MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott started his regular Friday news conference by urging people to find ways to heal the deep divisions in the United States.
“We are reaching a boiling point in this country,” he said. “It’s up to all of us to lower the temperature.”
Scott’s statement followed the FBI announcement on Thursday that federal, state and local law enforcement foiled a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a scheme that involved months of planning and even rehearsals to snatch her from her vacation home before the Nov. 3 elections.
Six men were charged in federal court with conspiring to kidnap the governor in reaction to what they viewed as her “uncontrolled power,” according to a federal complaint. Separately, seven others linked to a paramilitary group called the Wolverine Watchmen were charged in state court for allegedly seeking to storm the Michigan Capitol and seek a “civil war,” including four who allegedly helped to surveil Whitmer’s house.
The two groups trained together and planned “various acts of violence,” according to the state police.
“This news, which appears driven by intense and deep polarization is shocking and disturbing,” said Scott. “This type of activity and violence of any kind should be universally condemned. Elected officials across the country, but especially at the top, must realize that words matter.”
Violent groups exist in the United States, said Scott.
“We must stop the rhetoric that incites this path to violence. We all must do better because our kids are watching us and learning from us. ... We should be taking action through the ballot boxes and not through violence.”
Scott said he has been disappointed in the level of inflammatory rhetoric around the country “and the lack of role models we have.”
“This is a time for all of us to take heed and try to tamp down this rhetoric and the polarization we are seeing throughout the country,” he said.
In Vermont, Scott said elected and appointed officials receive “a variety of different correspondence with people who aren’t happy.”
Michael Schirling, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Safety, said that threats are made on a regular basis, but the state hasn’t seen an increase over the past few months due in response to pandemic safety measures.
Scott noted he has confidence in state law enforcement in keeping track of threats to elected and appointed officials.
“They work diligently .. trying to maintain some sort of surveillance ... on what’s happening on social media,” he said. “That’s an ongoing effort; a daily effort.”
He urged Vermonters to remain vigilant and report any perceived threats to local and state law enforcement.
On the pandemic front, Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said an outbreak of COVID-19 at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham appears to be well under control with 28 total cases.
“At this time, no one is hospitalized,” he said, adding that some of the seasonal workers at the orchard have been coming to the state “for decades.” Levine said there are three groups of workers at Champlain Orchards who are being isolated, and are housed and working together.
He said the orchard will probably be reopened by Sunday.
Scott said Vermont is well along on its way to opening up schools for more in-person education.
“I want to thank school boards, superintendents, principals, teachers, school staff, bus drivers and maintenance staff for making reopening go smoothly,” he said. “And I thank kids and parents for your patience and understanding as state and local leaders worked together to get this right.”
Daniel French, the secretary of the Department of Education, said the state’s sports task force is now working on guidelines for school winter sports.
Because most of those sports occur indoors, he said, establishing guidelines “is more complex and perhaps more problematic than fall sports.”
Each sport, whether it’s wrestling, indoor field and track, basketball or hockey, will require their own guidelines, which he expects will be released by the end of the month.
Scott also noted that further COVID financial relief from the federal government, whether before or after the election, is necessary to guarantee that businesses in Vermont’s hospitality sector can survive through the winter.