Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Donald Trump over his incitement of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol—and two of them, or 20%, represent West Michigan. The region once known for the political moderation and modesty embodied by former Congressman and eventual President Gerald R. Ford, a Grand Rapids native, is now home to a contingent of Republican voters awash in conspiracy theories and charged with anger.
That's the reality facing GOP Reps. Peter Meijer, a 33-year old political newcomer elected in 2020, and Fred Upton, a 68-year-old veteran lawmaker currently serving his 18th term.
Meijer, who served eight years in the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq, was recently informed by a voter of his impending (and completely imaginary) arrest to stand trial before a military tribunal. He told The New York Times that it's nearly impossible to disabuse people of their fervently held and constantly reinforced beliefs.
“People are willing to kill and die over these alternative realities,” said Miejer.
In large part, that is because a bunch of political opportunists are more than happy to capitalize on the fears and disinformation spread by Donald Trump and his allies about the so-called ‘deep state’ and the 2020 election being stolen.
Tom Norton, for instance, who lost to Meijer in the 2020 GOP primary, is pushing for an Arizona-style “forensic audit" and has expressed certainty of widespread election fraud.
Unfortunately for Norton, the GOP-led state Senate in his own state issued a report just last month that found "no evidence" of systemic fraud in 2020. The Republican state senator who led the investigation, Ed McBroom, also said he had reason to believe the conspiracy pushers were "purposely defrauding people."
As the report concluded, “The committee strongly recommends citizens use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain."
But the flood of opportunism coming from people like Norton—whether it's driven by shameless ambition or self-delusion—has entirely eclipsed reality for many voters.
Audra Johnson, another pro-Trump activist who plans to challenge Meijer, seems more than keen to capitalize on conservative voters' deep-state paranoia. She helped organize the armed protests of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the state Capitol and also attended Trump's Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally. She said she didn't storm the U.S. Capitol but knows people who did and insists they were peaceful—because nothing is more peaceful than joining a mob of rioters calling for Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and others to be hanged.
“Honestly, they’re terrified that the F.B.I. is going to come knock on their door,” Johnson said of the people who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Yep, that's what happens when you join an attack on the U.S. government—the FBI might knock on your door.
“People are terrified,” Johnson added, “We’re heading toward a civil war, if we’re not already in a cold civil war.”
And then there's state Rep. Steve Carra, who has introduced legislation to force another audit of the state vote but hasn't bothered to read the Senate report, according to the Times. Why get into the weeds if it's going to slow your roll? Carra hopes to unseat Upton.
“To say that there’s no evidence of widespread fraud I think is wrong,” Carra said, while providing zero evidence of widespread fraud.
Another Upton challenger, former Marine Jon Rocha, spoke to attendees of the so-called Festival of Truth.
“This country is under attack,” warned Rocha, who is Mexican American. “Our children are being indoctrinated to hate the color of their skin, to hate this country and to believe this country is systemically racist and meant to oppress anybody with a different skin pigment. I can attest to you, as an American Mexican, that is not the case.”
At one point, ‘Festival of Truth’ organizer Larry Eberly told the crowd, “I will die first before they shove that needle into my arm.”
As Meijer said, “People are willing to kill and die over these alternative realities.”
Meijer and Upton both have the advantages of incumbency, high name recognition, and deep pockets. Though Upton has been in office slightly longer than Meijer has been alive, Meijer's great-grandfather founded an eponymously named grocery store chain that has made Meijer a household name in West Michigan.
So they may just survive yet. But that isn't going to solve the problem that many of their constituents have bought into Trump's lies hook, line, and sinker. It’s a nationwide epidemic of delusion, and unfortunately we can’t vaccinate our way out of it.