Kristina Karamo – the candidate Donald Trump is backing to be Michigan’s next secretary of state – has falsely claimed the former President was the true victor in Michigan in 2020 and has spread the conspiracy theory that left-wing anarchists were behind the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Based on the series of evidence and knowing how these situations work, how these anarchists operate, I believe this is completely Antifa posing as Trump supporters,” Karamo said on an episode of her podcast the day after the January 6 insurrection. “I mean, anybody can buy a MAGA hat and put on T-shirt and buy a Trump flag.”
In fact, hundreds of federal indictments have affirmed since then that Pro-Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
Karamo has never held elected office or run a statewide race before, but the 36-year-old community college professor has become a leading candidate to be Michigan’s GOP secretary of state nominee after receiving Trump’s endorsement in September. She’s one of several candidates in key battleground states across the country Trump has backed in an effort to elect allies who embrace his 2020 election lies. Offices like Michigan’s secretary of state run the presidential election while Trump is preparing for a potential 2024 comeback bid – meaning Trump’s preferred candidates could replace the very officials who stopped his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, like Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
In Michigan, Karamo is one of three declared Republican candidates seeking to run against Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in 2022, who is expected to run for reelection.
Karamo rose to prominence in Michigan after the 2020 election when she alleged to have witnessed fraud as a poll challenger during the state’s count of absentee ballots. The month after the election, Karamo testified before a state Senate committee, signed onto the unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge to Biden’s win and appeared on Fox News conservative opinion shows to promote her allegations and falsely claim widespread fraud occurred in the state.
A CNN review of Karamo’s podcast and writings on her now defunct personal website, which have not been previously reported, offer a window into the worldview of the professor-turned-candidate seeking to be in charge of Michigan’s elections. She declared herself an “anti-vaxxer” in 2020 even before the Covid-19 vaccine became a political flashpoint. She opposed teaching evolution and called public schools “government indoctrination camps.” And she’s harshly attacked those who don’t share her views, from Democrats and Republicans alike to members of the LGBTQ community and even couples who cohabitate before marriage.
Last month, Karamo appeared with other Republican secretary of state candidates who have echoed Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, including Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem and Nevada’s Jim Marchant, at an event in Las Vegas featuring prominent people associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory. At the event, she acknowledged in a speech that a statewide race would force her to broaden her constituency – while at the same time criticizing Republicans who disagreed with her, saying she was “fighting my own people in the state.”
“One of the things that I try to be very cognizant of, you know, I’m running a statewide race,” Karamo said, according to video provided to CNN. “And I understand I have to win the hearts and minds of people who may not necessarily think like me.”
Karamo and her campaign did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails from CNN requesting an interview, or to a list of questions requesting comment about the positions she’s expressed.
From poll challenger to statewide candidate
Karamo, a single mother of two children from a Detroit suburb, isn’t a total stranger to politics. She became active in her county’s Republican Party several years ago as she voiced concerns with public school curriculum, and she ran unsuccessfully for a county commissioner seat in 2018.
Rocky Raczkowski, chairman of the Oakland County Republican Party, said Karamo volunteered as a party spokesperson, and she appeared on local political television talk shows.
“She’s got an incredible way of talking, and a level of compassion and understanding and intellect and ability to speak with people and make them understand specific issues,” Raczkowski told CNN. “When you see somebody that can communicate with people and communicate with them on an effective basis, you try to elevate that person – and we did.”
Karamo gained a larger profile after working as a GOP poll challenger during the 2020 election at the TCF Center in Detroit, where the city’s absentee ballots were being processed. She claimed she witnessed fraud firsthand challenging a ballot that she said had filled in the straight-party voting circles for both Democrats and Republicans, but the vote was counted for Democrats. On another ballot, she said votes for both Biden and the Green Party presidential candidate were filled in, but the vote was given to Biden.
After the election in December, Karamo testified at a Michigan Senate hearing on the fraud she said she witnessed and signed an affidavit as part of a Supreme Court lawsuit filed seeking to throw out election results in four states. Karamo was invited onto the shows of Fox News’ Sean Hannity and then-Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs, where she was touted as a “whistleblower” and blasted her state’s Republican legislature for not doing more.
“The fact that our legislature, leadership have sat here and done nothing about it, they’ve become complicit in the fraud,” she said on Dobbs’ Fox Business Network show in December 2020. “And they sit here as though we’re going to forget, and I’m here to let them know that we will not forget.”
But the claims of fraud she spread in videos on social media and in television interviews went well beyond her own experiences, falsely claiming on social media, “Donald Trump won Michigan.”
In a December 2020 appearance on a local Fox television station, Karamo claimed ballots were changed by Dominion voting software in Michigan’s Antrim County, where 6,000 votes were initially given incorrectly to Biden instead of Trump due to a human error, a mistake that was quickly corrected. “That software is in 47 counties. I’ve done my math, that’s over 200,000 votes that have been potentially compromised,” Karamo said.
A Republican-led state Senate investigation in June, however, found there was “no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud” in Michigan’s 2020 election. The report specifically debunked the allegations surrounding Antrim County and Dominion, stating, “Those promoting Antrim County as the prime evidence of a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election place all other statements and actions they make in a position of zero credibility.”
As Trump’s continued lies about the 2020 election being stolen convinced more and more Republicans to believe that Biden was illegitimately elected, Karamo announced her candidacy for secretary of state in May.
Karamo has continued to push for Michigan to conduct its own “forensic audit” in the model of the Arizona partisan ballot review conducted earlier this year that confirmed Biden won the state. She toured the Arizona site in June while the review led by the Cyber Ninjas was underway, and told right-wing OAN afterward that Michigan should replicate the process.
‘Remove these traitors’
Karamo’s background is in education. She’s worked as a part-time adjunct professor at Wayne County Community College since 2014, according to a college spokesperson. She’s teaching speech, college orientation and career development for the college’s dual-enrollment program for the fall 2021 semester, the spokesperson said.
Karamo has a master’s degree in Christian apologetics, the study of the defense of Christianity against objections, from Biola University, an evangelical university in Southern California.
Sean McDowell, an associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, previously taught Karamo and described her as outgoing, engaging and overall “a joy to have in class.”
When it comes to apologetics, McDowell said Christians often express their beliefs in different fashions. He said even among apologists, people often hold a variety of views on the intersection of science and faith, issues of sexuality and how to contend with non-believers.
“Even within the branch of apologetics, there’s huge differences even within the Christian world about how people approach their task in terms of what positions they might argue for, in terms of the demeanor that people take and their goals in doing it,” McDowell said.
In her commentary through her podcasts and writings on her website over the past several years, Kamaro frequently ties her interpretation of Christianity to her staunch conservatism. Karamo’s depiction of politics leaves little room for compromise. She accuses politicians of both parties to be traitors to America and influenced by the devil.
“Their party has totally been taken over by a satanic agenda,” Karamo said of Democrats in a November 2020 podcast episode.
After January 6, Karamo called for the ouster of the “conservative imposters” from the Republican Party. “We need to lawfully remove these traitors,” she said of Republicans.
GOP fundraising advantage
Karamo is one of three Republicans running for secretary of state to date. The nominee will be chosen not through a traditional primary but at a party convention held next year.
So far, Karamo has a significant fundraising lead on the other Republicans, state Rep. Beau LaFave and township clerk Cindy Berry, collecting more than $164,000 in contributions this year, according to state campaign finance data. Still, she’s well behind the incumbent, Benson, who raised nearly $450,000 in the last fundraising quarter and has more than $1 million in her campaign account.
LaFave has focused his campaign thus far not on the 2020 election like Karamo, but on the secretary of state’s closure of DMV offices in Michigan. “Today, I announce my campaign to open the offices!” he wrote on Facebook when he announced he was running last month.
Gustavo Portela, a spokesman for the Michigan state Republican Party, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the GOP field grow even more crowded, adding that Republicans across the country have grown energized since Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race.
“No matter what, our party is prepared and ready to help whichever candidate comes out of the nominating convention,” Portela said.
The outcome of Michigan’s Republican campaign for secretary of state – as well as attorney general, where Trump has also endorsed Republican attorney Matthew DePerno, who filed a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s 2020 election results that relied on the debunked allegations surrounding Antrim County – could signal the direction the Republican Party is headed into the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential contest, where Trump is likely the frontrunner for the GOP nomination if he runs.
Concerns over ‘unbridled wickedness’ in schools
Karamo’s commentary through her podcast, videos and personal writings frequently focuses on issues related to popular culture, sex and education – and warnings about what she sees as a dangerous agenda being taught to children in schools.
“That’s what our schools have turned into – government indoctrination camps,” she said in January. “And you’re forced to have your child be exposed to types of unbridled wickedness that these Democrats and liberals want to teach your child.”
Karamo objected to teaching that some children have two mothers or fathers, saying it invites conversations with children about how gay people have sex. “There is no such thing as a person with two mommies and two daddies. That is just factually incorrect,” Karamo said in a January episode. “No, it’s the parent and their homosexual lover. That’s what’s going on,” she said in August 2020.
In an August 2019 blog post, she dismissed transgender women trying to play women’s sports as “mentally ill adults playing dress up. That is also part of the horrifically destructive sexual revolution.”
She also opposed the teaching of evolution in schools. “Evolution is one of the biggest frauds that have been perpetrated on us,” she said in a July 2019 video.
And she has raised concerns claiming that popular culture is pushing toward the “normalization” of pedophilia, including through legislation in Michigan and premarital sex.
“When we normalize people fornicating and we normalize people living together with their boyfriends and girlfriends and all that stuff, we open a door for us to get to the point where we have people want to normalize pedophilia,” she said in November.
McDowell, the apologetics professor, said, “Christians have largely had concerns about changing marital and sexual norms for decades,” but added that he does not believe the specific concern about premarital cohabitation paving the way for pedophilia is a widespread worry among Christians.