LANSING, Mich. — The leader of Michigan’s Republican Party referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and two other top Democratic elected women as “witches” that the GOP wants to “soften up” for a “burning at the stake” in the 2022 election.
He also joked about assassination when he was asked how to remove two GOP congressmen, Reps. Fred Upton and Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump.
Ron Weiser’s statements Thursday during a local Republican meeting, which are on video, were first reported Friday by The Detroit News.
Weiser, who also is an elected member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents, said multiple times that the party is focused on defeating “three witches” — a misogynistic reference to Whitmer, state Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who are up for reelection in 2022.
“Our job now is to soften up those three witches and make sure that when we have good candidates to run against them that they are ready for the burning at the stake,” he said. “Maybe the press heard that, too.”
Whitmer noted that she had been the target of an alleged kidnaping plot by anti-government extremists last year over the state's pandemic lockdown.
“Given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump Administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous,” Whitmer said. “It’s time for people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle to bring down the heat and reject this kind of divisive rhetoric.”
Some in the crowd appeared to demand that the party cut off support for Upton and Meijer, who were among 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. Someone asked Weiser about “witches in our own party.”
He said: “Ma’am, other than assassination, I have no other way other than voting out. OK? You people have to go out there and support their opponents. You have to do what you need to get out the vote in those areas. That’s how you beat people.”
On Friday, Weiser tweeted that his comments were “clearly being taken out of context,” and added that “anyone who knows me understands I would never advocate for violence.”
Weiser’s spokesman, Ted Goodman, said Weiser made it clear that it is up to voters to determine GOP nominees through the primary process. Weiser, a major Republican donor, personally gave money to both Upton, a longtime congressman, and Meijer — now a freshman representative — in 2020.
Goodman did not address Weiser’s “witches” comment.
The Michigan Democratic Party and two Democratic members of the university board said Weiser, a major donor to the school, should resign. The university declined to comment.
“Secretary Benson and her colleagues have experienced firsthand how this rhetoric is later used as justification for very real threats made against government officials, election administrators and democracy itself,” said Benson’s spokeswoman, Tracy Wimmer. “Any leader who does not resoundingly denounce this kind of behavior and attitude is complicit in their silence.”
GOP co-chair Meshawn Maddock tweeted that calling someone a witch is not misogynist, accusing the media of seeing misogyny “where it doesn’t exist.”
Nessel seemed to take the witches comment in stride, tweeting an altered photo depicting her, Whitmer and Benson wearing witch hats. She wrote: “Witches who magically decrease Covid spread, increase voter turnout and hold sexual predators accountable without any help from the legislature? Sign me up for that coven. Do better, Michigan GOP.”