The leaders of a group pushing to audit Michigan’s 2020 election attended the Capitol riot. One of them was also once an Oath Keeper.
Reached via phone Thursday morning, Jon-Paul Rutan conceded that he was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021 but insisted he “did nothing wrong.” Rutan is treasurer of Audit MI. Thursday afternoon, Audit MI President Jon Rocha told the Daily Dot he was also in the Capitol that day, as has been previously reported. Neither has been accused of any crime.
Rutan also acknowledged belonging to the Oath Keepers. He said his membership in the far-right militia lapsed in 2020.
Audit MI is working on a ballot initiative to alter the criteria that trigger audits of Michigan elections. Both men characterize its effort as nonpartisan. Rocha, the president, said, “It’s an unbiased bill and we’ve made it very much so.”
Audit MI ostensibly wants to change what triggers an election audit and how it’s conducted. The Detroit News reports that the organization also wants to force a “forensic” audit of the 2020 election in Michigan. A draft of the proposed legislation notes that it refers to the 2020 election and future elections.
Rocha said they have uncovered evidence of fraud in 2020 and merely want the state to fully examine it. He says the state has even refused to accept 10,000 affidavits from people claiming they saw something suspicious in that election.
“That is an absolute travesty and I don’t care which party you’re a part of,” Rocha said.
On Wednesday, the initiative cleared an important hurdle when the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approved the summary of its ballot initiative. They still need the petition approved before they can start gathering signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, the News reports.
The Michigan Democratic Party says the effort is anti-democratic.
“This movement that spurred the violent and deadly insurrection on our nation’s Capitol and resulted in Michigan’s vote tallies getting audited over 250 times to date, has nothing to do with uncovering fraud,” Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, told the Daily Dot in an emailed statement.
“It’s about dismantling reality and democracy alike in order to install, rather than elect, our future cycles of leaders.”
Former President Donald Trump and his supporters have insisted without evidence that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Rutan also believes there was fraud. Rutan said he doesn’t believe it was foreign or electronic interference, however. “I think it was just old-fashioned slipping in of ballots, [such as] of names of people who were dead,” he said.
He noted that this is his personal opinion, not that of Audit MI.
Rutan claims that he doesn’t know whether Democrats or Republicans were behind the fraud in his state. He conceded that the winner’s camp is the more likely suspect, however. President Joe Biden won Michigan.
“Whoever wins, the suspicion will be on them for ballot stuffing, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have ballot stuffing on the other side,” he said.
But he said he doesn’t think there was a conspiracy. “All I know is things don’t seem right.”
A Michigan Bureau of Election report that examined 250 post-election audits found no evidence of irregularities or fraud. Rutan believes that the report and audits were insufficient.
Barnes is among those who are alarmed by Rutan working on the audit effort in light of him being in the Capitol the day of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
“Look no further than Audit MI ringleader and insurrectionist John-Paul Rutan who is demanding an Arizona-style audit despite it ultimately netting fewer votes for the candidate these rabid conspiracy theorists are still trying to flip 2020 for and costing taxpayers millions,” Barnes added in the statement emailed to the Daily Dot on Thursday. “This pursuit fueled by baseless lies will never end and is dangerous to the future of our state and democracy.”
Rutan brushes off such critics.
“I went there to exercise my First Amendment right to assemble and redress a grievance with the government because I thought there was a problem [with the election],” he said.
He said that rioters who assaulted police officers should be prosecuted, but that the event was mostly peaceful. Rutan likened it to Black Lives Matter protests from the summer of 2020.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is among those who have questions about Rutan’s presence in the Capitol the day of the riot. Last summer, an agent contacted Rutan asking about it. Rutan told the Daily Dot he exerted his right to remain silent.
“The fact of the matter is I committed no crime,” he said.
Rutan said the agent who contacted him was one of the lead investigators in the investigation into what he called the “fake” plot to kidnap and kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. He posted a picture of the agent’s card on Facebook in December. That agent was fired by the FBI after being charged with aggravated assault against his wife last summer. The Detroit News reported that he pled no contest last month.
“I don’t trust the FBI,” Rutan said.
The Daily Dot found Rutan’s name, phone number, and other information in the database of Oath Keepers’ membership that leaked last fall. The database includes contact information for current and former members of the group.
Several Oath Keepers are facing criminal charges over the Capitol riot. Last week, the group’s leader and other members were charged with seditious conspiracy.
Rutan said he first joined the Oath Keepers in 2016. He said he let his membership lapse at some point, then rejoined in 2019 before letting his membership lapse again the following year.
He said that he didn’t attend any meetings or hold a leadership position in the far-right militia.
Rocha, president of Audit MI, told the Daily Dot that he wasn’t aware of Rutan’s membership in the Oath Keepers, but said he doesn’t have an issue with it. He likened belonging to the far-right militia to being a member of Black Lives Matter or an antifascist group, noting that some members of both have also been arrested.
Oath Keepers’ membership largely comprises current and former military, law enforcement, and first responders. Rutan, a former prison guard, has unsuccessfully run for sheriff three times, most recently in 2020.
He said he joined the Oath Keepers because he agrees with its ideology.
“An oath means something,” he said, adding, “[There] should be some sort of punishment for not keeping that oath.”