SHELBYVILLE, Mich. — A sheriff in western Michigan says he doesn't have any regrets about appearing on stage at an anti-coronavirus lockdown rally in May with a man who was charged Thursday in a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf was a guest speaker at a May rally in Grand Rapids against Whitmer's stay-at-home orders. Standing alongside him at the event was William Null, one of several men charged Thursday for his apparent connection with militia group Wolverine Watchmen and their alleged plot to kidnap Whitmer.
Null and his brother Michael were charged with providing support for terroristic acts and felony weapons charges.
A neighbor of William Null, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said they witnessed the FBI raid and said they shocked to hear details of the militia group's plot.
"In this area I had heard that there was a lot of militia people, their right to do so. But to the extent that we just found out last night, totally surprised about that," the neighbor said.
The Null brothers had ties to militia groups and were frequently seen at local demonstrations, including in at a rally in Grand Rapids protesting Whitmer's stay-at-home order that took place in May.
William Null was spotted on stage standing alongside Leaf, who was a guest speaker at the event.
Leaf said that while his agency wasn't involved in the investigation into the Wolverine Watchmen, he was "shocked" to learn of Null's involvement.
"I haven't read everything up on it, I've got other duties to do. It wasn't our investigation. I was shocked, did not see this coming with those guys, but still, we can't convict them in the media here. They do have a right to a fair trial," Leaf said.
Leaf says he did not know of Null's alleged involvement in the kidnapping plot and didn't have any regrets about being on stage with him.
"It's just a charge, and they say a 'plot to kidnap,' and you've got to remember that. Are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested," Leaf said. "So are they trying to arrest, or was it a kidnap attempt? Because you can still — in Michigan, if it's a felony — make a felony arrest."
"I think it's MCL 764.4, 764.5 somewhere on there, and it doesn't say if you are an elected office that you're exempt from that arrest. I have to look at it from that angle, and I'm hoping that's more what it is. In fact, these guys are innocent till proven guilty, so I'm not even sure if they had any part of it," Leaf added.
Leaf was likely referring to MCL 764.16, which allows private citizens to make an arrest in certain cases. He did not clarify how the statute would apply to an arrest of Whitmer.
The sheriff insists the Null brothers were always very nice and respectful.
"The two gentlemen that I know of from my county — Were they involved in that? I don't know. They're innocent until proven guilty. And we really, really should be careful, trying to try them in the media," Leaf said.
Leaf also said he does feel for the governor and that no one should be threatened with violence.
Both Null brothers are being held on a $250,000 cash bail and if convicted, could face up to 22 years in prison.
This story was originally published by Aaron Parseghian on WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.