Michigan Senate leader labels D.C. insurrection 'a hoax': video

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Senate Republican leader Mike Shirkey described the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., as "a hoax" and said it was "prearranged," according to a video of a private conversation posted on YouTube.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, made the comments, for which he has now apologized, while meeting with the leaders of the Hillsdale County Republican Party at Spangler's Family Restaurant in Jonesville on Wednesday, according to Jon Smith of Somerset Township, the county GOP's secretary.

Smith recorded the hour-long conversation, which occurred a day before the Hillsdale County Republican Party voted to censure the Senate leader for a variety of his stances, including supporting a ban on the open carry of firearms inside the Michigan Capitol.

During the conversation at the diner, one of the participants asked Shirkey, "What about the D.C. thing?" The person was referring to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building, resulting in five deaths.

"That wasn't Trump people," Shirkey said, despite the fact the insurrection occurred directly after a protest featuring Trump and many of those arrested in connection to the events have voiced support for the Republican former president.

"That's been a hoax ... from day one," Shirkey added without evidence, also saying, "That was all prearranged."

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged at least three individuals with conspiring to obstruct Congress and accused them of coordinating as early as November on lodging and other logistics planning for the insurrection, according to a department release in late January reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The release says 38-year-old Jessica Marie Watkins and 50-year-old Donovan Ray Crowl, both of Champaign County, Ohio, and 65-year-old Thomas Caldwell of Virginia coordinated with each other as early as November to discuss lodging, a call to action and other logistics planning for the riot.

The top Republican in the Michigan Senate issued a Tuesday evening apology for the statements he made in the video.

"I said some things in a videoed conversation that are not fitting for the role I am privileged to serve," Shirkey said. "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.” 

The video recording was first reported by Detroit Metro Times. Smith, who said he was responsible for taping the conversation, said he wasn't certain whether Shirkey knew he was being recorded.

Shirkey described the events of Jan. 6 as "staged" and "arranged by somebody that was funding it all." Without evidence, he said then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was part of it. Shirkey also questioned why there wasn't more security at the Capitol and why there were so many cameras present to record what occurred.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

"I think they wanted to have a mess," the Michigan Senate leader said.

Shirkey, who previously served in the Michigan House, said when people are in mobs, they can "get caught up in emotion."

"Some of those Trump folks probably just got caught up in the emotion of it," he said.

Shirkey also said he had tears in his eyes as he watched what occurred on Jan. 6 from his home.

Smith said the conversation at the diner occurred after Shirkey reached out to Hillsdale County Republican Party leaders. Hillsdale County is one of three counties Shirkey represents in the Michigan Senate.

The executive board of the Hillsdale GOP voted 14-5 Thursday to censure Shirkey. The party's leaders cited Shirkey's "complete and utter surrender" to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, although Shirkey has been among the most vocal critics of the governor in the Legislature.

Shirkey has shown a lack of concern for the Hillsdale County Republican Party, Smith said Tuesday.

"He didn't care that he was being censured," Smith said.

Asked about the Senate leader's comment that the insurrection was a hoax, Smith, who was in Washington, D.C., for the protest, called the events there "surreal" and not matching what the media described.

But Smith said of the word "hoax," "I don't know if that's an appropriate word."

Likewise, Daren Wiseley, chairman of the Hillsdale County Republican Party, said he was surprised when Shirkey made the comments he did about Jan. 6.

"We’re just trying to hold our elected officials accountable," Wiseley said of the censure of Shirkey.

Wiseley was sitting next to Shirkey as the video was recorded, but the party chairman said he wasn't aware the conversation was being taped.

U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, who was in the House chamber when the Capitol building was breached, said Jan. 6 was not a hoax.

"While some of the folks who stormed the Capitol, such as the QAnon Shaman, didn't exactly have coherent political views, the overwhelming number of folks who have been arrested and charged in connection with those events were supporters of Donald Trump and the attempts to recast blame or avoid responsibility by falsely alleging that this was a hoax or BLM, Antifa, false-flag event are incredibly destructive," Meijer added.

Democrats slammed the Republican lawmakers' comments. House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, called on him to apologize or step down from his leadership position.

"Claiming the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a ‘hoax’ is a slap in the face to the law enforcement there that day and to the people who died and were injured," Lasinski said. "Serving in leadership is a privilege and this raises real questions about Mr. Shirkey’s fitness to lead."

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.