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Michigan GOP cuts ties with Macomb House candidate with 'crazy' theories

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox says the state party will not be backing the campaign of state House candidate Paul M Smith because he has some "crazy" theories. 

"The Michigan Republican Party is not investing — will not be spending any money or time or energy on his race," Cox told reporters on a Monday call. 

"He has some very crazy conspiracy theories that do not reflect the beliefs of thousands of Republicans across the state of Michigan."

Leaders of the House Republican Campaign Committee said it also will not be supporting Smith, a former Sterling Heights City Council member.

The party leaders publicly disavowed Smith days after he questioned the charges against 13 men alleged to have taken part in a plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and overthrow the state government, including talks of storming the state Capitol in Lansing.

"What a totally bogus sham," Smith commented on Facebook last week. "These citizens never did anything illegal. Law enforcement is employed to punish people who COMMIT crimes, not people The Governess simply HATES. You can legally hurt Whitmer by voting out her minions."

Republican state House candidate Paul Smith posted this on Facebook this week below a New York Times opinion piece titled, "The plot against Gretchen Whitmer shows the danger of private militias." The photo is of his Democratic opponent, Nate Shannon, with Whitmer.

Smith, who is challenging state Rep. Nate Shannon, D-Sterling Heights, said Monday the plot against Whitmer is a "pre-election stunt" meant to disrupt the election.

"Pretty much anything that happens in October most is likely a scam. Unless there’s an actual act of violence. These people have been running around for decades — filthy-looking guys, an abundance of weapons," Smith told The Detroit News. 

"No doubt they’ve been talking about all kinds of things. And three weeks before the election, they decide now to arrest them," he added. "They could have done this in June or July or next December. ... That’s not a coincidence. That’s election manipulation."

Federal agents allege in court documents that the conspirators twice conducted surveillance at Whitmer's personal vacation home in northern Michigan and discussed kidnapping her to a "secure location" in Wisconsin to stand "trial" for treason prior to the Nov. 3 election. The suspects were upset in part about Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions, calling her a "tyrant."

The federal prosecutors who charged six of the men in connection with the plot last week were appointed by President Donald Trump, a Republican. Whitmer is a Democrat, as well as Attorney General Dana Nessel, who charged seven others with state crimes.  

Smith said the alleged conspirators — who face various felony charges — "look like trouble makers, to be sure." 

"It’s not a proven plot. Really, anybody in public office is in a position to be under threat — especially if you close down the state and cause businesses to go broke. She’s made a lot of enemies," Smith said, noting the protests against Whitmer's COVID restrictions in Lansing.  

"People that look like this — sinister looking people with assault rifles on their backs — were on the front porch of the Capitol, walking around making fools of themselves," he added. "But they didn’t shoot anybody. They were within shooting range of the state government, and nothing happened."

As for the state GOP, Smith said the party never supported him and last spring sent someone to try to talk him out of running for the state House in District 25. 

"They’ve opposed me since Day 1," Smith said. "I’m not their candidate. I was nominated by the voters of District 25, not the back-room guys in Lansing."

House Speaker Lee Chatfield on Sunday doubled down on the House GOP campaign arm's statement against Smith, calling him a "loser" in a tweet.

"If you can’t denounce the evil plans and actions of these white nationalists, we don’t want you in our caucus," Chatfield said. "In fact, if there’s any 'Republican' who thinks like this guy, we don’t want your vote either. We don’t support domestic terrorism." 

Michigan Democrats over the weekend also denounced Smith: "Defending a violent plot against Governor Whitmer is sadly not a new low for Paul Smith,” said Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Smith said he's run for office three times in Sterling Heights, including his first bid for City Council when he won and served from 2011-13. In 2016, he unsuccessfully ran for Macomb County sheriff, he said. 

Paul M Smith, Republican nominee for state House in Macomb County's 25th District, with Donald Trump Jr. at a 2016 rally.

Smith has drawn fire for a 2009 YouTube video showing him with signs illustrated with President Barack Obama's head impaled on a stake and then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm with a noose around her neck. 

Smith said the video was shot during a tea party rally in Sterling Heights, and that the U.S. Secret Service has visited him three times to question him about the video — visits he chalks up to "political harassment" by his opponents whom he claims called the federal agency about him. 

"I said it’s First Amendment free speech," Smith said. "I said, are you guys going to arrest me? They said no."

Smith said he wasn’t ashamed of his signs. Obama "should have been impeached, removed from office, tried and convicted of treason, executed and his head put on a stake," he said. 

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, a Republican, served on the City Council with Smith in 2012 when the tea party rally video began circulating. He and other council members passed a resolution urging Smith to either disavow his actions at the rally or resign, he said. 

"He’s had really dangerous ideas like that for as long as I can remember. If he were elected, he’d be on an island all alone," Taylor said. "Even the most far-right conservative in the Legislature would not want to be pictured with him. He is toxic." 

Smith also espoused anti-Muslim sentiments, blaming all Muslims for the Sept. 11 attacks. "They should have renounced the whole religion for an act like that," Smith told The News. 

In 2010, Smith sent an email to Taylor and others, saying the construction of a mosque on Ground Zero should be permitted so it could be filled with hundreds of thousands of Muslims and then destroyed by a radio-controlled 747. "Roast the bastards," he wrote. 

He didn't back down Monday. "That would serve them right," Smith said when asked about the email. 

Sterling Heights Council Member Michael Radtke Jr., a Democrat, was incredulous Monday that the Michigan GOP only now cut ties with Smith.

"Why didn't they cut ties before this? I'm glad the speaker has realized that Paul Smith is unfit for office," Radtke said. "If he were elected, he would be a national embarrassment."

Taylor noted that general elections bring out a broader group of voters who might not be familiar with city elections or Smith's views. 

"People who are going to vote straight ticket or all Republican, they should really do their homework before they vote for someone as dangerous as him," Taylor said. 

mburke@detroitnews.com