Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday said President Donald Trump’s rhetoric is “emboldening” white supremacists such as the individuals involved in an alleged plot to kidnap him and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
A group charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer discussed plans to take out sitting governors, including Northam, over “coronavirus-related lockdown orders,” an FBI agent testified in court on Tuesday. Northam and Whitmer, both Democrats, were among governors who issued coronavirus-related executive orders in the spring that closed down restaurants, bars and gyms.
Northam told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Wednesday that he has been dealing with multiple threats since January and that he does not “govern under a cloud of intimidation.”
“That’s not who I am. And this is not about me,” he said. “It’s not about the governor of Michigan. This is about this country. And it’s about a president that is emboldening these individuals, these white supremacists.”
The governor pointed to Trump’s comments in 2017 after violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white supremacist rally that there were “very fine people on both sides” and his tweets in April to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Virginia and Minnesota for contributing to the plot. Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Northam, tweeted the message after the governor passed a series of gun rights measures.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump in a statement to CNN affiliate WTVR, saying he has “continually condemned white supremacists and all forms of hate.”
“Governor Whitmer, and now Governor Northam, are sowing division by making these outlandish allegations,” McEnany said. “America stands united against hate and in support of our federal law enforcement who stopped this plot.”
Northam told Berman “these people take their marching orders from individuals like the President” and said “it’s unfortunate and it needs to stop.” He also said “mixed messages” from the Trump administration, including regarding the coronavirus pandemic, is also connected to the foiled plot.
“The people that gave him advice asking – Virginians asking Americans to wear a mask, ask them to social distance and two days later, he says to liberate Virginia. So, you know, it’s mixed messages coming out of Washington,” he said, mentioning the lack of coordination between governors and the White House at the beginning of the pandemic. “There’s a lack of leadership in Washington.”
The Democratic governor also said it’s “disheartening” to hear “hatred and bigotry” coming from the President, similar to what he heard while serving in the army during Operation Desert Storm.
“In that conflict, we knew that there were folks in other countries, in Iraq, that disliked us. And they were the ones spewing the hatred and the bigotry,” he said. “And now it’s coming from our own President. And that’s what’s so disheartening to me as an American, as a governor, as a veteran.”
He also said it is “unacceptable” that Trump denigrated US service members as “losers” and “suckers,” referring to reporting by The Atlantic magazine.
“We’re not going to let that happen again in this country,” Northam said.
CNN’s Sara Sidner, Sonia Moghe and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.