Condemning 'death to America' chants should be easy. Not for liberal Michigan Gov. Whitmer.

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Editor's note: This column was originally published Sunday morning. According to a Fox News report published Monday, a spokesperson for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement to the outlet saying she condemned the Dearborn chants.

Our culture is one that is easily offended, and as such, it’s become a common practice for politicians to condemn words or actions they believe to be out of line. When those same officials remain mum when something truly awful is said, the silence is jarring.

A recent example: In Dearborn, Michigan, not far from where I live in Metro Detroit, a group called Al-Quds Committee Detroit held a rally on April 5 in support of Palestinians. Israel and Hamas – the terrorist group that controls Gaza – remain locked in battle after Hamas’ brutal surprise attack on Israel more than six months ago.

During the rally, chants of “death to America” erupted, along with cries of “death to Israel.”

I find that pretty darn offensive.

According to the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), activist Tarek Bazzi began the Dearborn event by asking the crowd to pray for “the victory of the resistance” and called Israel a “godless, satanic cancer.”

Dearborn wasn’t the only place where this anti-American rhetoric was trumpeted. Similar ugly protests took place across the country on April 5, including in New York City and several cities in Texas.

Protesters in Dearborn, Mich., on Jan. 31, 2024, call for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Protesters in Dearborn, Mich., on Jan. 31, 2024, call for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

I want to focus on Dearborn, though, because of the political forces at play. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a Democratic rising star whom many see as future White House material. Her own ambitions are obvious. A new memoir out this summer (“True Gretch”) will help set the stage for a bigger national presence.

That’s why it’s notable that Whitmer has stayed silent about the "death to America" chants at the Dearborn protest. More than a week after the event, she has said nothing about it.

She did take time to mark the end of Ramadan with this tweet to Michigan Muslims on Tuesday: “Eid Mubarak, Michigan. I hope you and your families had a blessed Ramadan. May you all have a blessed Eid and come together to celebrate all that makes our communities strong and our state even stronger.”

Why has Whitmer been silent about highly publicized comments made in her state − comments so clearly beyond the pale that even the White House has condemned them? Whitmer's office did not respond to my request for comment on her stance.

Anti-Arab hate is bad, and so is anti-American hate

President Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visit a United Auto Workers phone bank in the metropolitan Detroit area on Feb. 1, 2024.
President Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visit a United Auto Workers phone bank in the metropolitan Detroit area on Feb. 1, 2024.

In February, Whitmer had no problem weighing in soon after The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion column with a headline that alleged Dearborn is “America’s Jihad Capital.”

She, along with President Joe Biden, were quick to condemn the opinion piece as Islamophobic and hateful.

Why can’t Whitmer speak up in a similar way now? To their credit, Dearborn’s mayor and other Arab American leaders have spoken out against the chants.

Biden faces protests: Biden tries to shake off 'Genocide Joe' epithet, but it could be the issue that sinks him

But Whitmer isn’t the only high-profile politician who has been quiet about in-your-face outrageousness in their own backyard.

So has U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan. That's not a surprise. Tlaib was censured by her House colleagues for her anti-Israel rhetoric after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks launched from Gaza against Israel.

The recent rally in Dearborn went viral after the Middle East Media Research Institute posted a video last weekend on X, formerly Twitter. It was that organization's executive director who wrote the Journal op-ed that Whitmer and other Democrats found so offensive.

It's all about the presidential election

What’s really going on here centers on the November presidential election. As a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, Whitmer is committed to delivering Michigan for Biden (even though I think she’d rather be the one running).

Biden is struggling mightily among many Democrats because of his support of Israel. That is especially true of Arab Americans in Michigan.

Gaza is redefining the Christian vote. Biden and Trump better listen.

It's to the point that chants of “Genocide Joe” have haunted Biden at numerous campaign appearances.

A grassroots campaign ahead of Michigan’s Democratic primary in February encouraged Democrats to vote “uncommitted” rather than for Biden. In Dearborn and several other cities, uncommitted got more votes than Biden. Statewide, the uncommitted effort gained 13.2% of the vote – more than 101,000 votes.

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In a battleground state like Michigan, that number could easily determine the outcome in November. So Whitmer has to tread carefully with these voters.

But come on.

It’s egregious to hear chants of “death to America” in our own country. If Whitmer really does have White House ambitions, she should prove she has the strength to stand up for what's right, even if it costs her party votes.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michigan protesters chanted 'Death to America.' Why is Whitmer silent?