FBI arrests Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate on Jan. 6 riot-related charges

By Robert Snell, Craig Mauger, Beth LeBlanc | The Detroit News

Allendale — FBI agents arrested Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley on misdemeanor charges related to the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.

Ryan Kelley (The Detroit News)

The arrest and search that unfolded at Kelley’s home in Allendale outside of Grand Rapids add more uncertainty to a chaotic race for governor that has seen five Republican candidates blocked from the ballot for submitting fraudulent nominating petition signatures.

Prosecutors filed four charges against Kelley, 40. They are knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct; knowingly engaging in any act of physical violence against person or property in a restricted building or grounds; willfully injuring or committing depredation against property of the US

Kenzi Niewiadomski, one of Kelley’s neighbors in his Allendale subdivision whose sister lives across the street from him, said she witnessed FBI agents leading Kelley away from his home in handcuffs Thursday morning. Kelley’s wife and children left the home with backpacks in hand and got into a family van moments after Kelley was taken into custody, Niewiadomski said.

“He was just cooperating,” she said. “What are you going to do at that point?”

Niewiadomski said she can’t personally stand Kelley as a politician. He has a campaign flag flying below an American flag on the flagpole in his front yard his.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Niewiadomski said.

A spokeswoman for Kelley’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

The arrest comes 17 months after Kelley traveled to Washington, DC, for the Jan. 6, 2021, protests that preceded an attack on the US Capitol and on the morning of the first hearing by the US House committee investigating the riot.

Federal court records describe Kelley as being an active participant in the riot, climbing onto portions of the Capitol, encouraging yelling, gesturing to participants and removing a covering from a temporary structure outside the Capitol.

The records also portray Kelley as being under investigation within days of the riot and reveal that FBI agents relied on assistance from an informant who was helping the bureau investigate domestic terrorism.

In one clip, Kelley is shown using his hands to support another rioter who is pulling a metal barricade, according to the complaint.

“At approximately 2:20 pm, Kelley continued to gesture to the crowd, consistently indicating that they should move towards the stairs that led to the entrance of the US Capitol interior spaces,” the complaint reads.

Later, Kelley is seen running on top of the stair railing towards the Capitol’s northwest courtyard, according to the government.

Kelley unwittingly helped FBI investigators by wearing identical clothing to various rallies and marches in the first few months of the pandemic in 2020.

In May 2020, he wore identical clothing to the American Patriot Council “Judgement Day” rally in Lansing. The attire included a backward black hat, blue shirt and black coat.

In October, he attended another American Patriot Council event in Allendale. Again, Kelley wore similar clothing. The next month, Kelley was the featured speaker at a “Stop the Steal” rally at the Michigan Capitol in Lansing.

“During that event, Kelley indicated that those attending the rally should stand and fight, with the goal of preventing Democrats from stealing the election,” the complaint reads.

“He gave a speech while wearing a name tag and stated ‘Covid-19 was made so that they can use the propaganda to control your minds so that you think, if you watch the media, that Joe Biden won this election,’” the court filing continues. “’We’re not going to buy it. We’re going to stand and fight for America, for Donald Trump. We’re not going to let the Democrats steal this election.’”

In June 2021, the Michigan Democratic Party promoted video footage that appeared to show Kelley shouting “Come on, let’s go! This is it! This is– this is war, baby!” as he moved toward the Capitol building.

Meshawn Maddock, a co-chair of the state Republican Party, tweeted criticism of the arrest Thursday, writing: “Do people really get their homes raided and arrested in front of their children over a misdemeanor? Democrats are out in force weaponizing our justice system and targeting their political opponents.”

The arrest and search unfolded hours ahead of members of a House select committee starting long-awaited televised hearings on the Jan. 6 riot.

The investigation started with multiple tips within days of the riot, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in Washington, DC

One tip included photos of Kelley wearing a black coat, a backward baseball hat with an emblem of the US flag, and aviator sunglasses.

On Jan. 28, 2021, an informant who had worked with the FBI on domestic terrorism groups in Michigan identified Kelley in another video.

Video shows Kelley near scaffolding outside the western side of the US Capitol. He is filming the crowd assaulting and pushing US Capitol Police Officers, according to the complaint.

“At approximately 2:00 pm, Kelley climbed onto and stood on an architectural feature next to the North West stairs and indicated by waving his hand that the crowd behind him should move towards the stairs leading into the US Capitol building,” the complaint reads .

Kelley has faced questions about his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.

During a TV interview in February 2021, he denied going inside the US Capitol and refused to confirm that he was shown in photos and videos wearing a dark coat and black baseball cap during the riot.

Three other witnesses helped FBI agents confirm the man shown in photos and videos of the riot was Kelley, who also has served as an Allendale Township Planning Commission member. One of those witnesses was a law enforcement officer with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office while a second witness was an Allendale Township official who knows Kelley, according to the complaint.

Kelley is expected to make an initial appearance later Thursday in federal court in Grand Rapids.

A group of Kelley supporters was beginning to gather outside the federal court building in downtown Grand Rapids at about 1 pm Thursday.

Among the group was Jo DeMarco of Ada, who has helped with Kelley’s campaign for governor.

“I know that Ryan’s home was invaded by the FBI, however, you want to phrase that. And they arrested him. And he’s here now,” DeMarco said. “And that’s why we’re here: to support him.”

Brenda Wodarski of Grand Rapids also attended the demonstration in support of Kelley on Thursday. She traveled to Washington, DC, for the protests on Jan. 6, 2021, as well.

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