Michigan GOP prospect charged in Jan. 6 riot, turbulent primary

DETROIT — A Republican candidate for governor of Michigan and outspoken defender of former President Donald Trump was charged with misdemeanors on Thursday for his role in the 2021 post-election riot at the U.S. Capitol, further complicating an already messy presidential primary. GOP.

Ryan Kelley, 40, was arrested in western Michigan and appeared for a brief hearing in federal court in Grand Rapids, where he was released without bond. The government did not ask that Kelley be detained.

His arrest came hours before the House committee investigating the insurgency will hold a much-anticipated public hearing, showing never-before-seen video, audio and evidence highlighting the deadly violence that erupted. on January 6, 2021.

Kelley walked away from the courthouse, joined by his wife and another family, saying only that he would comment later. His campaign posted two words on Facebook: “political prisoner,” and the state’s GOP chairman accused Democrats of “weaponizing our justice system” against political opponents.

Defense attorney Heath Lynch said Kelley “intends to pursue his campaign in earnest.”

Kelley’s arrest further disrupts a GOP field that initially had 10 candidates seeking to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the battleground state this fall. Five of them, including two frontrunners, were dropped from the primary ballot because fake signatures submitted by paid petition distributors left them below the 15,000 needed to make the run.

The other four Republicans in the race are conservative businesswoman and commentator Tudor Dixon, who was recently endorsed by the family of former Trump administration education secretary Betsy DeVos and the anti- abortion Right to Life of Michigan, businessman Kevin Rinke, pastor Ralph Rebandt and chiropractor Garrett Soldano. Trump has not endorsed anyone in the race.

Kelley, a real estate broker who lives in Allendale Township, is charged with disruptive conduct, trespassing on public property and entering a confined space without permission, according to the criminal complaint.

In a court document released Thursday, federal investigators said Kelley was videotaped outside the U.S. Capitol on the day of the uprising, repeatedly waving to the crowd and directing them to the stairs leading to the building. He used his phone to “film the crowd assaulting and pushing back the United States Capitol police officers” and was in a crowd that ran up the stairs to the entrance of the Capitol after backing the police, the FBI said.

The document included several photos of Kelley that the FBI described as screenshots of a video taken that day, with Kelley wearing aviator sunglasses and a baseball cap worn backwards, trying to rally the pro-Trump crowd.

Kelley has long acknowledged he was at the insurrection and said he did not enter the Capitol.

He is one of more than 800 people facing criminal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. It’s unclear why authorities have decided to act against Kelley now, although the government is continuing to charge more people in the massive investigation, even nearly 18 months later.

Some supporters questioned the timing. Kelley’s campaign manager, Karla Wagner, told WOOD-TV that her arrest was political and a “bullying tactic” orchestrated by Democrats. GOP candidate Rinke said on Twitter that he hoped the FBI acted appropriately “because the timing here raises serious questions.”

Kelley faces up to a year in prison or a $100,000 fine. Of those already charged, more than 300 have pleaded guilty, largely to offenses punishable by more than a year in prison. Some who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors were sentenced to short stints behind bars while others were sentenced to house arrest or probation.

Kelley became a vocal activist in Michigan during the coronavirus pandemic when he protested restrictions put in place by Whitmer. In the early months of the pandemic, he staged a protest at the Michigan Capitol, calling on heavily armed militias to gather inside the state house.

Kelley has also made voter fraud and the lie that Trump won the election a major focus of his activism and his gubernatorial campaign. After the 2020 election, Kelley spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Lansing, telling the crowd that the Democrats were trying to steal Trump’s victory. As a candidate, Kelley said if elected governor, he would work to cancel contracts with companies that provide voting machines in Michigan and eliminate same-day voter registration.

Kelley hasn’t been seen as a frontrunner in the field so far, though the arrest could boost his name recognition among GOP primary voters, Michigan-based pollster Bernie Porn said. He said polls from his company, EPIC-MRA, showed that more than half of Michigan Republicans believe Trump won the 2020 election and was stripped of victory, a lie promoted by Kelley.

“He might get more votes than he otherwise would” in the primary, Porn said. But his beliefs about the 2020 election and actions on January 6 would hurt him in a general election if he was the candidate, he added.

Michigan Democrats on Thursday slammed the GOP field as pushing “lies and extremism,” and said Kelley had “no reason to seek elected office in the same government he tried to overthrow.” .

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser countered that Democrats were arming the justice system in an “unprecedented way”.

“It’s shameful and it needs to stop,” he said.

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Burnett reported from Chicago. AP reporter Mike Balsamo in Washington, DC, contributed to this report.