recently picked up a stick in front of their home and said he would use it to protect his family.

Constitutional Sheriff Election Interference

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office sought a special prosecutor to consider an array of potential criminal charges against nine individuals who allegedly engaged in a “conspiracy” to gain improper access to voting machines as they probed unproven voter fraud claims in September 2022. The group included Republican attorney general candidate Matt DePerno, State Rep. Daire Rendon, and Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who infamously made light of the Whitmer kidnapping plot.

State police have been investigating the plot since February 2022, which involved efforts to persuade Michigan clerks to give them access to voting software and tabulating machines so they could examine them to prove fraud took place in 2020. According to Nessel, these men “orchestrated a coordinated plan to gain access” to equipment in four Michigan communities. Nessel’s petition documents how voting tabulators were taken to hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals in Oakland County, where four men “broke into” the tabulators and performed “tests” on them. The petition says that DePerno was present in a hotel room during some of the testing. DePerno has been a leading election denier in Michigan since shortly after the 2020 election, filing a lawsuit challenging the results in Antrim County because of a quickly corrected error by the county clerk that resulted in the heavily Republican county at first reporting a victory for Biden.

A key player in this alleged plot is Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf. Leaf, a member of the Constitutional Peace Officers and Sheriffs Association (CSPOA), which alleges falsely that county sheriffs have no higher authority and, as an organization, is now committed to investigate election-related activities, has spent considerable time investigating something Trump has alleged – that vote-counting machines in Michigan somehow flipped votes from Trump to Biden. Dar has petitioned courts in attempts to seize election equipment, sent investigators to interrogate local clerks, and made sweeping records requests. So far, Leaf is one of four CSPOA sheriffs known to have launched such probes nationwide. Now, Leaf himself is under scrutiny in Nessel’s action.

According to a Reuters investigation, the alleged plot appears to be coordinated and elaborate and Leaf played a central role. Reuters’ investigation involved dozens of interviews, analysis of video from public meetings, and an evaluation of scores of documents obtained through public records requests to explore Leaf’s actions. Among Reuters’ findings: “People spearheading Trump’s rigged-election claims in Michigan were deeply involved with Leaf early on, making Barry County a pillar of their efforts to overturn the presidential vote.” Irving Township Clerk Sharon Olson told police that an investigator working with Leaf’s department had taken their tabulator to “forensically” examine it. Olson told state police that the sheriff’s office asked her to give the investigator the equipment. Leaf denies any wrongdoing and claims no one from his department “touched any tabulators in my county.” Leaf’s office allegedly also worked closely with a private investigator, Michael Lynch, on this election fraud probe, but the sheriff told Reuters he did not know if Lynch took the Irving Township tabulator.

The Michigan situation is among at least 17 such incidents identified by Reuters, including 11 in Michigan, where Trump supporters allegedly gained or attempted to obtain unauthorized access to voting equipment. State and federal courts have cited insufficient evidence in rejecting Leaf’s requests for orders authorizing him to seize voting equipment in his county and statewide. Leaf is reportedly undeterred. “We’re going to keep going,” he said in July 2022. “We get new information almost daily.” In June 2022, he sued the attorney general and other Michigan officials on the pretense that the state’s investigation is taking away his power as a “constitutional sheriff” to probe election fraud allegations in his county.

Leaf’s investigation has been guided by Detroit attorney Stefanie Lambert, who was part of the legal team led by prominent pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, who is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems for alleging the company rigged the 2020 election, that filed a federal suit immediately after the election seeking to overturn Michigan’s results. The judge found that suit’s claims of “massive voter fraud” so baseless that she sanctioned Lambert, Powell, and other lawyers on the case for misconduct. Lambert is now representing Leaf in his lawsuit against Michigan officials. Lambert faces an effort by the attorney general, governor and secretary of state to have her disbarred.

In July, at a Las Vegas conference of CSPOA, another constitutional sheriffs organization run by Sheriff Mark Lamb and the national election-denying group True the Vote, Leaf lamented that he had not persuaded his county prosecutor to pursue search warrants he wants served. “We’re going to keep moving forward, folks. We’re not done with this,” Leaf said, suggesting he might seek to prosecute alleged election fraud using a common-law grand jury, an unofficial body popular in antigovernment circles that many in that movement claim, falsely, can issue indictments.

Other odd things have happened around voting machines in Michigan. Harri Hursti, who tests voting machine software, has purchased about 200 used voting machines without incident, but the one he purchased on eBay in August 2022 is now the subject of a state investigation, with Michigan officials determined to find out how the device ended up for sale online.

GOP Recruiting Loyalists for Election Work

As part of its efforts to monitor Michigan’s elections, the state GOP is energetically working to recruit and train party loyalists to serve as election staff of all sorts. The Republican National Committee (RNC) is committing $35 million to election integrity efforts nationwide. This is a relatively new effort for the party since the RNC was banned for decades from so-called “ballot security” measures after it settled an early 1980s case where the party was accused of voter suppression in violation of the Voting Rights Act by engaging in such things as sending armed off-duty police officers to polling places where there were minority populations. A federal judge let the consent decree expire in 2018.

In Michigan, the plan was described to Politico by a local RNC staffer as utilizing rules designed to provide political balance among poll workers to “install party-trained volunteers prepared to challenge voters at democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts.” This effort is being led by Matthew Seifried, the RNC’s election integrity director for Michigan.

Recordings of GOP trainings held between the summer of 2021 and May 2022 were obtained by Politico. In an October 2021 session, Seifried said poll workers would be backed up by “an army…We’re going to have more lawyers than we’ve ever recruited, because let’s be honest, that’s where it’s going to be fought, right?” Seifried also said the RNC will hold “workshops” and equip poll workers with a hotline that will allow them to “live-chat with party attorneys on Election Day.” In a May 2022 training session, he said his efforts had achieved a goal of signing up more than 5,600 poll workers and some 850 more names have been submitted to the Detroit clerk.

Politico’s exposé reveals that some of the would-be poll workers lamented that fraud was committed in 2020 and that the election was “corrupt.” Installing party loyalists on the Board of Canvassers, which is responsible for certifying the election, also appears to be part of the GOP strategy. During a May 2022 election-integrity summit, Seifried said the party is now actively recruiting lawyers and that he wanted to “start reaching out to law enforcement.” In an October 2021 meeting, Seifried said priority targets are Detroit, Pontiac, and Southfield, which are heavily democratic and minority areas.

Among panelists at a May 2022 “Election Integrity” summit in Detroit was Jacky Eubanks, a Trump-endorsed state house candidate who lost her primary and who warned “kids my age who are communists do and will staff our elections” in urging Republicans to become “paid, full-time elections workers” to police absentee ballot signatures. Speaking separately to Macomb County Republicans, Eubanks also recently said, “The election system is rigged, and who best to steal it but our clerks.”

The evening before Michigan’s state primary, Wayne County GOP leaders held a Zoom training for poll workers and partisan observers that warned them about “bad stuff happening” during the election and encouraged them to ignore certain local election rules, such as those barring cell phones and pens from polling places and vote-counting centers. “None of the constraints that they’re putting on this are legal,” former State Senator Patrick Colbeck told trainees on the call.

Politico also obtained Zoom tapings of Tim Griffin, legal counsel to The Amistad Project, an election-integrity group that Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani once portrayed as a “partner” in the Trump campaign’s legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They are meeting with activists from multiple states that discussed plans to identify district attorneys who would be willing to intervene in possible election disputes in their jurisdiction. Griffin says on the recording the need to build a nationwide network of these district attorney allies. He also talks of creating a legal “trap” for Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey: “Remember, guys, we’re trying to build out a nationwide district attorney network. Your local district attorney, as we always say, is more powerful than your congressman…They’re the ones that can seat a grand jury. They’re the ones that can start an investigation, issue subpoenas, make sure that records are retained, etc.”

The Election Denier Circuit

In Michigan, there have been conferences, meetings, and other events devoted to election denialism over the last two years. In September 2021 at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, which was focused on the issue, representatives from national and local groups gave presentations on what they needed to do in coming elections. Zoe O’Herin Miller, director of government affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank, said Republican election integrity efforts should focus on six areas, including ensuring clean voters rolls that do not include the names of ineligible voters and prohibiting the private funding of election offices for efforts such as increasing voter participation. Other panelists were Thor Hearne, a Missouri attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Trump campaign seeking to halt the counting of absentee ballots in Detroit, and Minnesota attorney Erick Kaardal, who works for the Thomas More Society and who was referred for sanctions by a federal judge for filing a “risible” lawsuit against former Vice President Mike Pence that sought to block certification of the election results. The Thomas More Society was involved in unsuccessful litigation that aimed to require legislatures in battleground states, including Michigan, to sign off on their states’ election results.

In May 2022, the Election Integrity Network, chaired by conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who was on the January 2, 2021, phone call in which Trump asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner, put on an “election integrity” summit in Detroit. It featured political figures who’ve made unproven claims of fraud and staffers from the RNC. The summit agenda included presentations entitled “Starting and Building Local Task Forces/Becoming a Presence in the Local Election Office,” “Working Together to Fight the Left,” and “Becoming Part of the Election Apparatus: Election Inspectors in Michigan.” Siefried was listed as leading a discussion about election inspectors. Also appearing at the summit, according to the agenda, was Colbeck, who has repeatedly made unproven claims of fraud in the November 2020 election, and Kaardal. Trump too has been in the state, holding a “Save America” rally in Warren in October 2022.

Election Denier Groups in Michigan

There are dozens of organizations involved in election denialism in Michigan. Many are coordinated by the GOP through its coalition website, the Michigan Election Protection Team, which is paid for by the GOP and is engaged in an aggressive drive for election workers. The coalition includes 29 organizations, four of which are national level groups includingFreedomWorks. The organizations profiled below are some of the most active election deniers in Michigan, though this should by no means be seen as covering all the groups in Michigan involved in these efforts.

Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA)
Barry County

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf, who is under investigation for tampering with election equipment, is a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), which has taken up “election integrity” as a key issue. State police have been investigating Leaf and others since February 2022 over a plot which involved efforts to persuade Michigan clerks to give them access to voting software and tabulating machines so they could examine them to prove fraud took place in 2020. Leaf infamously made light of the Whitmer kidnapping plot. CSPOA was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona. Mack gained notoriety in the 1990s after successfully suing to overturn a prominent gun control measure, known as the Brady Law. CSPOA has arguably had more success infiltrating law enforcement than any other anti-government group. The constitutional sheriff movement’s ideology is rooted in the anti-government movement’s false concept of county supremacy. The movement believes that the county and not the state or federal governments should control all land within its borders, and the county sheriff is the ultimate law enforcement authority in the U.S. This idea was pioneered by William Potter Gale in the 1970s, a minister in the Christian identity movement, which is rabidly antisemitic and racist. It is expressed on CSPOA’s website this way: “The law enforcement powers held by the sheriff supersede those of any agent, officer, elected official or employee from any level of government when in the jurisdiction of the county. The vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.” CSPOA claims this is because county sheriffs are the only elected law enforcement officers and therefore only accountable to their constituents, and thus no higher government power. Mack is a former board member of the Oath Keepers, several of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their actions on January 6, who has said that the “greatest threat we face today is not terrorists; it is our own federal government.” In a May 2020 interview posted to YouTube, Mack described this view, saying: “Let me make this real clear: The President of the United States cannot tell your sheriff what to do. I don’t care if it’s George Washington himself, they cannot tell us what to do.” Mack crisscrosses the country for speaking engagements where he promotes himself, CSPOA, and his county sheriff theories. During a July event held by True the Vote, a major election denier organization, Mack invited several of his staff and two former law enforcement officials to attend. Leaf attended the event. Mack said the event provided “more evidence of quite extensive election fraud.” “There’s no way anyone in this country should be trusting computers to tabulate votes.” True the Vote is working directly with CSPOA, which now has a whole section on its website about law enforcement’s role in rooting out voting fraud. Sheriffs like Leaf affiliated with CSPOA have promised to monitor future elections and hunt down remaining claims of fraud from the 2020 presidential election. In July, Mack declared that investigating voting fraud is now his group’s top priority, calling it a “holy cause.”

Michigan Election Protection Team

The Michigan Election Protection Team (MEPT), whose website is hosted by the state GOP, is working towards recruiting 5,000 election inspectors. The site describes such inspectors as “paid election workers, [who] have more rights and authority than poll challengers. As an Election Inspector, you are administering the election and can ensure the rules and laws of our elections are being followed.” MEPT lists dozens of organizations as  sponsor group including many pushing for another audit of the 2020 results, a blog run by former state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who has called Trump’s loss a “coup,” and LaRouche PAC, a Virginia group named for the now deceased Holocaust denier Lyndon LaRouche. The latter is particularly extreme. LaRouche PAC’s Ron Kokinda wrote in a January 2022 Facebook post promoting the MEPT effort, “We all know that the events of 2021 — from the Jan. 6 false flag Capitol attack, to the subsequent occupation of the White House by Mussolini Joe, to the escalating assaults on our economy and our constitutional rights —began with the stolen election on November 3, 2020…And, here in Michigan, it unfolded before our eyes at the TCF Center in Detroit.”

Let’s Fix Stuff (Also on Twitter)

Let’s Fix Stuff is former Michigan State Senator Patrick Colbeck’s blog, which is filled with allegations and misinformation about irregularities in voting procedures and vulnerabilities of tabulation machines and other voting systems. Colbeck claims his background as an aerospace engineer with knowledge of “critical infrastructure components” makes him especially adept in these matters. In 2020, Colbeck helped launch what he calls an “election protection initiative,” Election Integrity Force to “ensure transparent and trusted elections.” Much of Colbeck’s allegations of voting irregularities followed his time as a poll observer at Detroit’s main balloting counting center. He alleges ballot manipulation, machine and counting irregularities, and outright voting fraud in Michigan. In the lead up to the 2020 election, with no evidence, Colbeck posted on Facebook that Democrats were conspiring to commit electoral fraud and “manipulating the vote tallies transmitted from county election boards to the state board of canvassers.” While serving as a poll challenger in Detroit, Colbeck claimed he saw vote tabulation machines connected to the internet. He submitted an affidavit to that effect for a lawsuit filed by Wayne County Republican Party Chairwoman Cheryl Costantino alleging widespread voter fraud at Detroit’s TCF Center a week after the election, seeking to stop the results from being certified, and requesting an audit. Costantino’s lawsuit, which was backed by Trump, drew national attention to her claims of election fraud. But a state circuit court judge dismissed the suit, stating that “no evidence supports Mr. Colbeck’s position.” Noting Colbeck’s Facebook posts, Judge Timothy Kenny said that his “predilection to believe fraud was occurring undermines his credibility.” Colbeck is tied into the national network of elections deniers. For example, he is featured on the Election Integrity Network’s website discussing with Cleta Mitchell his book, The 2020 Coup, where he describes what he considers to be the fraud and irregularities that he supposedly witnessed while serving as a poll observer in Detroit. Colbeck continues to work with the Election Integrity Fund and Force.

Election Integrity Fund and Force
Oakland County

The Election Integrity Fund and Force (EIFF), which claims to be nonpartisan and which former state Senator Patrick Colbeck helped start, pushes baseless claims about the 2020 election. Regardless of its claims of nonpartisanship, the group appears to be overrun with election deniers like Colbeck. Several speakers at a 2021 EIFF rally claimed the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump. Speakers denounced audits conducted by the Michigan Secretary of State and a then planned audit in Macomb County. EIFF organizer Joanne Bakale questioned how a larger number of Michigan residents registered to vote in 2020 compared to past elections. In an August  session, as first reported by Politico, members of the group coached poll workers and observers to call 911 and bring law enforcement into election-related complaints. The plan, outlined by Joanne Bakale, who is running a voter project for EIFF and who led the meeting, is the latest example of how many individuals who falsely maintain there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election are seeking to involve law enforcement around elections administration. “One of the issues that we had in the 2020 election is that no one actually filed any complaints with the police,” said Bakale. The mounting efforts to influence poll workers have prompted concerns over election disruptions, forcing the state to establish a code of conduct for those individuals. In 2021, EIFF activists began knocking on doors across Michigan looking for evidence of “ghost votes” and other alleged “anomalies” in the 2020 election. Last year, EIFF toured six Northern Michigan cities with Republican attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno to recruit volunteers for the canvassing effort. EIFF organizers said the door-to-door canvassing effort is modeled after a similar attempt in Arizona to discredit the 2020 election. Organizers said volunteers were visiting homes in Oakland and Macomb counties. A spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State said residents have no obligation to answer questions about how they voted. Macomb County Clerk Anthony Forlini said Republican state House candidate Jacky Eubanks turned in several reports about voting irregularities that were determined to be not credible. Forlini said he appreciates the “hard work” of private canvassers, but their efforts haven’t turned up evidence of fraud “so far.” EIFF’s website is linked to a number of “bombshell reports” that appear to be the result of its canvassing efforts. They allege a host of irregularities in the voter rolls among other malfeasance by state officials. In September 2022, EIFF featured a lawsuit on its website against Whitmer and Benson brought by GOP leaders to decertify the 2020 election. EIFF is soliciting donations for the suit.

Michigan Citizens for Election Integrity

Michigan Citizens for Election Integrity (MC4EI) describes itself as  “patriotic, grass roots citizens” who came together “in order to provide research and evidence that the 2020 election was the least secure in history.” MC4EI says its “vision” is “for our fellow citizens to engage each other, media outlets and our legislators to promote the demand for sound and secure election laws and practices.” MC4EI is perhaps best known for reviewing thousands of hours of surveillance video that was obtained by the conservative website The Gateway Pundit on 19 Detroit drop boxes in the November 2020 election. The group alleges that multiple clips show people depositing suspicious stacks of ballot envelopes, reaching as high as 50. Republican secretary of state nominee Kristina Karamo tweeted that the videos prove “an illegal ballot mule operation.” The citizens group’s accusations are not innocent queries, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told MLive, but instead part of a “nationally coordinated effort” to disrupt democracy and cause people to disengage with voting. A Republican-led state Senate report found that there was “no evidence” of ballot harvesting  in 2020. During the August 2022 primaries, Braden Giacobazzi, a ballot challenger with MC4EI, was removed from his post after allegedly harassing an election inspector and an election official, according to city employees and democratic party observers. Giacobazzi was seen engaging directly with election inspectors on multiple occasions, which is not allowed under Michigan election law.

Pure Integrity Michigan Elections

Headed by Patrice Johnson, Pure Integrity Michigan Elections (PIME) describes itself as “an issue-based, nonpartisan political movement that welcomes all who support election integrity and the US and Michigan Constitutions.” It says the group came into being,After the election fiasco in November 2020, a handful of constitutional patriots decided to take action to help restore election integrity in Michigan.” In a February 2022 written statement for a House hearing on elections and ethics, co-submitted by Patrice Johnson, Johnson claimed that the group has “more than 530 supporters across the state with concentrations in Ingham, Jackson, Eaton, Clinton, and Washtenaw counties.” In September, PIME filed a lawsuit with the help of the Thomas More Society. According to the society’s website, “The Michigan Bureau of Elections will consider an alleged breach of federal law by the state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, after Thomas More Society attorneys filed a complaint against Benson on behalf of non-profit Pure Integrity Michigan Elections and its President, Patrice Johnson.” The website says, “the filing accuses Benson of violating the federal Help America Vote Act by contracting with Electronic Registration Information Center to clean up Michigan’s voter rolls.” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Erick Kaardal asserts that “Benson’s decision to avoid her federally designated constitutional duty and to illegally outsource voter file maintenance and implementation could wreak havoc on the state’s election process and potentially rig Michigan’s federal elections toward certain candidates, a clear violation of the Help America Vote Act.” PIME also analyzes legislation, “with an eye toward closing gaps and opportunities for abuse by those who would undermine free and fair elections.”

Stand Up Michigan

Ron Armstrong, a longtime Michigan businessman and president of Stand Up Michigan (SUM), founded the group “out of frustration at totalitarian, arbitrary and economically devastating lockdowns by Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer.” According to its website, SUM is “an organic grassroots movement made up of We The People whose vision is to reclaim and defend the rights and liberties of Michiganders. Our Mission is to equip and empower We The People to stand up for sacred values, citizen rights and constitutionally-protected freedoms.” In an interview with Cleta Mitchell, who is a key player in her own election denial outfit, Armstrong claims to have 350,000 activists involved in the group. He also accuses Michigan’s governor and secretary of state of “blatantly manipulat[ing] state election statutes to provide a partisan advantage.” Armstrong also discussed his work with the Michigan Election Protection Team, to recruit poll workers statewide. Outside of election denier circles, SUM is perhaps best known for having adapted the Village People’s hit “YMCA” to “MAGA,” Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. SUM’s website advertises for what it calls the patriotic business community, featuring in September Christian Healthcare Specialists. It also denounces pandemic health measures saying “COVID was weaponized to rip away our constitutional liberties, close our businesses and fundamentally alter our psyches.” It specifically points readers to the renowned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website InfoWars’ original series, “Covidland,” which discusses the “effects of the authoritarian lockdowns and masks.” They are also quite incensed with “big tech,” which they describe as part of the “authoritarian establishment.” The group’s website section, “Stand Up Counties,” reports on several activities the group is taking at the county level to involve itself in election issues. It includes a report from a February meeting in Genesee County describing volunteer work including inspecting drop boxes, attending election commission meetings, and testing of voting machines. A February meeting in Allegan County was devoted to “Learn about how to become an election inspector for the 2022 August and November elections. Michigan Election Protection Team is working to recruit 5,000 inspectors across the state by May!” The group helped to put together a town hall in October where Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon led chants against Whitmer of “lock her up.” SUM’s website links to election denying and extremist operations, including Steve Bannon’s podcast, NewsMax, and Breitbart.

Rescue Michigan Coalition

The Rescue Michigan Coalition (RMC) says its mission is, “to reclaim the lost liberties of the people of Michigan, rebuild our shattered communities, and restore the constitutional order of representational government in Michigan.” It is run by Adam di Angeli, who describes himself as a former software engineer with various Ron Paul campaigns and a “passionate supporter of liberty and American greatness.” RMC was incensed by the pandemic measures put in place in 2020 which it views as unconstitutional and describes as “destroying our communities” and putting people in “mortal danger.” RMC was also highly critical of the state Senate report led by Republicans that declared the election free and fair, calling members of the committee who signed on to the report “bipartisan traitors.” Its election efforts focus on “Equipping people and organizations with the tools they need, including detailed voter files and the software to use them effectively.” Notoriously, in a March 2022 RMC live stream on Facebook, Robert Regan, who is running for a state house seat, advocated for decertifying the 2020 presidential election. When another participant said that it was too late to do so, Regan told her that her attitude is like what he tells his three daughters: “Well if rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.” Host Adam de Angeli then joked that the show might not stream “for much longer after what Robert said.” Regan  has a history of making sexist, antisemitic, and other bigoted comments and supporting violence and QAnon. RMC plans to work on revising voter lists and election systems because “Huge numbers of eyewitnesses to election crimes such as the massive impeding of poll challengers and this information has the grassroots across Michigan fired up.” Di Angeli claims credit for being “the source of the groundbreaking information released in ‘#DetroitLeaks,’” which supposedly exposed the corruption of the November 2020 election in Detroit before it actually occurred. The #DetroitLeaks video was highly problematic and falsely claimed that Detroit election workers were instructed to meddle in the election. The video was removed from YouTube but was preserved by far-right site Big League Politics on Bitchute, which is largely unmoderated. It stitches audio pieces together to make its false claims. This post was also flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said the snippets in the video were misused. “What was recorded and shared was taken out of context. All laws were followed in training of election workers, in full compliance,” she said. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office confirmed that it sent a cease and desist letter to Big League Politics. In a December 2021 RCM podcast, MeShawn Maddock, co-chair of the state GOP, was interviewed. Maddock said outrage over perceived election fraud is an opportunity to recruit. She encouraged listeners to join the GOP’s “election protection team” and help recruit 10,000 paid election workers to “flood the system” with poll challengers. On the same podcast, Marian Sheridan, grassroots vice-chair for the state GOP, said a growing number of Republicans believe Biden is an illegitimate president. “We’re seeing that number grow as time goes on and people realize, you know what, there’s just no way that Americans could have been that stupid to elect this guy legally,” said Sheridan, who was also among the group of fake GOP electors and who organized screenings of election conspiracy documentaries in Southeast Michigan in 2021.





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