- Jonathan Oosting, Bridge Michigan, shared with permission
- Matt and Meshawn Maddock are a Trump-loving power couple whose influence is growing as the state GOP shifts further to the right.
Part one of an ongoing series on right-wing extremism and the radicalization of the Michigan Republican Party.
Two months before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, an angry mob descended on the basement of the TCF Center in downtown Detroit.
Shouting "Stop the count!" and "Let us in!" they pounded on the windows of a large conference room, where workers were counting absentee ballots for the general election. A prayer circle broke out, and some held signs that read "No Reason for Treason" and "Christians for Trump."
Police scrambled to stop them from getting inside as election workers looked on in fear.
At the center of the chaos were state State Rep. Matt Maddock, R-Milford, and his wife, Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock — an antagonistic, Trump-loving power couple whose influence is growing as the state GOP shifts further to the right.
Like the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, the protest in Detroit was inspired by falsehoods about the election. Earlier in the day, Matt Maddock falsely claimed on social media that 35,000 ballots "showed up out of nowhere" in the middle of the night and that Democrats "were pretty much cheating in front of poll watchers."
"Who is available to go to (TCF Center) right now to help monitor the vote?" he pleaded on Facebook. "Need help."
An identical message was posted on two Facebook pages operated by right-wing groups founded by the Maddocks. The posts were shared more than 1,800 times, whipping up unfounded fears that Democrats were stealing the election.
"My friend drove to Oakland County from quite far away, per your request," Nicole ML responded on Facebook.
Hundreds of people commented on the Facebook pages, expressing outrage.
"This election is a sham!" Barbara Nutt responded.
"Damned thieves!!!" cried Joel Krupa.
"They are stealing our election!!" echoed Leah Reed Sprague Davis.
"Dear God please send your faithful warriors to help," Imelda Flint wrote.
Laura Williams had another idea: "Insert sleeping gas to the vents!"
Inside TCF Center, Meshawn Maddock, who wasn't wearing a mask, whipped out her phone, adorned with a Trump 2020 sticker, and recorded video of election workers. Her husband paced back and forth and posted a live Facebook video in which he falsely suggested Republican poll watchers were not allowed to monitor the count.
As the evening grew on, the mob grew bigger and spilled outside the building.
"Thank you all for answering the call," Matt Maddock posted on Facebook later in the day. "Dems are doing every trick in the book to obstruct poll watchers. They are denying access, blocking poll watchers from seeing the voter lists, shutting down elevators, chaining exit doors, telling volunteers to leave as they arrive, prohibiting volunteers from returning when they leave and more."
The truth was, more than 100 Republicans had signed up to monitor the polls, and they were allowed to observe the votes. No evidence of voter fraud was ever found. Like with the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump supporters were trying to disrupt the democratic process.
A day after the TCF Center incident, Meshawn Maddock urged followers on Twitter to keep up the fight, escalating the kind of dangerous rhetoric that inspired insurrection.
"Do not back down," she tweeted. "Democrats are trying to steal this election and they are not even trying to hide their treachery."
The protest and the falsehoods that led up to it were a prelude to the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol, where five people, including a Capitol Hill police officer, died. For two months, the Maddocks continued to play an outsized role in the "Stop the Steal" movement, pushing false claims about voter fraud, fomenting outrage, and encouraging Trump supporters to challenge the election. They routinely made baseless claims on Twitter and Facebook pages where participants discussed civil war.
As tensions were reaching a boiling point, Meshawn Maddock helped promote and organize busloads of Michigan residents to travel to Washington, D.C., for the Jan. 6 rally, where she delivered a speech a day before the insurrection, fusing together Christian nationalism and Trumpism. Standing next to her husband, she declared Trump was "the greatest president this nation will ever know."
"No matter what happens today or tomorrow, I know that God reigns, we trust the Lord, but we never stop fighting," she told the swelling crowd.
- Jonathan Oosting, Bridge Michigan, shared with permission
- Matt and Meshawn Maddock at a Republican Party fundraiser.
Meet the Maddocks
Matt Maddock, a bail bondsman, early Tea Party organizer, and longtime grassroots activist, was elected to the state House in 2018 with an endorsement from reality-TV star Duane Chapman, aka "Dog the Bounty Hunter." With a fanatic devotion to Trump, Meshawn Maddock ascended the Michigan Republican Party ranks and served on the national advisory board for "Women for Trump," organizing pro-Trump rallies and wine-and-cheese events ahead of the election, where guests gathered without wearing masks, in violation of pandemic orders. She also was one of the most outspoken opponents of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions, peddling falsehoods about the virus as it claimed thousands of lives in Michigan.
Even after the infamous Jan. 6 riot, a month later, the former stay-at-home mom was elected co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, a move that political observers say demonstrates the radicalization of the state's GOP and a sure sign that Trumpism isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Jeff Timmer, who headed the Michigan Republican Party from 2005-2009, says Meshawn Maddock moved up the party ranks by fully embracing Trumpism, antagonizing opponents, and indulging in outlandish conspiracy theories. She is now "the most powerful person in Michigan Republican politics," he says.
"She is nuts. Her husband is nuts. They are crazy, stupid, and mean," Timmer tells Metro Times. "They think they are saving the world."
About five years ago, the Maddocks co-founded the Michigan Conservative Coalition, an influential collection of right-wing organizations and pro-Trump groups aimed at recruiting and training an "army of conservative activists." The mission of the coalition, which goes by the name of Michigan Trump Republicans, is to shift the state GOP further to the right.
"The Republican Party had taken a wrong turn," the coalition's website states. "That turn was that the Party was headed left, away from the principles that our Founding Fathers had laid out in our Constitution. It was no longer even following its platform. A handful of volunteers felt called to guide the GOP, and especially the Michigan Republican Party, back to the 'right' side of the road."
In 2016, the coalition began hosting Battle Cry, a two-day training event billed as the largest conservative conference in the Midwest. The aim is to recruit and train conservative precinct delegates to reshape the party's agenda. Its past events featured speakers such as My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, Trump operative Corey Lewandowsi, and right-wing writer Michelle Malkin.
The coalition is also known for hosting boisterous rallies. After Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican at the time, called for Trump's impeachement, the coalition held a "Squash Amash" rally in Grand Rapids in June 2019 that drew more than 100 supporters, many of them waving American flags and holding pro-Trump signs.
"If President Trump were standing next to me, do you know what he'd say? He would say, 'Justin, you're fired," Meshawn Maddock, wearing a Women for Trump shirt, told a screaming crowd.
The coalition also held rallies to disrupt town hall meetings held by U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, both Democrats, because they supported impeachment.
For the Maddocks, politics is a no-holds-barred fight between right and wrong.
"I feel like it's time for conservatives to start using the same tactics that the left has used for a long time, and I don't want to be passive about it anymore," Meshawn Maddock told Bridge last year. "I'm really not interested in bipartisan or reaching-across-the-aisle politics. The world is divided right now, and I'm OK with it, because the truth is, I feel like I'm on the right side."
A day after Christmas, the coalition declared on Facebook that "Trump Republicans will dominate the party."
Earlier this month, Matt Maddock and the coalition spoke in support of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Georgia Republican who spread QAnon conspiracy theories that allege the government is run by a secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles, blamed California's wildfires on Jewish space lasers, and endorsed baseless claims that school shootings in Florida and Connecticut were staged "false-flag" events.
"SHE is Trumps GOP!" the coalition said of Greene on Facebook. "We need to embrace her."
As many Republicans on the national level tried to distance themselves from Greene, Matt Maddock boasted that he donated $100 to her campaign.
"You should too," Maddock posted on Facebook.
At a Black Lives Matter march in Milford in June 2020, Meshawn Maddock stood along the side of the road with her husband and booed young demonstrators, many of whom of them teenagers, who were chanting "Black Lives Matter" and marching with signs advocating racial justice.
"They called the kids losers and entitled brats and gave them the thumbs down," Sarah Moore, a 65-year-old Milford activist, tells Metro Times. "They said Black lives don't matter in this community. I was appalled."
Moore, whose family has been active in the community for generations, said the Maddocks are a disgrace to Milford.
"This is not the community for them. I've never dealt with anything like them," she says. "They're horrible people."
She says the Maddocks have a big wooden cross on their lawn and used to fly the Confederate flag.
The Michigan Conservative Coalition garnered national attention last year by organizing Operation Gridlock, an anti-lockdown protest that intentionally jammed the streets in Lansing in April and inspired similar demonstrations nationwide, including a protest two weeks later that led to a heavily armed mob entering the state Capitol building. Maddock spoke with some of the intruders and later told The Detroit News, "I like being around people with guns."
Since the pandemic broke out in Michigan in March, the Maddocks have downplayed COVID-19, peddled misinformation about the virus, and criticized masks.
"COVID is less lethal than the flu," Matt Maddock posted on Facebook in October.
According to the World Health Organization, the flu kills between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year worldwide. By contrast, COVID-19 has claimed 2.4 million lives across the globe in the past year — and that's with tight social-distancing restrictions that aren't in place to combat the flu.
In November, Matt Maddock led an effort to begin impeachment hearings for Whitmer over her handling of the coronavirus, which include social-distancing measures that researchers have said saved lives.
"She has exceeded her constitutional authority, violated the constitutional rights of the people of Michigan, issued orders that are not in the best interests of the people of this state, and used the Pandemic as an opportunity to reward political allies," the impeachment resolution stated.
Then-House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, quickly shut down the process, saying he doesn't support impeaching someone "because we disagree with them."
Whitmer dismissed the impeachment calls as a political stunt.
"Governor Whitmer doesn't have any time for partisan politics or people who don't wear masks, don't believe in science, and don't have a plan to fight this virus," Whitmer's spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a statement at the time.
On its website, the Michigan Conservative Coalition claims "masks are dangerous to your health" and includes a link to a video that has since been removed from YouTube for containing misinformation about the virus.
In November, Meshawn Maddock said she's boycotting retailers who sell masks as gifts.
"Any retailer that is selling masks this holiday season will not get my $ #BoycottMaskGifts," she tweeted. "No one should want to give MASKS!?"
- Devi Bones / Shutterstock.com
- The Maddocks were behind an attempt to block the ballot count at Detroit’s TCF Center.
Trying to overturn the election
After the TCF Center event, the Maddocks grew in prominence as they continued to push falsehoods about the election. In one bogus claim in early December, Meshawn Maddock insisted she had obtained a list of dead Michigan voters and posted it on Facebook, along with the home addresses of the allegedly deceased people. She claimed more than 2,000 people "voted in Wayne County by absentee ballot that were CONFIRMED deceased."
"Just imagine if our Secretary of State (Jocelyn) Benson DID HER JOB and checked all 83 counties?!" Maddock wrote.
The post was shared hundreds of times before people on the list began calling her out.
"I'm certainly not dead!" one woman responded.
Another man said, "Two people in my neighborhood are on this list. They're very much alive. Hell, their boys play baseball with my sons."
At a Stop the Steal rally on Dec. 8, Meshawn Maddock declared she won't end the battle to overturn the election "until my president tells me to stop."
"It is fake news that Donald Trump supporters are giving up," Maddock told the crowd. "It is in the Lord's hands, we trust him, but we are going to do our work while we are here. We have seen too much. Have you seen cheating? Have you seen that they're trying to steal this election? We're not going to give up. No matter what happens, we are going to keep fighting."
The following day, Matt Maddock released a letter demanding a "complete forensic assessment" of the state's election results, claiming there were "numerous irregularities" and eyewitness accounts of fraud. The letter, posted on Maddock's Facebook page, inspired outrage.
"Heads need to roll," Wendy Shank responded.
"So when do we start riot's," Michael J. Bayard asked.
On the thread, Matt Maddock posted, "It ain't over."
On Dec. 14, when the state's 16 electoral college delegates voted in support of President-elect Joe Biden, the Maddocks disregarded state law and held their own caucus with an alternate slate of delegates to "certify" the election for Trump. They tried to enter the state Capitol, which was closed because of "credible threats of violence," to deliver their votes for Trump but were stopped by Michigan State Police.
After the video-recorded stunt, in a conspiracy-laden press conference, Meshawn Maddock declared they weren't backing down.
"If the fake news and the leftist Democrats and even the deep state never-Trumper Republicans and the media and big tech, if they think that voters who have been disenfranchised and do not trust our election system right now are just going to go away, if they think we're just going to roll over after what we've witnessed has happened and that we're ever going to trust our elections again, they're wrong," Maddock said.
In the Legislature, Matt Maddock made several attempts to overturn the election. In late December, he and Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, joined a federal lawsuit filed by Trump supporters to challenge the results of the election. The suit asked a judge to allow lawmakers to certify states' election results, a move that would enable the Republican-led Michigan Legislature to reject Biden's victory. But a judge turned down the suit, calling their arguments "flat-out wrong" and "a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution."
As the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., neared, the Maddocks amplified falsehoods about the election and alluded to civil war.
On Twitter, Meshwan Maddock insisted, "@POTUS was robbed of this election" and "Do not back down. Democrats are trying to steal this election and they are not even trying to hide their treachery."
On New Year's Day, Meshawn Maddock tweeted, "Good morning January 1st, 1776," a reference to the Revolutionary War.
In an interview with the anti-lockdown group Stand Up Michigan, Matt Maddock also spoke about civil war.
"As soon as we lose our faith in elections, the next step after that, the same thing that happened after the civil war," Maddock said. "They lost faith in elections because there was inadequate elections going on. The next step was a civil war, so we're treading on really, really thin ice."
Two days days before the insurrection, Meshawn Maddock told the Detroit Free Press, "As a leader for Republicans in Michigan, I'm going to stand shoulder to shoulder with Americans that know voter fraud is real. ... Now is not the time for summer soldiers and sunshine Patriots, now is the time for brave men to do the right thing."
In the meantime, Meshawn Maddock helped organize and promote buses of supporters from suburban Detroit to Washington, D.C., for the rally.
On Jan. 5, a day before the insurrection, Maddock and 10 other Republican lawmakers from Michigan wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, urging him not to certify the election, questioning "the validity of hundreds of thousands of ballots" in battleground states.
Later in the day, Meshawn Maddock, flanked by enormous Trump flags, delivered a speech to thousands of people, saying "over 19 buses" are headed from Michigan to Washington, D.C.
Calling Trump "the greatest president this nation will ever know," she said, "We have the scales lifted off our eyes. Somehow we are able to see what other people can't see. It's our job to show that to them."
"No matter what happens today or tomorrow, I know that God reigns, we trust the Lord, but we never stop fighting."
Her husband, standing next to her, lifted his fist.
On the day of the insurrection, Meshawn Maddock declared on Twitter, "It's Trump's party now."
On the day of the insurrection, just hours before Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, smashed windows, and assaulted police, Meshawn Maddock posted a now-deleted video on Instagram in which a man yells, "We need to march on the Capitol when we are done here and drag these people out of power."
The Maddocks insist they did not participate in the riot and were in a hotel room when the violence broke out.
Instead of quickly condemning the insurrection, Maddock complained about Twitter locking Trump's account on the day after the insurrection.
"Twitter locking the President's account is unbelievable in a year of 'No Way That's Not Possible," she tweeted.
Only after she came under fire from people within her own party did she speak out against the violence.
"I condemn the violence and breaching of the capitol in the strongest possible terms," Maddock tweeted the day after the insurrection. "The rally was supposed to be a peaceful event and people who broke the law should be held accountable. I am horrified by the death of the young woman and pray for the healing of our nation."
But shortly after, on the right-wing social media site Parler, Maddock echoed a quote from Michael Flynn, one of QAnon's most high-profile adherents, that said "Trump will remain president."
"It's all apologies and prepared statements on Twitter, but over on Parler, incoming Michigan GOP chair Meshawn Maddock is still busily spreading conspiratorial nonsense about Trump remaining president," Joshua Pugh, communications director of the Michigan AFL-CIO, tweeted on Jan. 9.
- Brice Tucker
- While Republican leaders on the national level are trying to unify the party to win back moderate voters, the GOP in Michigan and other states are becoming more extreme in their embrace of Trumpism.
Calls to expel Rep. Maddock
Following the insurrection, Democratic lawmakers have called for disciplinary actions against Matt Maddock, and moderate Republicans have distanced themselves from the couple.
A day after the riot, state Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, called Matt Maddock "a domestic terrorist" who incited an insurrection.
"He must be censured and have committees stripped," Hood tweeted.
State Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, introduced a bill to investigate and expel Maddock from the House, saying it appears he violated his oath to the Constitution.
"I don't think censure goes far enough," Aiyash tells Metro Times. "You can't serve in a representative democracy if you don't believe in it to begin with. Everything he has said has been baseless. It's an assault on our democracy."
Other Democrats support taking action against Maddock.
"It's clear by his actions that Rep. Maddock does not believe in the very oath to uphold the Constitution that he took yesterday," House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, of Scio Township, said in a statement last month.
Among those calling for Matt Maddock's resignation were the Oakland County Democratic Party and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
"This attack, by our own fellow citizens — many from Michigan — to subvert the will of voters and the legal results of a free and fair election, is not and should not be construed as a partisan issue," Jody LaMacchia, chairwoman of the Oakland County Democratic Party, said in a statement. "But more than just seeing each and every person who was present and committed acts of violence, vandalism and sedition accountable, we must hold elected officials who egg this traitorous behavior on — and the donors who funded it — accountable."
An online petition signed by more than 9,000 people calls for a recall of Matt Maddock.
"No matter which party you belong to or candidate you support these people incited domestic terrorism and have no place to have any position of power in our community," the petition states. "This couple and the President has made a mockery of our most sacred institutions including the peaceful transfer of power."
'Unholy lust' for Trump
Although Trump is no longer president, his influence on the Michigan Republican Party is stronger than ever. Moderate Republicans who try to distance themselves from Trump and the baseless conspiracy theories are being squeezed out of the party.
But the state GOP is making a dangerous gamble. Democrats have seized control of the state's three statewide positions — governor, attorney general, and secretary of state — and Trump lost by 150,000 votes. Without moderate Republicans, the party risks alienating voters who are turned off by Trump.
Some Republicans tried to steer the party away from Trumpism. On the day of the insurrection, Republican activist Dennis Lennox called for Maddock to "withdraw" her nomination.
"If she doesn't, the convention should suspend the rules and elect a candidate from the floor. Period," he tweeted.
Other well-known Republicans, including Northville Township trustee Chris Roosen, former state Sen. Mike Kowall, and GOP strategists Greg McNeilly and Matt Marsden have also spoken out against Maddock as party chairwoman.
Not only is the party deeply divided, it's facing legal troubles. As delegates prepared to vote for the party's leadership earlier this month, outgoing GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox leveled serious allegations against U-M Regent Ron Weiser, who was vying for her seat and was endorsed by Meshawn Maddock. In a letter to the Michigan Bureau of Elections, Cox claimed that Weiser may have violated the Michigan Campaign Finance Act by using party funds to shell out $200,000 to Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot to get him to drop out of the GOP race for secretary of state in 2018. Despite the accusations, Weiser defeated Cox with 66% of the vote, becoming Michigan GOP co-chair along with Maddock.
The Michigan Bureau of Elections is investigating the claims.
Timmer tells Metro Times that the party, controlled by leaders with an "unholy lust for Trump," is headed down a dangerous path.
"They think they have this calling that Trump was sent from God," Timmer says. "They're fucking crazy. There's no other way to put it. There is no touchstone to reality."
In the weeks after the riot, the Maddocks and high-ranking Republicans in Michigan continued to downplay the deadly riot and peddle misinformation about election fraud. At a diner with Hillsdale County Republicans on Feb. 4, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, falsely claimed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was "a hoax" and "staged" by Trump opponents.
"That wasn't Trump's people. That's been a hoax from Day One. That was all prearranged," Shirkey, the state's highest-ranking Republican said, of the riot. "It was arranged by somebody who was funding it."
Shirkey has also cozied up to militiamen. Two weeks after dozens of armed protesters forced their way into the state Capitol last April to protest Governor Whitmer's stay-at-home order, Shirkey spoke at one of their events, sharing a stage with one of the 13 men charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer.
"Sometimes politicians get it backward," Shirkey told the protesters. "That's when these groups need to stand up and test that assertion of authority by the government. We need you now more than ever."
By embracing domestic extremists and advancing falsehoods about the election, Michigan Republicans have emboldened Trump loyalists and paved the path for the insurrection, according to Timmer and other observers.
"Michigan was the dress rehearsal for Jan. 6," Timmer says.
While Republican leaders on the national level are trying to unify the party to win back moderate voters, the GOP in Michigan and other states are becoming more extreme in their embrace of Trumpism. In Arizona, the state party censured the Republican governor for imposing COVID-19 restrictions. In Oregon, GOP leaders have claimed that the Jan. 6 riot was a "false flag operation designed to discredit President Trump" and passed a resolution condemning 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump.
The Hawaii Republican Party tweeted a defense of QAnon believers and praised the "high quality" work of a Holocaust denier. In Wyoming, the state party censured U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney for voting to impeach Trump.
One thing is clear: Republicans have eroded trust in the democratic system. Nearly a third of Michigan's registered voters still believe Trump won the election or are unsure who did, a Detroit News poll found. About 30% of Republicans nationwide viewed the D.C. rioters as "patriots," a YouGov Direct poll found.
"Crazy or dangerous or seditionists or mean or racist or xenophobic isn't a dealbreaker for these people," Timmer says.
The Maddocks declined to comment for this story.
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