With another protest rally in Lansing expected this week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday denounced threats of violence being made against herself and others by some protesters and urged officials to do what they can to tamp down angry rhetoric.

“To threaten someone else is beyond the pale,” Whitmer said Monday after being asked about threats and posts on social media that have reportedly included racist remarks and violent imagery. “I would appreciate if others would do their part to lower the heat.”

Protests against Whitmer have erupted in recent weeks as she has put in place restrictions on businesses and Michigan residents, including a sweeping stay-at-home order, intending to limit gatherings as a way to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

On April 30, a group of protesters, including some carrying rifles and not wearing masks as required under the order, crowded into the hall outside the state House chambers, demanding to be allowed inside. Others went to the state Senate gallery, leading some legislators in that chamber to feel intimidated.

On Monday, with word circulating of another protest in Lansing on Thursday, the Detroit Metro Times reported on people posting on certain private Facebook groups and encouraging violence, including assassinating the governor. Facebook has since removed at least one of the groups, the publication reported.

Whitmer — who has started to relax some portions of her stay-at-home order while extending it through May 28 as the rate of new cases and deaths from the virus continues to decline — said she was growing “increasingly concerned about the violent nature of the comments being made” and the “violent, racist, extreme rhetoric already connected to Thursday’s rally.”

She also voiced regret that the Michigan Capitol Commission, which oversees the state Capitol and its grounds, declined to set a rule at its Monday meeting to prohibit firearms from inside the building. The commission instead set up a five-person committee to talk with legislative leaders, the governor’s office and legal experts to determine whether it can legally take such an action, even though state Attorney General Dana Nessel has issued an opinion suggesting it is within its power to do so.

“I am very disappointed that the Capitol Commission didn’t take action to keep legislators safe,” Whitmer said.

Evidence of violent, extreme rhetoric was on display at the commission’s meeting as well. With the meeting being held through a public teleconferencing system, Zoom, apparently someone watching was able to begin posting what members called violent messages. The commission — which is usually concerned with matters pertaining to artworks and grounds-keeping — quickly ended the meeting.

“Very racist,” was how commission Vice Chairman John Truscott described the posts. “And physically threatening. They threatened legislators and commissioners. (And) used very racist language.”

Being allowed to bring firearms into the state Capitol, however, is a longstanding practice and one defended by gun rights activists, even though firearms are prohibited in some other venues, such as some courts and schools.

Whitmer said she understood the frustrations felt by residents unable to work or cooped up at home but that her order must be followed. She also said she didn’t object to protests as long as people wore masks and tried to keep six feet between themselves and others to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Be respectful of fellow Michiganders,” she said. “Let’s keep our wits about us and do the next right thing.”

State looks to ramp up testing with feds’ help

During Monday’s briefing, Whitmer and her staffs also said they have been able to dramatically increase testing for coronavirus and will continue to do so even further in the next month.

Tricia Foster, the state’s chief operating officer, said that Trump administration officials agreed on Friday to provide more supplies to increase testing from about 14,000 tests a day to close to 30,000 over the next 30 days.

Along with that commitment, she said, the federal government sent along more than 80,000 swabs with which do so tests on Monday, representing part of the first week’s worth of supplies. In the last two weeks, state officials said, testing has about doubled already.

Foster said the state is concentrating its testing efforts on vulnerable populations such as older Michiganders, front-line responders, prison and jail inmates, residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes, and migrant farm workers, among others. She added that a key step in the process toward safely reopening the state is to be able to test 1%-2% of the population weekly.

“With these new supplies … I think we will achieve our goal,” she said.

Contact Todd Spangler at tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler. Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.

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