MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The Republican candidate for governor in Wisconsin backed by Donald Trump is calling on people to pick up “forks and torches” in response to a story detailing his giving to anti-abortion groups, churches and others – rhetoric that Democrats say it amounts to threatening violence.
Tim Michels, who co-owns the state’s largest construction company, faces Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the battleground. If Michels wins, he will be able to enact a number of GOP priorities passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature leading up to the 2024 presidential election. Evers has vetoed more bills than any governor in modern history. state and is campaigning on his ability to act as a check on Republicans.
Michels, a multi-millionaire, reacted strongly this week to a story published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel detailing charitable giving from him and his wife’s foundation, some of which went to anti-abortion groups and churches that have taken anti-gay positions.
Since the story was published, Michels has gone after not only Evers and the Democrats, but the Journal Sentinel and, more broadly, all journalists.
“I think people should just, just be ready to take to the streets with pitchforks and torches with how low the liberal media has gone,” Michels said Thursday on a conservative radio show. “People have to decide, ‘Am I going to put up with this? Am I going to put up with this, taking someone who gives money to churches or cancer research and using it as a hit piece in the media?’ I’m terrified. It’s disgusting.”
That’s a lot more than went on a campaign website he posted Thursday, when he encouraged people to “Get involved. Repel. Speak. Volunteer. I offer. Vote.”
Evers’ spokesman Sam Rocker tweeted Friday that Michaels had gone too far.
“Instead of explaining why he funds groups working to ban access to abortion and contraception, Tim Michels encourages violence,” Roecker wrote. “He’s too radical for Wisconsin.”
Hannah Menchhff, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, accused Michels of threatening violence in an “extreme effort to support Donald Trump and the MAGA base.”
Michels’ campaign spokeswoman Anna Kelly on Friday played down his comments.
“Only political hacks and media cronies would freak out that Tim is using a figure of speech to highlight the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s ludicrous characterization of his donations to churches, nuns and charities as ‘radical,'” he said.
Michels, who used the Journal Sentinel article in fundraising appeals, posted a lengthy response to the article on his campaign website Thursday. He accused Evers and the “corrupt media” of turning his charitable giving and faith “into something malicious.”
“I will never, ever apologize for giving to charity or for being a Christian,” Michels wrote. “However, the Journal Sentinel should be ashamed of their anti-religious bigotry.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel executive editor George Stanley defended the article, noting that the paper published an article the same day about security costs for the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate 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 accuracy so that citizens can make up their own minds and remain in charge of their government.”
The Timothy and Barbara Michels Family Foundation donated $1.66 million in 2020 alone, the Journal Sentinel reported. Most of it, $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 at age 11.
The Journal Sentinel published a story in March about that donation and the surgery Michels’ daughter had. That was a month before Michels announced his candidacy for governor.
Michels also gave $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. He also wants to ban IVF.
Michels’ foundation also donated $10,000 to Christ Fellowship in Miami. The Journal Sentinel story noted 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. Its 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 spokeswoman for Michels’ campaign, did not immediately respond to questions about whether Michels endorsed those positions.
Michels defended his offer 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, love, support and options other than abortion .
“I apologize for none of this,” Michels wrote.
This story has been updated to correct that George Stanley is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s executive editor, not its administrator.