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National & International News

Michigan Secretary Of State Says Armed Protesters Descended On Her Home Saturday

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says protesters were trying to intimidate her by visiting her home Saturday night. She's seen here discussing the elections during a news conference Nov. 3.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says protesters were trying to intimidate her by visiting her home Saturday night. She's seen here discussing the elections during a news conference Nov. 3.

Updated at 3:50 p.m. ET

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says "dozens" of armed protesters descended on her home Saturday night, using megaphones to disrupt what had been a quiet evening with her young son. It was meant to intimidate her, Benson said — adding that it didn't work.

The crowd was made up of people angry over President Trump's election loss. They shouted and chanted slogans outside Benson's house in a Detroit neighborhood, echoing conspiracy theories about the Nov. 3 voting process.

"As my four-year-old son and I were finishing up decorating the house for Christmas on Saturday night, and he was about to sit down to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, dozens of armed individuals stood outside my home shouting obscenities and chanting into bullhorns in the dark of night," Benson said in a statement.

A video livestream from the scene that one protester posted to Facebook showed the group lined up along the edge of Benson's yard, railing against what they insist was a "stolen" election.

"They targeted me in my role as Michigan's Chief Elections Officer," Benson said. But she added that the threats shouted outside her home "weren't actually aimed at me – or any other elected officials in this state. They were aimed at the voters,"because she said the protesters want to overturn the election results.

As the protesters yelled and shouted outside her house, Benson told NPR's Ailsa Chang, she focused on two things: ensuring the ruckus didn't upset or affect her son, and checking in with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and others to make sure her home was secure.

"My job as the state's chief election officer is to protect and defend our voters, every single one of them, regardless of how they vote," Benson said. "So my mind focused on that, and then my heart focused on my kid."

Outside Benson's home on Saturday night, "at least one individual could be heard shouting 'you're murderers' within earshot of her child's bedroom," Nessel said in a joint statement with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy.

"This mob-like behavior is an affront to basic morality and decency," Nessel and Worthy added.

As for what Benson believes the protesters wanted to accomplish, she told NPR, "Their threats and their attacks are aimed at the heart of democracy itself, trying to erode the public's confidence in the democratic process, trying to sow seeds of doubt among everyone that their votes counted, that their voices were heard, that the results of the election are accurate."

To reach Benson's home, the protesters walked past a security car at the end of her block; an officer soon took up a position outside the secretary's front door. Minutes after the protest began, several police cars also arrived to monitor the situation. The secretary thanked state and local police agencies "who are working to protect my family."

The incident took place two months after the FBI, as part of a joint operation with state and local police, said it thwarted a plot by militia members to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Men who were allegedly involved in that plot were recorded repeatedly saying they wanted to kidnap Whitmer before the national election.

Genevieve Peters, a protester who posted video online, said her group wants a forensic audit of the vote, refusing to accept the results of what they call a "fraudulent election." In her video, a fellow protester tells two police officers that the group planned to leave the house by around 10 p.m.

"We're not here to do anything," the man tells the officers. "We're just here to get attention" for their grievances, "because that's what we've got to do."

But Benson, Nessel and Worthy said the protesters went too far, targeting an elected official at her private home rather than airing their opinions through civil means.

Late in the video, Peters seemed to promise more protests.

"We will not stand down, we will not stop, we will continue to rise up, we will continue to take this election back for the president that actually won it by a landslide," she said. "This is not over. It is far from over – in fact, it's just beginning."

Benson sees Saturday night's incident at her home as an extension of what she calls hateful rhetoric that has only increased since the election.

"As I've learned throughout my career, hateful rhetoric and hateful voices can lead to hateful actions," she said.

With more escalations ongoing, she said, it is important for every elected official and everyone in authority "to call these threats of violence, intimidation and bullying out for what they are" and defend the will of the voters.

"We all have to work together and move forward from this moment because the election is over, the people have spoken," she said.

Michigan's Board of State Canvassers voted two weeks ago to certify the state's election results of a win for Democrat Joe Biden despite Trump's repeated attempts to overturn the outcome. On that day, Benson proclaimed, "Democracy has prevailed."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.