Ryan Kelley: ‘100% shameless’ Firebrand activist in Michigan gubernatorial bid
Instead, Kelley touts his real estate business. He previously sold waterfront properties as managing director of City2shore. His current business, NuCon Realty, specializes in new homes and commercial property sales.
State records show that Kelley also tried to start a limo service in 2009 and, as of 2014, told the Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce that he was selling ASEA, a supplement that claims to use “redox signaling molecules” to improve health, but that’s mostly just distilled water with salt, according to pseudoscience researcher Joe Schwarcz at McGill University.
“I think our government is supposed to operate like a small business,” Kelley told Bridge. Small business owners should “engage” with government to ensure officials make “principled decisions” and “do the right thing”, he added.
Kelley burst onto the scene as a political activist in April 2020, when he organized a rally that drew thousands to the Michigan Capitol to protest Whitmer’s COVID-19 orders and demanded that the Republican lawmakers reject the governor’s request to extend an emergency declaration. They finally did.
At the time, Kelley told reporters he had invited members of the militia to serve as ‘security’ at the rally and suggested anyone who had a problem with it read the Constitution and ‘live without fear’ .
The protest made national headlines after armed protesters entered the Capitol, some of whom carried their firearms from galleries overlooking the State House and Senate chambers. Two of the men were later arrested on charges of helping guard Whitmer’s home in an alleged kidnapping plot.
“We had so many guns and we got the vote we wanted from our legislature,” fellow organizer Jason Howland said in a podcast with Kelley. “We made noise and let them know we were serious. A show of force is exactly what it means to keep and bear arms.”
Kelley held another anti-lockdown rally a few weeks later in Grand Rapids, followed by another at the Michigan Capitol in June, where he urged fellow activists to “unite as a militia” to “protect our citizens in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”
Later in June, Kelley openly carried his own gun in a counter-protest against the potential removal of a Confederate soldier statue in Allendale Township, which he said was an attempt by groups like Black Lives Matter to “erase our history”.
“We need to celebrate our history, remember our history and why freedom from slavery happened,” he told WWMT-TV at the time, suggesting that if the law were overturned, the US Constitution could be next.
Arrested on January 6
After Joe Biden won Michigan’s 2020 presidential election by 154,188 votes, Kelley’s activism shifted to “stop theft” rallies, where he linked conspiracy theories about COVID- 19 to claims that the election was “rigged” against Trump.
‘COVID-19 was designed so they could use propaganda to control your minds so that you would think, if you look at the media, that Joe Biden won this election,’ he told a rally in November 2020 at the Michigan Capitol. “We’re not going to buy it. We’re going to stand up and fight for America, for Donald Trump.”
The FBI highlighted the comments in a June affidavit when officers arrested Kelley for his alleged role at a pro-Trump rally at the United States Capitol in 2021. Officers also raided his township home of Allendale in front of his wife and children.
Kelley acknowledged he was in Washington D.C. to protest the Jan. 6 election, but denied entering the Capitol, and federal authorities have produced no evidence to contradict that claim.
But they say video evidence – including footage reported by Bridge Michigan last year as part of an extremism investigation – will prove Kelley engaged in “disorderly and disruptive conduct” in an area restricted and damaged a tarp “covering the northwest scaffolding” outside the building, among other things.
Kelley argued he was simply expressing his First Amendment right to protest the 2020 election and accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing” the Justice Department. His main GOP competitors rushed to his defensequestioning the timing of his arrest, which came the same day a congressional panel began a series of hearings into the attack on the US Capitol.
Last week, Kelley pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor counts, each of which carries a jail term of up to a year. He is not due back in court until September, which means he is not expected to be tried on the criminal charges until well after the GOP primary’s decision.
In the meantime, Kelley is not allowed to leave the state without notifying the court and cannot possess firearms despite his attorney’s request he is allowed to continue to carry a concealed pistol for defend themselves during the election campaign.
The arrest has helped his campaign, Kelley said last week, suggesting he’s “seen support growing across the state” and “around the country.” He raised over $16,000 for a legal defense fund and garnered national attention, including a Fox News appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Kelley has polled at or near the top of several recent GOP primary field surveys. His arrest appears to have helped him with Republican voters who believe “the government is not just incompetent, it’s corrupt,” said John Sellek, a political veteran with Harbor Strategic Public Affairs in Lansing.
“There is no doubt that he has an opportunity to win” the primary, but without additional fundraising to pay for advertising, Kelley may struggle to build on his recent momentum and reach voters outside the “ MAGA GOP social media circle” who “did it,” Sellek told Bridge.
In Colorado, Democrats recently funded ads for a far-right Republican they thought was more beatable in the general election. It’s possible Michigan Democrats will follow suit and encourage their voters to walk through and vote for Kelley in the state’s open primary, which is allowed by state law, Sellek said.
“A threat to their democracy”
Kelley’s recent surge in popularity reflects a Republican party that remains in Trump’s sway, said Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan GOP executive who left the party for his loyalty to Trump and now works as a consultant. campaign for Attorney General Dana. Nessel, a Democrat seeking re-election.
“Before his arrest, (Kelley) wasn’t even in the conversation,” Timmer said. “He would have finished sixth out of five candidates. But now he’s arguably the frontrunner for Trump’s endorsement. The dynamic has completely changed.”
Critics have called the Jan. 6 riots an attempt to overthrow democracy, and Democrats argue Kelley’s participation makes him unfit to serve.