On February 4 2022, an Imgur account shared a meme asserting that Michigan Republican Ryan Kelley told a crowd to “unplug voting machines” and bring guns to polling places:
At the top of the meme, an image of former U.S. President Donald Trump and a younger man appeared. At the bottom, text read:
Ryan Kelley, a Trump-endorsed Republican running for Governor of Michigan, tells a crowd to unplug voting machines if they “see something you don’t like happening” and urges them to bring guns to polling places during the election.
The submission was titled “Voter intimidation.” Neither the meme nor the claims on it were cited by the submitter.
A search for Ryan Kelley largely returned local news articles. His name appeared on the Wikipedia entry for 2022 Michigan gubernatorial election alongside twelve additional Republican candidates in the primary.
A Twitter search for “Kelley” and “unplug” returned a January 31 2022 tweet by Occupy Democrats. That tweet’s text was nearly identical to the text of the meme, but included “[retweet] if you think he should be arrested”:
BREAKING: Ryan Kelley, a Trump-endorsed Republican running for Governor of Michigan, tells crowd to unplug voting machines if they “see something you don't like happening” and urges them to bring guns to polling places during the election. RT IF YOU THINK HE SHOULD BE ARRESTED!
— Occupy Democrats (@OccupyDemocrats) January 31, 2022
One commenter responded, attributing at least part of the statement to another Michigan candidate named Mike Detmer:
Get your fact straight please.
It was Ryan Kelley who talked about pulling olugs.
It was Mike Detmer, candidate for MI Senate who talked about being armed.
— September Dresan (@SeptemberDresan) January 31, 2022
That claim appeared to track with video of the the purported remarks shared by the Twitter account “Left of Center MI” (@leftofcentermi) on January 30 2022. In it, a man who resembled the man in the meme addressed unplugging voting machines, and another individual mentioned guns:
Candidate for MI governor Ryan D. Kelley tells prospective poll workers to unplug tabulation machines if they suspect fraud in the 2022 election. State senate candidate Mike Detmer takes it a step further: “We need to be prepared to lock & load,” he says. “Show up armed.” pic.twitter.com/rLsmUcUR0q
— Left of Center MI (@leftofcentermi) January 30, 2022
Alongside the video, @leftofcentermi provided additional context — describing the “crowd” as “prospective poll workers.” A subsequent tweet mentioning “full video” of the remarks in question included a clip that was no longer available as of February 4 2022:
Candidate for MI governor Ryan D. Kelley tells prospective poll workers to unplug tabulation machines if they suspect fraud in the 2022 election. State senate candidate Mike Detmer takes it a step further: “We need to be prepared to lock & load,” he says. “Show up armed.”
On January 31 2022, Detroit affiliate WJBK-FOX published “Republican candidates urge Michigan poll workers to bring guns, unplug machines if they suspect voter fraud,” reporting:
A Michigan gubernatorial candidate and senate candidate are facing criticism for telling potential poll workers to unplug machines and urging them to show up armed.
Ryan Kelley, a Republican candidate for governor, appeared alongside Mike Detmer, also a Republican who is running for the state senate in Livingston County over the weekend. The candidates were meeting with prospective poll workers.
“If you see something you don’t like happening with the machines, and you see something going on, unplug it from the wall,” Kelley said.
Detmer told the crowd to be prepared to “lock and load” when they go to vote.
The outlet quoted Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in response to Kelley and Detmer’s remarks:
It’s concerning, it’s dangerous, it’s disappointing, but we must be vigilant … Anyone who violates election law will be prosecuted to the fullest extent under law. That said, in addition to that, as partisan officials seek to advance their agenda with lies that threaten to undermine our election system, we need all leaders including leaders from both parties, elected leaders to condemn these remarks. There is no place for this hateful rhetoric or for these threats in our democracy, especially in a moment like this.
Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel were paraphrased as saying that “voter intimidation and tampering with machines is illegal.” A February 1 2022 Washington Post article about the controversial comments (“Michigan GOP candidates draw scrutiny for suggestions to unplug election machines, use firearms to protect observers”) provided a lengthier version of Detmer’s remarks:
In the video, Kelley is seen telling the audience of prospective poll workers, “If you see something you don’t like happening with the machines, you see something going on, unplug it from the wall.”
Detmer, meanwhile, was asked what could be done to “protect” Republican election observers at the venue in Detroit where absentee ballots were counted after the 2020 presidential election.
“The ideal thing is to do this peacefully,” Detmer said. “That’s ideal. But the American people, at some point in time, if we can’t change the tide, which I believe we can, we need to be prepared to lock and load.”
“You asked what can we do. Show up armed,” he added.
The venue in question, then known as the TCF Center, attracted scores of Republican protesters after the election. Supporters of then-President Donald Trump claimed GOP poll workers there were treated unfairly.
The Detroit News reported that in a text exchange [on January 31 2022], Detmer emphasized that it would be best to handle such situations peacefully. But he stood by his use of the phrase “lock and load.”
“That’s what the 2nd Amendment is for,” Detmer wrote. “Worst case … lock and load.”
A February 3 2022 Imgur meme contained the claim that Michigan Republican Ryan Kelley told a crowd “to unplug voting machines if they ‘see something you don’t like happening’ and urges them to bring guns to polling places during the election.” In that abbreviated context, the meme implied Kelley was speaking to a general audience, and that he was responsible for both remarks. More detailed reports showed that two people — Kelley, along with Detmer — addressed a crowd of prospective poll workers. Kelley did advise poll workers to “unplug [voting machines] from the wall” if they “see something [they] don’t like,” and Detmer said poll workers “need to be prepared to lock and load.” Due to missing context, we rated the meme Decontextualized.