Few Americans watched the takeover of the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday and thought, “I’ve seen this before.” But the siege looked uncomfortably familiar to the men and women of the Michigan Legislature, who experienced a similar situation on April 30, when armed demonstrators occupied the statehouse in Lansing to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency COVID-19 order.
Scores of protesters, many wearing tactical gear and carrying guns, swarmed the Michigan Capitol building, confronted a line of police, and packed the gallery above lawmakers as they deliberated. Two weeks later, the state canceled a legislative session when faced with another armed protest billed as “Judgment Day.” The FBI later uncovered a plot by some of the protest attendees to kidnap the governor and shoot everyone in the Michigan Capitol.
I spoke to three Michigan state senators, Jim Ananich, Jeremy Moss, and Dayna Polehanki, all Democrats who were there that day. They weren’t surprised to see things have escalated since the spring. “I wish I could say I was surprised,” Ananich told me. “This a four-year culmination of Republicans empowering, emboldening, and frankly cowering from the president of the United States who seems to have no cares about the Constitution or the rule of law—about anyone but himself. Unfortunately, it was probably destined to happen.”
These are some of their thoughts on today’s déjà vu.
On April 30:
“They were standing with AR-15s looking down at people exercising one of the most fundamental freedoms of our country, operating a democratic society. One of them was quoted as saying, ‘Why were you there?’ ‘To make sure they vote the right way.’ So this does feel like a culmination of that.” —Jim Ananich
“My first reaction was thinking about a school shooting, thinking what is my path out of this building if something should happen. And it’s a sad state of affairs that my first thought was, ‘This is what schoolchildren go through.’ Now that it’s targeting lawmakers, maybe we can think about our ability and obligation to deal with this issue.” —Jeremy Moss
“I’m the one who took that viral photo of the men with the guns in the balcony. I’m a new legislator, so I asked my colleagues, ‘Is this normal? This doesn’t seem right.’ Two of the four in the photo I took are sitting in jail right now. I didn’t know on April 30 I was taking photos of the men involved in that alleged kidnapping and massacre.” —Dayna Polehanki
On the aftermath in Michigan:
“When I can’t speak freely and press my vote button because someone is standing over me with a rifle, you’re infringing on my First Amendment rights. What’s it going to take? Someone to sue the Michigan Capitol Commission, which has the legal authority to ban guns [from the statehouse grounds]? They won’t do it. I wonder if this will be a wake-up call.” —DP
“That’s when my colleagues started wearing bulletproof vests. Instead of stopping domestic terrorists with guns, Americans doing their duty participating in the democratic process did what they had to do.” —JA
“It’s not unusual to see someone in the Capitol carrying a weapon. It’s still unnerving, but it’s not unusual. April 30 was not that—it was not a display of Second Amendment rights, it was a display of intimidation. As Democrats, the targets of that intimidation, we sounded the alarm that this was not a safe expression of the Second Amendment. We were dismissed by Republicans, by the Michigan Capitol Commission, and it was not until we learned that these people were plotting to burn the capitol and kill everybody that we were taken seriously. And still there has been no action, and no action as these scenes replay in D.C. today.” —JM
On watching it happen in D.C.:
“If this doesn’t wake people up that there are seditious traitors, including the president of the United States, then I don’t know what will. I’m certain that Michigan inspired these folks. They truly believe they’ve been chosen to do this. And they’ve had the president and Republican leaders who have either openly or through code words encouraged this. I’m certain we have more patriots than traitors in this country, and I believe this will shake the conscience of people across this country.” —JA
“I woke up elated at this news from Georgia and boy did that turn. It has a lot of the same vibe, the same paraphernalia, the Trump flags, the men, the white men. The only difference was that in our situation the men had guns. There’s no satisfaction. If anything, it makes me feel more helpless. Hello, I took a photo of guys who were involved in a plot to massacre people. It makes me want to get the majority in 2022. We’re four seats away in the [state] house and senate. I tell you what, we do that, we can get the guns out of there.” —DP
“There were lessons to be learned that weren’t. This happened in Michigan on April 30, Washington in January, and unless there’s a serious discussion about how American governance can be safe and secure, nothing will change. The good news is that the chief enabler will be gone. The bad news is that no one will be able to control them.” —JM