The head of the Michigan GOP came under fire Friday for calling three female Democratic leaders “witches” to be burned “at the stake” and for mentioning “assassination” as an option for how to oust two Republican congressmen who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump.
State GOP Chairman Ron Weiser’s rhetoric, which was captured on video this week, was rebuked by Michigan Democrats as “sexist” and “dangerous” and led members of the University of Michigan Board of Regents to call for his resignation from the governing board. Included in Weiser’s “three witches” comment was Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the target of a foiled kidnapping plot last year amid virulent criticism from her political opponents.
Weiser tweeted Friday evening that he “should have chosen [his] words more carefully” when speaking Thursday to members of his party, but said his statements were taken out of context and that “anyone who knows me understands I would never advocate for violence.” The chairman, who said he would not resign from the Board of Regents, noted he had spoken with the two Republican representatives he indirectly mentioned. He did not directly address criticism of the “witches” phrasing.
On Saturday he issued a more regretful statement, the Detroit Free Press reported.”In an increasingly vitriolic political environment, we should all do better to treat each other with respect, myself included. I fell short of that the other night,” Weiser said, according to the Free Press. “I apologize to those I offended for the flippant analogy about three women who are elected officials and for the offhand comments about two other leaders.”
Weiser’s rhetoric toward Democrats and Republicans opposing the former president comes at a time when elected officials villainized by Trump and other GOP leaders have faced armed protests, harassment and death threats.
In a filmed speech at the North Oakland Republican Club on Thursday, which was first reported by the Detroit News, Weiser had repeatedly emphasized his desire to oust three women whose terms are up in 2022: Whitmer, Michigan Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
“Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that we have good candidates to run against them, that they are ready for the burning at the stake,” he said.
Later, a woman in the audience asked Weiser how people could remove politicians like Reps. Fred Upton and Peter Meijer. The Michigan congressmen were two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump and drew the ire of the former president’s supporters.
“How do we get to the point where we can get these Uptons and Meijers out of there?” someone asked him.
“We have a deliberate democracy where officials are elected by the people,” Weiser responded.
But some in crowd were not pleased. They started to talk over one another. “Why?” someone said.
“We donate, as donators, we’re giving to the GOP, and that money is then being used to help candidates like Meijer and Upton,” a woman said. When Weiser said that he was focused on “the three witches,” among other priorities, she went on: “We can’t win with them when we don’t have our own leadership that has our backs.”
There was clapping and enthusiastic agreement. Then, Weiser said that voting was the only solution other than a much darker option.
“Ma’am, other than assassination, I have no way of voting out, OK,” Weiser said.
Laughter broke out. “Wow,” a man said, according to the video.
“You people have to go out there and support their opponents,” Weiser said.
The Michigan GOP did not respond to a request for comment Friday evening, nor did representatives for Upton and Meijer. But the state Republican Party’s co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, tweeted in Weiser’s defense, calling the matter a “distraction from the governor’s failed response to the pandemic.”
“Calling someone a witch is NOT misogynist,” he wrote.
The state’s Democratic leaders, however, thought otherwise.Whitmer spokesman Robert Leddy called Weiser’s choice of words “destructive and downright dangerous” given a “dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials” during Trump’s tenure. Lavora Barnes, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, also denounced the comments in a statement and said that Republicans “have used our state as a breeding ground for national extremism.”
Nessel, one of the targets of Weiser’s rhetoric, at first jokingly embraced her label as a “witch,” tweeting out a picture of her, Whitmer and Benson.
“Sign me up for that coven,” Nessel responded.
Later on Friday, though, the state attorney general grew more serious in another tweet.
“As a gay, Jewish woman, I have long since learned to respond to hateful rhetoric with humor. But as a prosecutor, I know these remarks are certain to inspire further death threats which will eventually be acted upon.”
Democratic colleagues of Weiser’s on the University of Michigan Board of Regents also criticized his remarks. The board chair, Denise Ilitch, said in a statement to The Washington Post that the group has long operated “with the highest degree of respect, decorum and attention to the mission of the university.”
“That is why it is so disturbing to learn of the repugnant language used by a member of our board when addressing a political group,” she said. “His use of violent imagery crosses a line that is inconsistent with what should be our shared values. There should be no place for physical threats by elected or political leaders on our board or in our state.”
This week’s comments are on the heels of another Michigan GOP leader caught on camera making remarks to members of the party that sparked blowback and calls for resignation. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told leaders of the Hillsdale County Republican Party last month that the storming of the U.S. Capitol was “all staged” and not perpetrated by Trump supporters,
“Republicans need to decide for themselves if they are going to hold their leaders accountable for spreading lies,” Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D) said at the time.
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The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.