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Michigan's top GOP lawmaker: Jan. 6 Capitol attack was a 'hoax'

Shirkey's "occasional lapse in restraint" matters. What matters more is that Michigan's top GOP lawmaker believes a hopelessly bonkers conspiracy theory.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, speaks in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. on May 18, 2020.
Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, speaks in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. on May 18, 2020.Cory Morse / The Grand Rapids Press via AP file

All is not well in Michigan's Republican Party. Three months after a disappointing election cycle in the state -- Joe Biden flipped Michigan from "red" to "blue" at the presidential level, and Sen. Gary Peters (D) won re-election -- GOP leaders appear eager to move in an even more radical direction.

This past weekend, for example, the Michigan Republican Party elected its leadership team, following a process in which many contenders were evaluated based on their fealty to Trump and their opposition to 2020 election results. Soon after, the New York Times reported on the apparent "Republican alliance with paramilitary groups" in the state.

It was against this backdrop that the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday on the top GOP legislator in Michigan and his ridiculous ideas about the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey, the highest ranking Republican elected official in Michigan, recently said he believes the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was not carried out by supporters of former president Donald Trump, calling the idea a "hoax" and stating that the attack was "staged." ... A video of the meeting was first reported on by Detroit Metro Times.

"That wasn't Trump people. That's been a hoax from day one," Shirkey said in the video, adding, "It was all staged."

In the same recording, the GOP legislator also said, in reference to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), that he and his colleagues have "spanked her hard" on some issues. He added, "I did contemplate, once or twice, I did contemplate inviting her to a fistfight on the Capitol lawn."

By way of an explanation, Shirkey said in an emailed statement, "I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve. I own that.... I have many flaws. Being passionate coupled with an occasional lapse in restraint of tongue are at least two of them. I regret the words I chose, and I apologize for my insensitive comments."

And while an apology was warranted given the circumstances, it wasn't entirely clear what Shirkey was apologizing for.

We are, after all, talking about a state Senate majority leader -- hardly some obscure legislative backbencher -- who apparently believes that a pro-Trump riot was a "hoax" that was "staged" by unidentified forces.

Sure, Shirkey "occasional lapse in restraint of tongue" matters, but what matters more is that Michigan's Senate majority leader apparently believes a hopelessly bonkers conspiracy theory.

Indeed, just this morning, the Michigan GOP leader was overheard telling Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D) that he regretted "some of the words" he chose, but added, "I frankly don't take back any of the points I was trying to make."

Shirkey added that he expects the FBI to identify the real culprits behind the Capitol attack "within the next couple weeks."

All of which suggests Shirkey doesn't believe the most basic facts about what happened on Jan. 6.

To the extent that reality still has meaning, the deadly insurrectionist attack on the heart of our democracy was tragically real. As a TPM report added many of Trump supporters have "openly bragged about their participation on social media and have explicitly told law enforcement that the former president had asked them to storm the Capitol building."

In terms of the broader takeaways from stories like these, it's worth reemphasizing that as much as Republicans in D.C. talk about "moving on" from the deadly riot and the former president's role in inciting the violence, many Republicans at the state level aren't prepared to move on at all.