White angst keeps Trumpism alive in Macomb County

click to enlarge Kid Rock, Donald Trump Jr, and Kimberly Guilfoyle campaign at a Trump rally in Harrison Township in September. - MichaelAnthonyPhotos / Shutterstock.com
MichaelAnthonyPhotos / Shutterstock.com
Kid Rock, Donald Trump Jr, and Kimberly Guilfoyle campaign at a Trump rally in Harrison Township in September.

Democrats were in trouble.

It was November 1984, and white, working-class voters in Macomb County had overwhelmingly voted for President Ronald Reagan for a second term. The Dems were losing their suburban, blue-collar base, and nowhere was the loss more pronounced than in Macomb County, home of the white, unionized autoworker.

Just 20 years earlier, three-quarters of Macomb County voters turned out for President Lyndon Johnson, making it the most heavily Democratic suburban county in the U.S.

To figure out what happened, local Democratic Party leaders hired Yale professor and pollster Stanley Greenberg. In March 1985, Greenberg sat down with Macomb County's Democratic defectors in hotel rooms and restaurants. After more than a month of interviews, Greenberg came to a startling conclusion: White, working-class voters who long identified as Democrats were fed up, fearful, and increasingly xenophobic. Their manufacturing jobs, which provided decent, middle-class wages to generations of autoworkers, were drying up.

They complained that Democrats had turned their backs on blue-collar workers in favor of liberal social causes, such as abortion, gun-control, LGBTQ rights, and racial disparities.

"They were disillusioned, angry voters, but they were not Republicans," Greenberg wrote in his 1995 book Middle Class Dreams. "Their way of life was genuinely in jeopardy, threatened by profound economic changes beyond their control, yet their leaders, who were supposed to look out for them, were preoccupied with other groups and issues."

Greenberg famously called these voters "Reagan Democrats," a moniker that brought political notoriety to Macomb County as the national capital of white, angsty Middle America.

More than 25 years later, those white, angsty voters now have an almost-religious devotion to ex-President Donald Trump and his message to "Make America Great Again."

"I've come to believe the voters are no longer Reagan Democrats," David A. Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University, tells Metro Times. "They are Trump Republicans."

After voting twice for Barack Obama, Macomb County voters were the key to Trump's victory in Michigan in 2016. Trump won the county by about 48,000 votes, or nearly five times his margin of victory statewide. In 2020, Trump beat Joe Biden by nearly 40,000 votes in the county.

"We're the party of MAGA," Lisa Mankiewicz, vice chairwoman of the Macomb County Republican Party, boasted in February, a month after Trump was no longer president.

Her comments came after the county party unanimously voted to censure Republican congressional moderates Fred Upton and Peter Meijer for voting to impeach Trump.

"Macomb County, Michigan, is the home of Trump Republicans," the party's executive committee declared in the resolution.

Before Trump, Democrats dominated on the local level in the county. Then in November 2020, voters turned out in record numbers and elected Trump-supporting Republicans up and down the ballot. For the first time, Republicans took control of the 13-member county Board of Commissioners and picked up four of five countywide seats (prosecutor, treasurer, public works commissioner, and clerk/register of deeds), all of which Democrats held in 2016.

Republicans now control every community north of M-59, which runs through the center of the county.

"It's a significant shift in the county," Dulio says. "In the '80s, folks voted for Reagan, but they also voted for Democrats. Now they're voting for Trump and other Republicans."

A Metro Times analysis of voting data shows an increasing number of Macomb County voters are abandoning the Democratic Party and going all in for Republican candidates. Nearly a third of the county's voters cast a straight-ticket Republican ballot in the 2020 presidential election, up from 18% in the 2012 general election. The number of straight-ticket Republican ballots doubled from roughly 72,500 in 2012 to nearly 149,000 in 2020.

Macomb County, the third largest county in the state, now has more Republican voters than any other county in Michigan, eclipsing its affluent neighbor, Oakland County, a longtime GOP stronghold that twice rejected Trump and elected Democrats to every countywide office except for sheriff in 2020. It has even surpassed Kent County, home of Grand Rapids and GOP megadonors like Dick and Betsy DeVos, another longtime stronghold that also flipped for Biden.

With 9% of the state's population, Macomb County has become a potent conservative enclave of disgruntled white, working-class voters who are steadfast in keeping Trumpism alive.

The hard pull to the right has ushered in a new generation of elected Republicans who are adopting Trump's combative, fear-mongering rhetoric, fanning conspiracy theories, downplaying COVID-19, spreading misinformation about vaccines, and embodying an anti-establishment, populist sentiment.

"It's divide-and-conquer politics," Sam Inglot, deputy director of Progress Michigan, a progressive advocacy group, tells Metro Times. "Real problems are being ignored while Republicans are focusing on right-wing talking points and misinformation about the election and COVID. It's a disservice and a dereliction of duty from elected officials who are supposed to be serving the people. At the end of the day, they are dividing people."

White angst keeps Trumpism alive in Macomb County
Design by Evan Sult

White enclave

In the 1950s, Macomb County was a popular destination for white blue-collar workers fleeing Detroit. The blossoming auto industry churned out good-paying jobs, and within a decade, more than 400,000 people lived in Macomb. Without a college degree, factory workers and their families carved out a comfortable life in suburbia.

But as the auto industry began to shut down plants in the 1970s and '80s, blue-collar workers directed their angst at Democrats and their programs to help Black people struggling after decades of disinvestment and systemic racism in cities like Detroit. Macomb's residents waged battles against racial integration and cross-district busing, and in the 1972 presidential primary, the county's voters overwhelmingly supported pro-segregation demagogue George Wallace. At the time, just 1% of Macomb County was Black.

Warren, the county's largest city, has a long, ugly history of racism. Bordering Detroit, Warren was a virtually all-white enclave through the 1970s, when city officials fervently fought against integrated busing and housing. Black families who dared move into the city were often terrorized or chased out. In 1990, 97.3% of the population was white.

Since then, the city has slowly integrated, and today about 18% of Warren's population is Black.

One of the most vocal opponents of integration and cross-district busing was Richard Sabaugh, a former Warren City councilman and Macomb County commissioner who served as the city's public service director until he retired last year.

"The attitude isn't as much racist as one of fear," Sabaugh told The New York Times in 1990. "People don't see every Black as bad. But the image of Detroit is of a decaying, crime-ridden city headed by a mayor who makes racist remarks. We view the values of people in Detroit as completely foreign. We just want to live in peace. And we feel that anybody coming from Detroit is going to cause problems."

He added, "There is no feeling of pity for Detroit in the suburbs."

In January 2017, audio recordings surfaced of Sabaugh's boss, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, using the n-word and comparing Black people to "chimps."

"Blacks do look like chimpanzees," Fouts, a self-described independent, said. "I was watching this Black woman with her daughter and they looked like chimps."

Despite other audio recordings in which Fouts ridiculed women and people with disabilities, Fouts handily won re-election in November 2019.

Fouts is the "Donald Trump of Warren," says Ed Sarpolus, a Michigan pollster and political consultant who was raised in Macomb County.

In October 2020, Warren City Councilman Eddie Kabacinski was charged with assault and impersonating an officer after he chased down a 24-year-old woman and handcuffed her for placing a Black Lives Matter sticker on a Trump campaign sign.

"Putting a decal sticker over a Trump sign, and it says Black Lives Matter, you are promoting a domestic terrorist organization on a Trump sign and that's not good," he told C&G Newspapers. "That's not the image that the Trump campaign or the Republican Party is trying to convey. We are trying to get back to law and order in this country."

In October 2020, Warren City Councilman Eddie Kabacinski was charged with assault and impersonating an officer after he chased down a 24-year-old woman and handcuffed her for placing a Black Lives Matter sticker on a Trump campaign sign.

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The victim was attending an anti-racism rally in support of a Black family that was terrorized by a 24-year-old man who slashed their tires, hurled a rock through their front window, scrawled racist graffiti on their cars, and fired shots into their home, striking their living-room sofa with a bullet. Six 9mm shell casings were found outside the home.

At a City Council meeting on Sept. 22, Kabacinski called the protesters "traitors" who "invaded" Warren, and he falsely claimed that Trump's administration officially declared Antifa and Black Lives Matter as domestic terrorist organizations.

"These Communists, Marxists, and Socialists are committing high crime offenses of treason in our country," Kabacinski said.

At a council meeting in April 2020, Kabacinski, who spoke out against face coverings amid the pandemic, donned a military gas mask "to show the amount of lunacy that has taken place" with Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions.

In September 2020, a 24-year-old Warren man was charged with ethnic intimidation after police say he terrorized a Black family over a three-day period. According to police, Michael Frederick Jr. was angry about a Black Lives Matter sign on his neighbors' window and slashed the family's tires, hurled a rock through their front window, scrawled racist graffiti on their cars, and fired shots into their homes, striking their living-room couch with a bullet. Six 9mm shell casings were found outside the home. His father, Michael Frederick Sr., 52, of Warren, is accused of helping his son dispose of the gun and was charged with accessory after the fact.

'Economic anxiety'?

Today, Macomb County's median household income is $62,107, 3.5% less than the national average. Compared to just 20 years ago, Macomb County residents are earning far less. When adjusted for inflation, the county's median household income in 2000 would be worth $79,579 today.

About 24.9% of the county's residents have a bachelor's degree, compared to 35% nationwide.

"What you have are disgruntled white males who wanted their kids to be better off than they were growing up," Ed Sarpolus, a Michigan pollster and political consultant who was raised in Macomb County, tells Metro Times. "They are good, honest, hard-working people, but they are very static in their attitudes."

Sarpolus says Trump appealed to voters because he "spoke directly to them" on issues like jobs.

In 2016, Trump campaigned in Macomb County at least three times, including twice in the final week of the general election. He galvanized voters by giving voice to their resentments about trade, manufacturing jobs, immigration, race, and the media. Trump tapped into fears that residents were losing their predominantly white enclave and traditional cultural hierarchies.

At a rally at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre in Sterling Heights two days before the November 2016 election, Trump told a rowdy crowd that Democrats "have decimated" the state's auto industry, claimed "unions love me," and said "radical Islamic" refugees were coming to Michigan to inject "radicalism into your schools and your communities."

All were false claims.

"We will stop the jobs from leaving your state," Trump said, later adding, "We are the movement of the future."

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, visited Macomb County just once, to unveil her jobs and economic plan for an automotive and defense industry manufacturing facility in Warren in August 2016.

In his 2016 and 2020 campaigns, Trump often made false and misleading comments about improvements in the auto industry. At rallies in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina ahead of the 2020 general election, Trump boasted that he successfully lobbied Japan to open five auto-assembly plants in Michigan. Truth is, only one new auto manufacturing plant — a new Jeep factory in Detroit — was announced to open while he was in office.

At a rally in Freeland in Saginaw County in September 2020, Trump bragged that he brought "so many damn car plants" to Michigan, where he insisted "you haven't had a plant built in, like, 42 years."

That, too, is untrue. In 2006, GM built an auto assembly plant in Delta Township near Lansing, and Volvo and Mercedes-Benz announced they were opening auto plants in 2015, more than a year before Trump took office.

While running for office in 2016, Trump repeatedly claimed he would revive manufacturing jobs nationwide. At a rally in Sterling Heights, Trump said he would make the state "the manufacturing hub of the world once again."

While running for reelection in 2020, Trump said he had succeeded, falsely claiming that auto manufacturing and sales were "record-setting."

In reality, the significant job gains in Michigan's auto industry during President Barack Obama's second term began to decline under Trump's watch, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Between 2013 and 2016, the number of motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs increased by 33,800, or 19.4%. From the time Trump took office in January 2017 to a month before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Michigan in March 2020, the state shed 2,800 auto jobs, a decline of 1.6%.

Domestic auto production and sales also were nowhere near record levels. In fact, manufacturing and sales declined under his watch, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The monthly number of automobiles produced in the U.S. dropped 22.2% since Trump took office, and monthly light weight auto sales declined 6.4%.

At a rally in Washington Township in northern Macomb County a day before the Nov. 3 election in 2020, Trump insisted he had delivered on his promise to spur new auto and other manufacturing jobs, a claim contradicted by federal jobs data.

"We've been doing things like nobody's ever done, cut your taxes, cut your regulations, and ensure that more products are proudly stamped with those beautiful words, that beautiful phrase, 'Made in the USA,'" Trump told the thousands of people who attended.

Overall, manufacturing jobs in Michigan, which were growing under Obama, slowed dramatically under Trump. During Obama's second term, manufacturing jobs increased by nearly 15%. By contrast, those jobs grew by just 1% during Trump's term before the pandemic.

Macomb County lost 5,200 jobs under Trump's watch, a 7.6% decline. During Obama's second term, the county picked up 1,061 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At a boat club rally in Harrison Township in September 2020, Donald Trump Jr. and Macomb County native Kid Rock repeated the claim that Democrats had abandoned blue-collar workers.

"It's time for you to start living your American dream again, and that's not going to happen under the radical Democrats," Trump Jr. said. "Just remember, this isn't your grandparents' Democratic Party. This party doesn't represent working-class Americans anymore. It doesn't even represent decent Americans anymore."

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat whose district covers southern Macomb County, shot back in a statement: "Don Junior can have all the boat rallies he wants, but Macomb County voters know his dad has failed us."

He added, "Macomb County does not need empty tough talk; we need real leadership in the White House to contain COVID-19 and rebuild Michigan's economy."

click to enlarge Then-candidate Donald Trump campaigning in Warren in 2016. - Shutterstock
Then-candidate Donald Trump campaigning in Warren in 2016.

Peddling false narratives

After Trump's loss in 2020, local elected officials, party leaders, and state lawmakers from Macomb County peddled lies and conspiracy theories about election fraud — the kind of misinformation that spurred threats of violence and the Jan. 6 insurrection. In the weeks following the election, GOP leaders organized at least seven pro-Trump rallies in Macomb County. Two days after the 2020 election, Macomb County GOP Membership Chairman Chris Schornak posted a video on Facebook in which he falsely claimed at least 8,000 of the ballots cast in Detroit "are fraudulent."

"These are dirty, filthy Democrats," Schornak said of the predominantly Black poll workers.

On May 3, the county GOP is hosting a "watch and discuss party" with a viewing of Absolute Interference, a propaganda film by embattled MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell that promotes unfounded and disproven claims of election fraud.

A day before the Jan. 6 riot at the nation's Capitol, freshman U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican whose district covers northern Macomb County, invited at least two Trump supporters who attended the riot into her Capitol office. On the same day, one of the men, Sherman Rogers, wrote on Facebook, "We made it do DC! Fight for Trump!"

Video footage of the riot shows the pair were among a mob that pushed past Capitol Police into a restricted area.

Rogers later admitted on Facebook that he was "on the front line." He called the insurrection "a staged event" by Black Lives Matter supporters.

The FBI has arrested more than 300 people for their involvement in the insurrection and found no evidence that anyone but Trump supporters were involved. Of the six Michigan residents arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol, three live in Macomb County. One of them is Daniel Herendeen, 39, of Roseville, who the FBI said came to Washington, D.C., with a knife, body armor, a black military-style backpack, black-tinted goggles, a combat-style belt, a canister that he described as "ANTIFA spray," and a face mask depicting the American flag, according to the FBI.

James "Jimmy" Mels, 56, of Shelby Township, also was arrested and accused of rushing the Capitol. Shortly after Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Mels posted an image on Facebook of Obama hanging from a noose.

"Congratulations to all that supported TRUMP," he wrote. "You my friends are winners. Now lets (sic) get to work and hang these traitors. Starting at the top? Public hangings in order. Start with this guy IslamaObama."

On the day of the insurrection, after dozens of officers were injured in the riot, McClain tweeted a thread criticizing the Electoral College vote.

"If the ECA (Electoral College Act), as followed by myself and my colleagues, conflicts with our Constitution, then that needs to be addressed in the appropriate manner," McClain wrote, without showing any evidence of voter fraud or irregularities in the voting election system. "Now, I call on state and local officials to realize the deep flaws that led us here and fix them. This cannot and should not happen again. The future of our Constitutional Republic depends on it."

A day after the insurrection, McClain joined two other members of the Michigan Congressional caucus to vote against certifying the presidential election, without offering a shred of credible evidence of widespread election fraud.

In her campaign for the Michigan 10th Congressional District seat, she trumpeted her support for Trump. Former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a right-wing provocateur and frequent correspondent on Fox News programs, campaigned for McClain, a business owner and political newcomer.

"This is a woman who will fight for the people of Michigan, one who has stood by Donald Trump since when he came down that golden escalator when I was with him the whole time, a person who knows illegal immigration is exactly that — illegal," Lewandowski said in an endorsement video. "This is a self-starter, a smart woman who is going to work for the people of Michigan by supporting the president's agenda."

In Clarke's endorsement video, he said of McClain, "I can assure the people of Michigan and her congressional district that she will be a rock-solid conservative, she will protect your freedom and liberty from Washington, D.C. She will protect your gun rights."

McClain won the election in November with 66% of the vote, replacing Rep. Paul Mitchell, who left the Republican Party in December and decided not to run for another term after he had become disillusioned by Trumpism and the baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

McClain became a leading voice in peddling false and discredited claims of election fraud and trying to delegitimize Joe Biden's victory. She posted more election conspiracies on social media than any other member of the Michigan Congressional caucus, according to an examination of Republican House members by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

Before the Jan. 6 insurrection, McClain claimed there were "numerous reports of inaccuracies and potential fraud through the country," questioned the election results, told a WDIV-TV reporter she wasn't sure who won the election, and helped recruit Trump supporters to scrutinize votes, citing without evidence "a lot of accusations and irregularities."

Metro Times couldn't reach McClain for comment.

A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that six in 10 Republicans believe the election "was stolen" from Trump.

Taking over local politics

On the state and local level, Macomb County politicians have peddled discredited claims about the election, pushed conspiracy theories, and fought against COVID-19 restrictions.

The night before the insurrection, state Sen. Dan Lauwers, whose district includes five Macomb County communities, was among 11 Republican senators who urged Vice President Mike Pence to decertify the general election results and delay the counting of electoral votes.

On Nov. 20, Lauwers flew to Washington, D.C. with state House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey to attend a meeting with Trump amid the president's efforts to challenge Michigan's election results. A day after the meeting, Trump referred to the meeting in a tweet and wrote, "We will show massive and unprecedented fraud!"

In an iconic photo taken at a Trump rally in Sterling Heights in November 2016, Peter Lucido, then a Republican state representative from Shelby Township, is shown in the crowd with a clenched fist in the air, his red face scrunched in a scream. The photo, shot by a Getty Images photographer, circulated in newspapers nationwide and appeared in the film Vice to illustrate the zeal of Trump supporters.

In November 2018, Lucido was elected to the state Senate with 61.8% of the vote. Over the next two years, multiple women accused him of sexual harassment, and Republican leaders stripped him as chairman of a key committee and ordered him to participate in workplace training. An internal investigation that included interviews with 25 people found that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior.

"Sen. Lucido's conduct demonstrates an unfortunate pattern of behavior that requires little to no interpretation to be understood as inappropriate workplace behavior," the report stated in March 2020.

Later that month, Lucido announced he was running for Macomb County prosecutor. He won the primary election with more than two-thirds of the vote, and in November 2020, Lucido won the general election with 52.6% of the vote, becoming the first Republican to hold the position in decades.

Lucido has used the position to charge Black Lives Matter protesters and launch a criminal investigation into Whitmer's handling of nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite a lack of evidence suggesting a scandal.

In November and December 2019, Lucido shared at least seven anti-Whitmer posts on a Facebook group, People vs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in which members promoted violence against Democrats, Muslims, and women.

On March 29, national legal experts launched a complaint with the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission, arguing Lucido can't fairly investigate Whitmer because he "has a personal, political [ax] to grind." The complaint lists at least eight examples of Lucido blaming Whitmer for COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes.

In his first month as prosecutor, Lucido filed charges against six Black Lives Matter protesters stemming from a peaceful rally on Oct. 24 in Shelby Township. Protesters were rallying against Shelby Township Police Chief Robert J. Shelide, who was caught in June advocating police brutality on a right-wing troll account on Twitter.

In one tweet, Shelide said he had "a better idea" for how to handle protesters who took to the streets nationwide following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25: "unleash real cops and let them take care of these barbarians. I promise it will be over in 24 hours."

Less than two weeks after township trustees learned Shelide was behind the account, the board voted against firing him and instead suspended him for 30 days.

Interim prosecutors declined to charge the protesters.

"The only reason to charge us was to make a political statement that protesting is not welcome here and make our lives a living hell," Nakkia Wallace, one of the six protesters who were charged by Lucido, tells Metro Times. "It's political persecution. It feels like we're being hunted by the state."

“The only reason to charge us was to make a political statement that protesting is not welcome here and make our lives a living hell. It’s political persecution. It feels like we’re being hunted by the state.”

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When Wallace and the other protesters were charged, they were ordered to come to the Shelby Township Police Department to be fingerprinted. To her surprise, the police station's walls were adorned with "near life-size" photos of cops arresting the protesters.

Lucido did not respond to Metro Times' requests to comment for this story.

Lucido's state Senate seat has been vacant since he became prosecutor. One of the top contenders for the seat is state Rep. Douglas Wozniak, a Trump loyalist and Shelby Township Republican who peddled conspiracy theories about the presidential election. In the House, Wozniak joined 15 other Republicans who signed a legal brief in support of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's failed lawsuit in December to overturn the results of the presidential election in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Wozniak also was one of 11 House members to sign a letter urging Pence to delay the counting of electoral votes.

Another high-profile candidate for Lucido's vacant seat is state Rep. Pamela Hornberger, a former teacher from Chesterfield Township who first took office in January 2017. Hornberger was censured by the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus (MDJC) in April 2020 following a Facebook post in which she compared the prospect of Americans being required to prove they were immunized to Jews being forced to wear a yellow Star of David during the Holocaust.

"I was disturbed to see State Representative Pamela Hornberger's deeply offensive Facebook post likening a potential COVID-19 tracking system to the yellow stars forced upon Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II," MDJC founder and Chairman Noah Arbit said in a statement. "I am struck by the sheer ignorance of politicians who insist on erroneously invoking the Holocaust to score cheap political points."

Hornberger later apologized.

In February, Hornberger refused to wear a mask during a Senate Education Committee, which she chairs, prompting some Democrats to walk out. She also was asked to leave a room for not wearing a mask at a press conference in October.

COVID-19 restrictions and masks are not popular in Macomb County. Wright Lassiter, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, spoke out about the county's noncompliance during a virtual panel discussion with health professionals.

"In the Henry Ford system, our Henry Ford Macomb Hospital has the highest volume by far. It has twice the inpatient volume that Henry Ford Hospital has, and Henry Ford Hospital has more than two times the number of beds that exist in Henry Ford Macomb Hospital," Lassiter said.

"We see (noncompliance) not only in our facility with, at times, visitors who would come into the facility challenging our staff around our mask-use policy, but also in that community," Lassiter said.

The Macomb County Sheriff's Office has also declined to ticket people for failing to wear seatbelts.

click to enlarge Armed protestors in Lansing support Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. - Lester Graham / Shutterstock.com
Lester Graham / Shutterstock.com
Armed protestors in Lansing support Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.

Conspiracy theories

On the local level, Republicans have veered into conspiratorial directions, advocated violence against protesters, and stoked racism and xenophobia.

At the Macomb County Trump Victory Center grand opening in June 2020, Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, the former head of the Macomb County Republican Party, made false claims that contributed to paranoia about election fraud.

"Secretary (of State Jocelyn) Benson sent out an application to every registered voter, dead or alive, in Michigan," Grot falsely claimed. "We got people calling my office and a whole lot of people that died 20 years ago, people that have moved 15 years ago, people that got married got triple applications, they got double applications."

Even though Trump lost the election in Michigan by nearly 155,000 votes, Grot and 15 other Republicans cast electoral votes for Trump in December in a failed attempt to overturn Biden's victory.

Grot, a longtime conservative activist, has a history of making false claims of voter fraud, and in August 2017, after announcing his candidacy for Michigan secretary of state, advocated for measures that critics said would suppress votes, such as requiring a photo ID to vote. A year later, Grot announced he was withdrawing his name.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections is now investigating Grot after former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox alleged he violated state campaign-finance laws by accepting a $200,000 "payoff" from University of Michigan Regent and GOP activist Ron Weiser to drop out of the race.

"Mr. Grot did not do any documented work to earn this $200,000 and yet this amount is well over twice as much as his salary as the Shelby Township clerk," Cox said in an email to precinct delegates. "For context, that amount exceeds the annual salary of every employee at the Michigan Republican Party; it exceeds the annual salary of $95,085 of the Senate Majority Leader; and it even exceeds the $159,300 salary of the governor."

Grot and Weiser, who is now the state's GOP chairman, denied wrongdoing.

In November 2020, Republican Anthony Forlini, a former state representative, defeated incumbent Macomb County Clerk/Register of Deeds Fred Miller, a Democrat. While campaigning, Forlini attended a "Save the Children" rally, a slogan based on QAnon, the baseless conspiracy movement that falsely claims Trump is waging a secret war against a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

"Spurred on by President Trump, these conspiracy theorists have become an increasingly dominant force within the Republican Party," Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a news release. "Human trafficking is an incredibly important issue, and we cannot allow it to be co-opted by conspiracy theorists who prioritize shock value and political agendas over real facts and solutions. We strongly condemn Forlini's decision to attend this rally and urge his fellow Republicans to disavow him and the QAnon conspiracy."

The last Republican to hold the clerk and register of deeds seat was Karen Spranger, who was elected on the coattails of Trump in 2016 and removed from office in March 2018 because she lied about her residency. She was later arrested and convicted of stealing money from an elderly woman.

Losing candidates

Some Macomb County candidates were too extreme even for the Michigan GOP and House Republicans. Former Sterling Heights Councilman Paul M. Smith, a Republican who previously advocated for the deaths of Muslims, was vying for a state House seat last year held by Democrat Nate Shannon when he defended the 13 men accused of plotting to kidnap Whitmer.

"What a bogus sham," Smith posted on Facebook. "These citizens never did anything illegal. Law enforcement is employed to punish people who COMMIT crimes, not people The Governess simply HATES. You can legally hurt Whitmer by voting out her minions."

After the Facebook post surfaced, the Michigan GOP and the House Republican Campaign Committee dropped their support for Smith, and then-House Speaker Chatfield called him a "loser" on Twitter. But the party didn't stop supporting Smith when he glorified violence against Muslims or held signs with nooses around the necks of Democrats.

In a 2010 email to Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, Smith said he supported the construction of a mosque on Ground Zero so it could be destroyed by a radio-controlled jumbo jet while hundreds of thousands of Muslims were inside.

"Roast the bastards," Smith wrote.

At a Tea Party rally in 2009, Smith was photographed holding signs depicting then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm with a noose around her neck and Obama's head impaled on a stake. Another sign showed then-U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi riddled with bullets, along with the words "wetbacks" to describe immigrants and "fags" to describe gay people. When the U.S. Secret Service paid him a visit, he complained that "somebody was out to smear me."

After the election, Smith continued to spread offensive rhetoric. In a Facebook post on March 20, he called the presidential election "a hoax," Biden a "senile idiot," and Vice President Kamala Harris a "witch."

Despite the hateful sentiments, Smith garnered 47.1% of the votes in the 2020 general election in a traditionally Democratic district.

In the August 2020 primary, Smith beat out Republican Jazmine Early, who supported a ban on Muslims refugees, warned that Macomb County was vulnerable to Sharia law, and opposed protections for LGBTQ residents. Early also ran against Shannon in the 2018 general election and came within six percentage points of winning.

In February, Early lost her bid earlier to become ethnic vice chair of the Michigan GOP, a position to promote diversity within the Republican Party.

White angst

At the onset of Trump's political rise, pundits credited his appeal among white, working-class voters to economic hardships. But the devotion to Trump's extreme political cynicism points to another sentiment — fear of cultural displacement.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy in 2018 found that voters weren't more likely to vote for Trump because they lost a job or are earning less.

"Instead, it was about dominant groups that felt threatened by change and a candidate who took advantage of that trend," the author, University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz wrote.

"For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country, white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race. ... Furthermore, when confronted with evidence of racial progress, whites feel threatened and experience lower levels of self-worth relative to a control group. They also perceive a greater antiwhite bias as a means of regaining those lost feelings of self-worth."

Political scientist Robert Pape made a similar discovery when analyzing the demographics of the 377 people arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He found that the alleged insurrectionists lived in Blue communities with increasingly diverse populations.

"Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their own hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest," Pape wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

"To ignore this movement and its potential would be akin to Trump's response to covid-19: We cannot presume it will blow over. The ingredients exist for future waves of political violence, from lone-wolf attacks to all-out assaults on democracy, surrounding the 2022 midterm election."

Joe DiSano, a longtime political consultant who grew up in Macomb County, said Trump tapped into a deep-seated psychological resentment of non-white people. DiSano said racist attitudes are common in Macomb County, where the N-word is casually tossed around.

"I'm so sick of candy-coating this," DiSano tells Metro Times. "People are directing their anger and hatred at the wrong people. It's not the single woman in Detroit that is the problem. It's not a Mexican meat packer in Iowa. They should be focused on the corporations that are causing the problems."

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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