Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser used the term “assassination” in response to a question about ousting fellow GOP lawmakers after calling the three highest ranking female elected officials in the state “witches” during an event Thursday, according to video posted to Facebook.
Weiser made the comments during a meeting of the North Oakland Republican Club.
“Our job is now 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,” Weiser said to laughter from the crowd.
The statements came months after the FBI and state authorities thwarted an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. At least some of those accused of playing a role in the plot are from Lake Orion and Clarkston, located in northern Oakland County.
“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,” said Whitmer press secretary Bobby Leddy.
“As the governor has said repeatedly, it’s time for people of good will 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.”
More:Michigan Republicans choose U-M Regent Ron Weiser as party chair after bitter fight
U.S. Reps. Peter Meijer and Fred Upton, both West Michigan Republicans, also faced a barrage of death threats after they voted in support of impeaching former President Donald Trump.
Meijer declined to comment. Upton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The story was first reported by the Detroit News.
After discussing party unity and the need for inclusivity, Weiser was asked several times about whether the party should still support Upton and Meijer.
“We’re focused on the three witches,” Weiser said, in response to one of the questions.
He was referring to Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. All three Democrats are up for election in 2022.
Nessel joked about the comment in a tweet Friday.
“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,” Nessel said, including a graphic with Whitmer, Benson and herself wearing witches hats.
Benson tweeted an image from the Wizard of Oz film showing Dorothy and Glinda the Good Witch, with the hashtag #newprofilepic.
A Benson spokeswoman called the comments “horrifically reckless and unconscionable.”
“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 spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer.
“Any leader who does not resoundingly denounce this kind of behavior and attitude is complicit in their silence. If we’re ever going to be able to move forward and begin solving the problems facing the people of this state in a bipartisan manner, comments like this need to stop.”
More:Two charged with making threats to Michigan public officials, including Debbie Stabenow
In response to Weiser’s statement, a member of the audience at the event said the GOP needs to worry about “the witches in our own party.”
“Other than assassination, I have no other way other than voting them out, ok?” Weiser states, as people laugh on the video.
“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.”
In a statement tweeted out late Friday, Weiser said he could have chosen his words more carefully before attacking the governor, the media and “leftists.”
Ted Goodman, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party, did not directly answer questions about the words used by Weiser during the event.
“If you listen in context, he was making it very clear that it is up to the voters to determine the nominees of the Republican Party, and to suggest anything else is dishonest and irresponsible,” Goodman said.
He also noted that Weiser has personally donated to each Republican member of Congress in Michigan.
Weiser was recently elected the leader of the Michigan Republican Party, after having served in the role before. He defeated Laura Cox, the former party chair. After Cox said she would not seek the position again, she mounted a last-minute campaign to thwart Weiser and co-chair Meshawn Maddock from winning.
In a tweet, Maddock defended Weiser and attacked the media.
“Too bad all the snowflakes in the mainstream media see misogyny where it doesn’t exist. Calling someone a witch is NOT misogynist,” Maddock tweeted.
“This is more of the same from the left — instantly label everything as ‘misogyny’ or ‘racist.’ This hurts real efforts to become a more just society.”
Weiser is also a member of the University of Michigan Board of Regents. Several fellow regents called on him to resign, but Weiser said on Twitter that he would not.
A spokesman for University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel declined to comment.
Reporters Todd Spangler, Clara Hendrickson and Paul Egan contributed to this story.
Follow Dave Boucher on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.