"Given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump Administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous," the governor's spokesman said

By Sean Neumann
March 30, 2021 12:43 PM
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Ron Weiser
Ron Weiser
| Credit: David Guralnick/Detroit News via AP

The chairman of Michigan's Republican Party apologized over the weekend after he called the state's top three women in government "witches" and raised the specter of political violence against conservatives who turned on Donald Trump.

"In an increasingly vitriolic political environment, we should all do better to treat each other with respect, myself included," Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement. "I fell short of that the other night."

Weiser, a 75-year-old former U.S. ambassador who is also on the Board of Regents at the University of Michigan, made the remarks on Thursday during a political event for the North Oakland Republic Club.

He said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the state's Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, and state Attorney General Dana Nessel were "witches" and that local Republican candidates who oppose them in the future should make sure "they are ready for the burning at the stake."

"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.

Elsewhere during the event, Weiser appeared to reference violence against Reps. Peter Meijer and Fred Upton — two Republicans from Michigan who voted to impeach former President Trump after the U.S. Capitol riot.

"Other than assassination, I have no other way other than voting them out, okay?" Weiser told the crowd, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Ron Weiser
Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

A spokesperson for Whitmer told PEOPLE in a statement Tuesday that Weiser has not reached out to apologize to the governor, whom federal authorities said was the subject of a kidnapping plot last year after Trump, 74, repeatedly criticized her.

Whitmer, 49, opened up to PEOPLE last year about facing an increasing amount of threats in light of Trump's disdain.

Her spokesman, Bobby Leddy, called Weiser's rhetoric "hateful and violent" and said the chairman did not initially apologize for the remarks.

"Given the dramatic increase in death threats against Michigan elected officials during the Trump Administration, this type of rhetoric is destructive and downright dangerous," Leddy said.

Meijer did not wish to comment when reached by PEOPLE, while Upton urged critics to move on during a radio interview Tuesday with local station WHTC.

"We need to look to the future, not to the past. But we also know that words matter," Upton, 67, said.

Weiser said in his apology that "I have never advocated for violence and never will."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Detroit in 2018

Despite his contrition, some fellow regent board members at the University of Michigan called on Weiser to resign.

"This isn't and shouldn't be a partisan issue," board member Mark Bernstein said, according to The Ann Arbor News. "It's about rejecting violent, reckless rhetoric."

A spokesperson for Weiser and the state GOP did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment. The chairman has resisted calls for him to step down from his posts in politics and at the university and vowed "to be part of a respectful political dialogue going forward."

In recent days, Whitmer, Benson and Nessel have shared images of witches on social media, mocking Weiser's dismissive comments.

The three officials also all underlined what they called the seriousness side of comments like the ones Weiser made.

Benson's spokesperson told the Free Press that "the people of Michigan deserve more than a half apology when the leader of one of our two major political parties suggests violence over democracy."

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel condemned Weiser's comments as well.

"It is never appropriate to raise the specter of assassination or perpetuate misogynistic stereotypes against anyone in any setting," Schlissel said. "Elected officials must adhere to a higher standard regardless of the context of their remarks."