State GOP chair calls Whitmer, Nessel, Benson ‘witches’ to be ‘burn[ed] at the stake,’ jokes about Meijer, Upton being assassinated

Weiser says he won’t resign from U of M, MIGOP

By: - March 26, 2021 2:58 pm

“Operation Haircut,” another right-wing protest at the Capitol, May 20, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Updated, 6:08 a.m., 3/27/21 with Weiser’s comments

Michigan GOP Chair and University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser told attendees of a local Republican club on Thursday that the state’s top three female Democratic leaders are “witches” that Republicans need to defeat in 2022 by “burning at the stake,” and made a casual reference to assassinating two sitting Republican members of Congress.

Ron Weiser | University of Michigan photo

“I made the decision to continue to serve [as chair] to make sure we have an opportunity to take out those three witches” in 2022, Weiser said during a North Oakland Republican Club meeting, referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

“… 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 — for the burning at the stake,” said Weiser, a former U.S. ambassador and longtime GOP fundraiser.

Last fall, a group of right-wing, anti-government extremists were foiled in their plan to allegedly kidnap and publicly execute Whitmer, take public officials hostage in the state Capitol and burn the Capitol down. Leading up to that point were months of misogynistic, violent rhetoric directed toward Whitmer and other top Democratic officials from Republicans protesting COVID-19 health restrictions.

The discussion at Thursday’s Republican club meeting turned to U.S. Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph), who both broke with their party to vote for the impeachment of former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Members of the audience asked what should be done about the congressmen, with one person calling them “witches in our own party.”

“Ma’am, other than assassination, I have no other way … other than voting [them] out,” Weiser said after being prompted by a female audience member.

“Don’t say that too loudly,” another woman said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel (left), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (center) and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (right) | Andrew Roth and Casey Hull photos

On Friday evening, Weiser posted several tweets in which he claimed his comments were taken out of context, even though they were caught on video and he slammed the media and Whitmer again, this time over COVID-19. He did not comment on calling Benson, Whitmer and Nessel “witches,” but said he spoke to Upton and Meijer.

“While I should have chosen my words more carefully, anyone who knows me understands I would never advocate for violence,” Weiser said.

He concluded by declaring he would not resign from U of M or the Michigan GOP.

Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said in an email that “given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump Administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous. We saw this firsthand when Republican legislators met with the very militias that tried to kidnap and kill the governor, and when Republican party leaders helped organize the January 6th protest at the U.S. Capitol building.

“As the governor has said repeatedly, 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, because we need to stay focused on what really matters, and that’s working together to get things done for Michigan’s working families,” Leddy said.

Benson spokesperson Tracy Wimmer also soundly denounced Weiser’s comments in an emailed statement.

“It is horrifically reckless and unconscionable that anyone in a position of leadership or authority — knowing full well that violent rhetoric can lead to violent acts — would make such incendiary comments targeting public officials in our state, especially after the FBI thwarted a plot to kidnap the governor last year and insurrectionists attempted to stage a national coup less than three months ago,” Wimmer said. 

She called it “a sad and desperate continuation of what we’ve come to expect from the leader of a party that sent busloads of people to that insurrection,” apparently referring to Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock.

“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. Any leader who does not resoundingly denounce this kind of behavior and attitude is complicit in their silence,” Wimmer said.

Nessel tweeted about Weiser’s comments, which spokesperson Courtney Covington referred to instead of a statement.

Meijer has spoken before about how he has endured an uptick of threats against his life since voting for impeachment. Spokesperson Annie Topp declined to comment on Weiser’s remarks. A request for comment from Upton’s office was not immediately returned. 

Lonnie Scott, the executive director of Progress Michigan, called Weiser’s words “misogynistic,” “incredibly disrespectful” and “dangerous” before calling on him to resign from the University of Michigan Board of Regents.

In a tweet Friday, Maddock said everyone criticizing Weiser’s comments are “snowflakes” and denied that calling women witches is misogynistic.

In another tweet about the incident, Maddock, who is married to state Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford), made an apparent reference to Benson, Whitmer and Nessel as the “evil trio.”

Correction: This story incorrectly stated Meijer’s and Upton’s impeachment vote.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.