MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The Republican candidate for governor of Wisconsin, backed by Donald Trump, is calling on people to take “pitchforks and torches” in reaction to a story that details his donations to anti-abortion groups, churches and others — rhetoric that Democrats say amounts to threatening violence.
Tim Michels, co-owner of the state’s largest construction company, takes on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the battleground state. If Michels wins, he will be able to enact a host of GOP priorities passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Evers has vetoed more bills than any what a governor in the state’s modern history and campaigned on his ability to control Republicans.
Michels, a multi-millionaire, reacted strongly this week to an article published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailing charitable donations from him and his wife’s foundation, some of which went to anti-abortion groups and churches that have adopted anti-gay positions.
Since the story was published, Michels has attacked not only Evers and the Democrats, but also the Journal Sentinel and, more broadly, all journalists.
“I believe people should just, just be ready to take to the streets with pitchforks and torches with how enamored the liberal media has become,” Michels said Thursday on a conservative radio show.
“People have to decide, ‘Am I going to put up with this? Am I going to tolerate this, take someone who gives money to churches or cancer research and use it as a hit in the media? I am appalled. It’s disgusting.”
That’s further than he went in a campaign website published Thursday when he encouraged people to “Get Involved.” Repel. Speak. Volunteer. Make a donation. Vote.”
Evers spokesman Sam Roecker tweeted Friday that Michels had gone too far.
“Instead of explaining why he funds groups that work to ban access to abortion and contraception, Tim Michels encourages violence,” Roecker wrote. “He’s too radical for Wisconsin.”
Hannah Menchoff, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, accused Michels of threatening to use violence in an “extreme attempt to flatter Donald Trump and the MAGA base.”
Michels’ campaign spokeswoman Anna Kelly played down her comments on Friday.
“Only political hacks and media accomplices would panic that Tim would use a figure of speech to point out the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s ridiculous characterization of his donations to churches, nuns and charitable causes as ‘radicals,'” she said.
Michels, who used the Journal Sentinel article in fundraising pleas, posted a lengthy response to the article on his campaign website Thursday. He accused Evers and the “corrupt media” of turning his charitable donations and faith “into something malicious”.
“I will never apologize for giving to charitable causes or for being a Christian,” Michels wrote. “However, the Journal Sentinel should be ashamed of its anti-religious bigotry.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editor George Stanley defended the article, noting that the newspaper published an article the same day about the security costs of the Democratic candidate for the United States Senate that his Republican opponent urged people to read.
“Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters are independent of all political parties and special interest groups,” Stanley said. “We are committed to being accurate so that citizens can make up their own minds and stay in charge of their government.”
The Timothy and Barbara Michels Family Foundation donated $1.66 million in 2020 alone, the Journal Sentinel reported. The bulk, $1 million, went to Cornell University in New York. where a faculty member pioneered a rare surgery that saved the life of Michels’ daughter, who had a brain tumor when she was 11.
The Sentinel Journal published an article in March about this donation and the surgery Michels’ daughter underwent. It was a month before Michels announced his candidacy for governor.
Michels also donated $175,000 to Wisconsin Right to Life, the Pro Life Wisconsin Education Task Force and Avail NYC, a crisis pregnancy center in New York City.
Pro Life Wisconsin wants to ban abortion and ban the most common forms of contraception and birth control. She also wants to ban in vitro fertilization.
The Michels Foundation also donated $10,000 to Christ Fellowship in Miami. The Journal Sentinel article notes that the church’s pastor, Omar Giritli, in June called arguments for an exception to abortion in cases of rape or incest “misleading reasoning.”
The couple also donated $50,000 to Spring Creek Church in Pewaukee. Her pastor, Chip Bernhard, has suggested that people who have abortions need forgiveness, and allowing transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice is “awful”.
Kelly, a spokesperson for Michels’ campaign, did not immediately respond to questions about whether Michels supported those positions.
Michels defended her donations to pregnancy resource centers, Wisconsin Right to Life and Pro Life Wisconsin, saying, “We believe that women who may feel overwhelmed by an unplanned pregnancy need and deserve compassion, support and support. love, support and options other than abortion.
“I don’t apologize for any of this,” Michels wrote.