Vote protesters, counter-demonstrators face off at Detroit’s TCF Center

Detroit — Protesters gathered for a third straight day Friday at the site where absentee ballots from Tuesday’s presidential election were counted, facing counter-demonstrators outside the TCF Center in downtown Detroit.

Late Friday afternoon, police investigated a reported bomb at the convention center, as pro-Trump demonstrators made unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the vote-counting that ended with Democrat Joe Biden winning Michigan’s 16 electoral votes.

Officer Holly Lance, a Detroit Police spokeswoman, said the department received a notification about a possible bomb threat at 5:18 p.m. from Michigan State Police, who had been contacted by a woman at the building. 

The DPD bomb squad had already been at the site since the morning and routinely checking it with K-9 units but found nothing, Lance said. No further details weravailable

Lt. Michael Shaw, a state police spokesman, said he had no information about the reported threat.

Later in the evening, a small group of Trump supporters briefly gathered across the street from the other demonstrators standing in front of the Crowne Plaza hotel. Both sets of people exchanged taunts.

At one point, both groups separated after a warning from a police officer. But then words were exchanged, and the opposing sides converged near the car entrance. Several on each side yelled insults.

One man approached a pair wearing Trump gear who were leaving in a white pickup. The woman in the passenger side, who had been arguing with him and other counter-protesters, leaned out and spat at them as her companion drove off on Larned. Several protesters attempted to follow the truck and record its license plate.

Earlier in the day, Detroit towed at least one vehicle that belonged to a man who was among the demonstrators, the driver of the Trump Unity Bridge. The man was later taken into police custody.

“We watched for four years while our cities burned and they rioted,” said Audra Johnson. “But they’re bothering us for not using turn signals and they yelled at me for jay-walking.”

Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood, a spokeswoman for the department, said the vehicle was towed for violating traffic rules.

“He was blocking traffic and playing loud music yesterday, and we gave him a warning,” she said. “He was doing the same thing today so we investigated him and found he had an outstanding warrant out of (Canton Township) for disturbing the peace, so he was being arrested for that, and his vehicle was impounded.”

Detroit Police impound and tow the Trump Unity Bridge after the driver was found to have an outstanding warrant out of Livonia, officials said Friday.

State police blocked off southbound M-10, the Lodge Freeway, coming into Detroit.

Other than that, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the protest was largely uneventful.

“There have been no issues,” he told The News while standing near the demonstration. “The group is probably half the size it was a half-hour ago.”

He said a couple of counter-protesters were at the location and tried to agitate others, but police stopped them.

“Otherwise, it has been uneventful,” the chief said. “In fact, a number of people have come up to officers and thanked them for keeping them safe and the city safe.”

Trump supporter Dave Dudenhoefer, 48, of Detroit yells "Re-count" and "Stop stealing the election" into a bull horn during a protest outside TCF Center in Detroit Friday morning.

At one point, it appeared hundreds of protesters had gathered. The crowd was dotted with Trump flags and various signs. One read, “Disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God,” while others read “Trump 2020.” Some of the signs promoted false claims about widespread voting fraud and irregularities, of which there has been no evidence.

Some people were chanting “Stop the steal!” 

One participant, speaking to the crowd via megaphone, claimed that President Donald Trump had “won” the election. Biden was declared the winner of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes on Wednesday and appeared Friday afternoon to be on track to securing the 270 Electoral College votes to become president-elect.

Despite the fact that Michigan has been experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, many of the protesters were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

One protester displayed a sign calling for Michigan to “unmask” areas such as churches, parks and offices. 

At other points throughout the day, protesters said the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer, with one participant leading a crowd in prayer for “divine intervention” in the election.

Shortly before 1 p.m. a group of about a dozen counter-protesters arrived and began chanting “No more years!” and “(F—) Trump and (F—) the Proud Boys” through a megaphone. Another chant that could be heard was “Trump got COVID.” 

Police put up a construction barrier to keep those protesters apart from the other group. 

A group of counter protesters arrives at TCF Center in Detroit to combat a group of Trump supporters protesting the election count. Police erected a barrier to keep the two groups separated.

On the counter-protesters’ side of the barricade, several participants displayed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. One held up a sign saying, “Earth to Losers Go Home.”

James Bosquez, 30, of Detroit, shouted across the barricade, questioning why the protesters had come to Detroit and whether many of them lived in the city itself. “This is our city. I’m from Detroit,” he yelled, telling the protesters to go “back” to suburbs such as Ferndale and Warren.

“They can’t come to our city thinking they can bring hate to our city,” said Bosquez, who said he’s lived in Detroit his whole life, pulling out his driver’s license to show his city address. He wore a Black Lives Matter face mask and T-shirt, with the names and faces of Black people who have died in police custody on the back of the shirt.

As for the protesters’ claims about election integrity, Bosquez, who said he voted for Biden, said he would accept whatever the ultimate result is “as long as it’s a fair election.” 

“All votes matter,” one counter-demonstrator called out.

At one point, as participants on either side of the barricade yelled back and forth at each other, a woman on the protesters’ side who declined to provide her name held up a sign saying, “We love you. Come join the liberty movement.”

A protester who identified herself as Kayla Duncan, 21, of Waterford, said she attended the demonstration with her fiance because “I just believe that Biden is willing to raise our taxes. Biden is willing to take away military funding and police funding.”

She said she was concerned about how Biden’s policies would affect her and her fiance’s ability to obtain health insurance via his position in the military, something that’s important to her because they have two children.

Michigan GOP chairwoman Laura Cox also briefly addressed the protest crowd.

She falsely claimed that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson mailing of absentee ballot applications to voters in the state was “in violation of the law.” Benson’s office did mail out applications for the August and November elections to registered voters in the state. Voters in Michigan are permitted to cast ballots by mail for any reason.

Questionable claims about Michigan’s election are flooding social media and perpetuated by the president himself, but there is very little evidence at this point to back any of them up.

The demonstration came a day after protesters faced off against each other outside of the convention center. 

On Wednesday, some Republican and Democratic poll challengers were barred from entering the room where Detroit ballots were being counted because both parties had surpassed the mandated maximum of 134 challengers with more than 200 each.

Other protesters and poll watchers who have gathered outside the center since Wednesday also have, without evidence, made accusations of voting fraud and questioned how ballots were being tabulated.

Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.