Protesters who gathered outside Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s Detroit home this past weekend crossed the line from protected speech to threats and intimidation.
That’s according to statements made by Benson, and state Attorney General Dana Nessel. Nessel was a guest on Stateside Monday.
Benson said members of the crowd yelled obscenities through bullhorns, chanted things like “Stop the steal!” and other slogans related to what she calls “false information” about election fraud. Some of the people were armed.
“I have always been an energetic advocate for the right and importance of peaceful protest as enshrined in the United States Constitution, however there is a line crossed when gatherings are done with the primary purpose of intimidation of public officials who are carrying out the oath of office they solemnly took as elected officials,” said Benson in a statement. She called the protesters’ actions “an extension of the noise and clouded efforts to spread false information about the security and accuracy of our elections that we’ve all endured in the month since the polls closed on November 3.”
“The demands made outside my home were unambiguous, loud and threatening,” the statement continued. “They targeted me in my role as Michigan’s Chief Election Officer. But the threats of those gathered weren’t actually aimed at me – or any other elected officials in this state. They were aimed at the voters.”
Nessel called the incident an “affront to basic morality and decency,” and a mob “masquerading as a protest…[in an] attempt to instill fear into our public officials.” She said they used “the cloak of the First Amendment” to push the boundaries of the law.
“Credible threats of harm or violence, great bodily harm, those are not acceptable. Those are never ok,” Nessel said.
Nessel blamed the incident on President Donald Trump’s refusing to concede the election, and fueling baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud. She said threats against elected officials have escalated recently, including a racist death threat directed at State Representative Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit).
Nessel said the fact that protesters targeted Benson’s home, at night and with firearms, is disturbing. She said it appears protesters committed “a number of infractions,” including trespassing and violating local ordinances.
“Just because you have the intent to protest something that you don’t like, doesn’t make your activity legal,” Nessel said. “We have certain guidelines and restrictions on the First Amendment. You can’t just protest anywhere, anytime, any way in which you like, without violating other laws.”
But Nessel said prosecutions without further evidence are unlikely. Detroit Police did not make any arrests or issue any citations.