When a judge recently dismissed the highly publicized, long-running lawsuit claiming 2020 election fraud in Antrim County, many assumed that the little county’s place in the spotlight of conspiracy theory politics would dim.
Not a chance.
In the past few days, Antrim, located in the heart of cherry country near Traverse City, has been the subject of regional and national news stories essentially revealing the county as the Crazytown of Michigan politics.
The Detroit News reported on a Saturday GOP gathering in the Antrim city of Ellsworth featuring a wacky lineup of speakers that included the My Pillow guy, a local rabble-rouser known as Trucker Randy (pictured above), and an infamous Rudy Giuliani ally. The hundreds on hand made it clear that they don’t believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president and that Donald Trump will be back in the White House.
Apparently inspired by the ongoing “sham” audit of ballots in Arizona, the crowd signed affidavits calling for a “forensic audit” of Michigan election results. Those affidavits contain a few bizarre rules for the proposed audit process: Anyone who disputes the claims of election fraud has three days to respond publicly; those who make false counterclaims defending the vote count will be forced to pay $30,000; and an arbitrator of the pro-Trump group’s choosing will decide these disputes.
A bitter fight over fruit markets
On Sunday, the New York Times ran a lengthy story about Antrim County’s poisonous politics that features a bitter public divide among the distinctly Republican electorate over where it is proper to buy fruit.
The roadside Friske Farm Market earned loyal customers after the owners ignored the state’s Covid-19 rules requiring mask wearing indoors. Down the road, the King Orchards farm stand gained a devoted clientele after they strictly enforced the store’s mask mandate.
The fruit fight led to a boycott of Friske’s by those who favored masks and a simultaneous ban on King’s by residents who refused to cover their face while shopping. The angry battle spilled onto Facebook, where crude comments by both sides riled this rustic county of 23,000 people.
At Saturday’s rally, held on the grounds of Friske’s, one of the speakers was Melissa Carone, who had testified about alleged election fraud beside Giuliani at a state House hearing in December.
Her barely coherent testimony went viral as observers wondered if she was drunk at the time. A few days later, Carone’s strange behavior inspired the lead sketch on Saturday Night Live.
“Trucker Randy” Bishop, a bombastic talk-radio show host, told the gathering that 2,400 would have attended if temperatures were not in the 80s. He told the Times that he will boycott King’s Orchard forever, “along with other progressive, communist business owners in this county.”
The final act was My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a staunch Trump ally who said he hoped the U.S. Supreme Court will put Trump back in office in August.
This was a crowd that criticized Michigan Republican Party Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock, perhaps Trump’s most ardent supporter in the state.
They also denounced Circuit Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, a former Republican state representative from the area, who dismissed the Antrim voter fraud lawsuit on May 18. They are demanding an appeal.
Two more things …
One of the speakers at Saturday’s event was former state senator Patrick Colbeck, a longtime controversial figure who has launched a road show of election fraud presentations that claim Chinese cyber hackers flipped the November 2020 election returns to give a win to Biden.
The voting machine manufacturer Dominion issued a warning to Colbeck in April that his false accusations against the company could result in a defamation lawsuit against him. Dominion also claimed that Colbeck was profiting off of his crusade, pocketing up to $1 million by charging entrance fees to his presentations.
Among the grievances Colbeck raised in his speech to the Antrim audience was that there must be a stop to TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s “treatment of Lindell.”
As for Trucker Randy, he is the former Republican chair of Antrim County and a former member of GOP State Central Committee who several years ago was designated by party insiders as a member of the MIGOP’s “band of bullies.”
With two criminal felonies under his belt, he urged Republican leaders in the Legislature in November to “break the law” and not certify Michigan’s Electoral College results.
Not surprisingly, in October he was kicked off Facebook due to his incendiary rhetoric.
Hallowed ground for the far-right?
The Friske Farm has served as home to numerous political events over the years, including a 2014 fundraiser that was so controversial that then-Lt. Gov. Brian Calley withdrew from his position as a featured speaker at the last minute.
The event was a fundraiser for state House candidate Triston Cole, who had been accused of making racist remarks about Detroit city government. More importantly, Cole was backed early-on for an open seat by the infamous Dave Agema, a Republican National Committee member from Michigan.
At the time, Agema faced an aggressive, intra-party attempt to remove him from the RNC due to his constant homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist rants on Facebook.
Surprisingly, Republicans’ appreciation of the Friske’s business ignored an aggressive early morning raid by federal agents a few months earlier when 10 black-windowed law enforcement SUVs rushed in and collected evidence that the farm had employed numerous illegal immigrants.
More importantly, most people in Antrim County know the story of Richard Fiske Sr., the patriarch of the family business, and his ties to Nazis and far-right forces in America.
Friske, who died in 2002, hid his service in Hitler’s German Air Force for decades by simply telling folks that he was a World War II veteran. After he was elected as state representative in 1970, despite an anti-Friske write-in campaign by fellow Republicans, he openly discussed his experience as a Luftwaffe pilot at public events such as the 1972 Memorial Day parade in Petoskey, where he gave the main address.
During his single term in office, Friske repeatedly tried to defend himself against his membership in the ultraconservative John Birch Society and his work on the 1968 presidential campaign of segregationist George Wallace.
Friske, who at one point accused GOP Gov. William Milliken of facilitating an “international satanic conspiracy,” later gave financial support to David Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK, in the Louisiana Neo-Nazi’s campaigns for Congress in 1996 and 1999.
That’s quite an ugly legacy.