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He was acquitted on charges related to the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot. Now he’s running for sheriff

<i>Annie Doyle/Charlevoix Courier/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Eric Molitor answers questions at a court in Bellaire
Annie Doyle/Charlevoix Courier/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource
Eric Molitor answers questions at a court in Bellaire

By Alison Main, CNN

(CNN) — A man acquitted last year on charges linked to a 2020 plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is now looking to unseat an incumbent county sheriff.

Eric Molitor has filed to run in the Republican primary this August against Trent Taylor, the sheriff of deep-red Wexford County in Northern Michigan. His central message, he told CNN, is ensuring “the least amount of government involvement and intrusion in our lives.”

The 40-year-old from Cadillac, Michigan, describes himself as a “big political activist” and says he was considering running for township supervisor, but a conversation that he and his brother had with Taylor last month inspired him to enter the race for sheriff instead.

“I walked away from there having nothing but the utmost respect for how he handled the situation because we have really tough questions for somebody running for an office, and (Taylor) did not hesitate,” he said.

But Molitor said Taylor told them that he would enforce the state’s recently enacted “red flag” gun safety law, which Molitor believes to be “highly unconstitutional.”

The law, signed last year by Whitmer, a Democrat, makes it easier for law enforcement authorities to seize firearms from people who are believed to be a danger to themselves or others. It was among a series of gun safety laws signed by the Michigan governor after a string of deadly mass shootings, including at Michigan State University in February 2023 that left three dead and several others wounded.

Taylor told CNN he believes he’s constitutionally obligated to enforce the state’s laws and that it would be “reckless” not to do so, as Molitor has said he would.

“He has a right to run,” Taylor, who is seeking a third four-year term, said of his opponent. “I hope that the citizens of Wexford County will recognize I have done a good job, along with my team, and they’ll cast their vote for me in the August primary.”

In September, a jury found Molitor not guilty of one count of providing material support for a terrorist act and possessing a firearm when committing or attempting to commit a felony.

State prosecutors had alleged that Molitor and others targeted Whitmer’s Northern Michigan vacation cottage and conducted surveillance of her home.

Molitor and his two co-defendants, who were also acquitted in the fall trial, were the last of a group of 14 people prosecuted in state and federal courts in connection to the kidnapping plot. Ultimately, nine were convicted or pleaded guilty in the case, and five were acquitted.

Molitor told CNN his experience opened his eyes to flaws in the justice system.

“I had no idea how our system actually worked until I went through it at this level,” he said. “It was insanity.”

Molitor said he and others who feel wronged by the system, including those acquitted of charges in connection with the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, have a “duty” to “step forth” and enact reform.

“Apathy is what got us where we are today. We need to be the change that we want. And you know, to sit there and say somebody needs to do it is so unfair when we are the ones who have been personally affected by the issues that we’ve seen,” he said.

Though Molitor said his experience has altered some of his opinions, he denied the notion that he was completely “anti-government” or “anti-law enforcement,” explaining that he feels called to be an “arbiter between the people and the powers that be.”

Currently, in order to run for sheriff in Michigan, candidates must live and be eligible to vote in the county where they’re seeking a four-year term.

The Michigan House passed legislation late last year that would require new candidates for county sheriff to be a licensed law enforcement officer or a certified corrections officer with at least five years of experience. It is currently under referral by a committee in the state Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association is backing the bill. Dan Pfannes, the group’s deputy director, said the organization had hoped it would have been signed into law before last month’s candidate filing deadlines for the 2024 races.

“One of the things we were hoping to do was put those qualifications into place sooner rather than later,” he said, noting that he thinks the legislation is still on a “good path” to eventual passage.

Pfannes made clear the sheriffs’ association thinks the bill would be “part of the efforts to enhance our profession.”

The organization would not comment on Molitor’s candidacy, citing group policy. Molitor does not have a law enforcement background. He previously worked as a subcontractor in the security field.

The Michigan Democratic Party responded to Molitor’s candidacy earlier this month, calling him a “MAGA Republican,” a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump has not made an endorsement in the primary.

“It’s clear that there’s no line Michigan Republicans won’t cross — this candidate is only the latest in the long line of the MAGA MIGOP’s roster of extremists running at various levels of the ballot,” the Michigan Democratic Party said in a statement. It also pointed to Michele Lundgren, one of the 16 people facing charges related to the 2020 election subversion plot in Michigan, who is now running in a Republican primary for a state House seat.

While Molitor currently identifies as a Republican, he said he previously aligned with “liberal independent” ideology. He said he voted for Whitmer and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat, when they first sought their offices in 2018.

“I saw two strong women, and I was like, ‘Let’s see what the hell these two can do,’” he recalled.

He now aligns with the Republican Party because he believes conservatives are “more concerned with protecting all rights,” specifically pointing to free speech. as a key issue.

Molitor said he supported Trump in 2016 and 2020, and intends to back the presumptive Republican nominee again in November.

CNN’s Lauren del Valle, Veronica Stracqualursi, Josh Campbell and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.

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