International police association with deep Wisconsin ties spreads claim that BLM activists are ‘terrorists’

By: and - December 14, 2020 7:00 am
ILEETA Training Document

The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association emailed the document “Understanding Antifa and Urban Guerrila Warfare,” to thousands of law enforcement agencies. The document compares Black Lives Matter activists to terrorists. (Photos by Henry Redman and Isiah Holmes | Wisconsin Examiner, Getty Images / Graphic by Henry Redman)

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An international law enforcement association sent a research document to thousands of members this fall that called Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” who work with gangs and drug cartels to engage in “urban guerrilla” warfare. 

That organization, the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), has deep ties to Wisconsin law enforcement — including Kenosha-area departments heavily involved in the response to protests for racial justice in that city this summer

The 176-page document “Understanding Antifa and Urban Guerrilla Warfare,” was emailed to the ILEETA’s members in October, according to the Associated Press, which first reported on the document. 

“When reading Urban Guerrilla or Terrorist, instead think of Antifa or BLM,” states the document, which has since been deleted from the ILEETA website but remains cached on an internet archive. “Urban paramilitary groups often work with otherwise apolitical criminal elements in the drug arena. Criminal gangs are frequently the silent partners of urban revolutionaries…” 

The document is riddled with false, misleading and inflammatory claims about the protest movement that swept across the country — and Wisconsin — this spring in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. Often, the document makes direct comparisons between Black Lives Matter, so-called Antifa, and various armed resistance movements throughout history. From the Palestinian resistance to armed resistance in Nothern Ireland, South America, Germany and beyond, no stone in the theatre of “urban guerrilla warfare” was left unturned.

It claims that Black Lives Matter protesters set up snipers in American cities this summer and states that the FBI is “clueless” about the threat of BLM and Antifa because it is focused on right-wing extremism — a movement that has actually resulted in domestic terrorism, including an attempted plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan this summer. The FBI itself also created an intelligence assessment of so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” shortly after the Trump Administration assumed power. 

ILEETA Executive Director Harvey Hedden, in an interview with the AP, said sending the document without fact-checking it was a way for his organization to avoid censorship. 

“There will always be differences of opinion on training issues but so long as the disagreements remain professional and not personal we do not censor these ideas,” he said. “I am willing to allow the trainer to evaluate the information themselves.”

He added, “Just like law enforcement, I am afraid BLM has earned some of these criticisms and others might be overgeneralizations.”

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Hedden, who spent his career working for Wisconsin law enforcement agencies, told the Wisconsin Examiner that the document was downloaded by less than 3% of the organization’s members. 

Hedden has been at ILEETA since 2009 after retiring as a Lieutenant from the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office in 2008, according to his LinkedIn page. He also served as the chief of police in Paddock Lake, a Kenosha County village, and graduated from UW-Madison. 

He was the project director for the Southeast Area Drug Operations Group (SEADOG), a task force consisting of law enforcement agencies from Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, Dodge and Jefferson counties.

The ILEETA advisory board includes several other current and retired Wisconsin law enforcement officers. Many of these board members play a role in shaping the views and conduct of Wisconsin’s next generation of law enforcement officers. 

David McRoberts, who has been on the organization’s board for 17 years, worked as an officer for the Twin Lakes Police Department, another Kenosha County village. McRoberts also worked as a sergeant, lieutenant and captain for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. In his 24 years as a deputy, he worked as patrol operations supervisor, patrol operations shift commander, jail administrator, detentions division commander, and unit commander of the tactical response (SWAT) team. 

He is also a Wisconsin State Certified Law Enforcement Instructor for the Department of Justice Division of Training and Standards.

Raymond Merlin spent 18 years working for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department as a patrol deputy and a member of the SWAT team. Merlin sat on the Principles of Subject Control (POSC) Advisory committee for the State of Wisconsin Training and Standards Bureau (WTSB) and is currently on the Tactical Advisory Committee for the WTSB. He is also an adjunct professor for Blackhawk Technical College. 

Eric Nowicki has been an officer with the Muskego Police Department for 15 years and sits on the ILEETA board. Nowicki has also previously taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College. 

Early in his career, Nowicki was the subject of a lawsuit after he was involved in a botched drug raid that targeted the wrong house — ultimately ending with a woman wrongfully handcuffed and pushed into her snowy driveway, according to Waukesha Freeman articles from the time. 

Nowicki also, according to his ILEETA bio, “is the survivor of an encounter where the subject he and his partner confronted was fatally shot, which was ruled a justified shooting.” In other words, he killed someone while on the job. 

Nowicki now serves as a school resource officer. 

The research document is not the only questionable material published recently by ILEETA. The organization’s most recent journal includes several articles containing more false and misleading claims. 

In one article, “The Status of Force” the author contends that crime has increased nationwide because of the racial justice protests, which has caused officers not to want to do their jobs. 

“Has the ‘Minneapolis Effect’ and resultant increases in violent crime now surpassed the ‘Ferguson Effect?’ the author, Kevin Davis, writes. “It certainly appears so with even New York City, which had heretofore been experiencing 20-year lows in violent crime having already exceeded their shootings by 166%, and their murders by 50% compared to August 2019. Portland has now seen over 100 days of continual rioting (and that is not ‘peaceful protesting’ as the media would have you believe).” 

It is true that cities across the country have seen an increase in crime and homicides this year — Milwaukee has had 182 homicides in 2020, an increase of 89 from 2019. But it’s far too soon to determine a direct cause for this spike. Theories for the increase other than the protests are the poor economy and stress over pandemic-related restrictions.

Another journal article, “Avoiding Ambush: Survival and Success on the Street,” prepares law enforcement officers for the minuscule chance that they are ambushed. The article states that even after the cops shoot someone multiple times they should remain on guard. 

“THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER—UNTIL YOU CONFIRM IT IS,” the article states. “Is the offender truly out of the fight? Simply being on the ground is not proof. Dangerous and motivated murderers have been shot repeatedly and still fought on. It only has to be another beat of the heart, the flow of blood to the brain, enough energy for one more shot fired at you.” 

This mentality, in Wisconsin, has contributed to high-profile police shootings and the anguish and controversy that followed, as when Wauwatosa Police officer Joseph Mensah shot and killed Jay Anderson and responding officers disturbed the scene because they thought Anderson might be faking his death — despite his obvious bullet wounds. 

The Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) said it does regularly receive material from the ILEETA but wasn’t able to clearly determine whether it had received the research document.

“I cannot definitively verify this,” said WPD spokesperson Sgt. Abby Pavlik. “I believe we get material from ILEETA, but I don’t know who all subscribes to their mailing lists and/or if they read that particular document.” 

Over the past several months, however, the department has deployed a variety of tactics against BLM protesters that mirror the suggestions of the research document, while leadership at the police union bashes BLM allies in local government

A third journal article, “Correcting the Message of Systemic Police Racism,” argues that activist groups and the media are making up the idea that policing is systematically flawed. The author, Jesse Gonzales, writes that Black people are more likely to be killed by police because Black people are more violent and commit more crimes than other groups. 

“The message that is being sent by the media and radical groups of systemic police bias is wrong,” the article states. “In 2018, one of the most recent years that has published data on this subject, African Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders and committed approximately 60% of robberies, although they made up 13% of the population. Police actions and shootings are not the reason that African Americans are killed at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined, violence in their communities is.”

Gonzales’ argument oversimplifies an incredibly complex subject while ignoring the difference between arrests and convictions, as well as the fact that most homicides are committed against a person of the same race and the effect of poverty on the amount of crime in a community. Numerous studies have found racial disparities in American policing and the criminal justice system — including in how frequently people of color are arrested, charged with crimes, and killed by police. 

Hedden, the organization’s executive director, defended the decision to send the research document and publish the articles as the promotion of the free expression of ideas, and that its content should be seen as opinion, not training directives. 

“Thank you for the opportunity to clear up these misunderstandings,” Hedden says. “ILEETA does not make training policy statements or recommendations. Based on the number of threats our office has received regarding this issue it is apparent this is not understood.”

“Through ILEETA, members are able to share their perspectives on many issues,” he continues. “Like other professions, it is through the freedom of expression of such ideas and concepts and the debate that follows that we hope to continue to improve training. Again, ILEETA does not make policy statements or recommendations nor do we survey opinions from our members … We are a fraternal organization of criminal justice trainers and educators with a wide variety of opinions on a variety of subjects but with a common goal to make criminal justice more effective and communities safer for everyone.” 

But other law enforcement officials in Wisconsin disagree with Hedden that spreading controversial ideas is the best way to improve policing. Jim Palmer, president of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, says these views do nothing to contribute to the national dialogue around reform. 

“I think it’s more imperative than ever for law enforcement to contribute to the public discourse that surrounds policing in a way that is credible and noninflammatory,” Palmer says. “The same ought to apply to the dialogue within the law enforcement community as well. On both of those fronts, the recent ILEETA research paper and monthly newsletter missed the mark in disturbing fashion. In relying on misinformation, incendiary rhetoric, and in painting law enforcement’s critics with a broad brush, ILEETA’s recent publications do nothing to elevate the national conversation related to 21st century policing.” 

Despite the organization’s ties to Wisconsin law enforcement, Palmer says he’s unfamiliar with ILEETA and that none of these views are taught to law enforcement trainees in Wisconsin. 

“ILEETA’s recent publication about Antifa and urban warfare and its newsletter about systemic racism do not reflect the guidance that officers receive in this state,” Palmer says. 

Hedden did not answer questions about his group’s ties to Wisconsin, the number of Wisconsin law enforcement agencies and officers paying dues to the organization or how these views may have shaped the response to protests in Kenosha this summer. 

The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department (KCSD) denied any connection to ILEETA, or the urban guerrilla warfare document despite the number of former deputies who serve on the organization’s advisory board. 

“The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department is not affiliated with ILEETA as a Department,” Captain Justin Miller told Wisconsin Examiner. “And we currently do not have any active members of ILEETA. The second part of your request was in regards to a document entitled, ‘Understanding Antifa and Urban Guerrilla Warfare’, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department has not received that document.” 

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) provides staff assistance to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Standards Board (LESB) through its Training and Standards Bureau but otherwise does not have a say in who gets certified as an instructor or what standards are required for law enforcement trainers and officers in Wisconsin. 

In a statement, a DOJ spokesperson said the department is committed to improving the state’s criminal justice system.

“Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has been an outspoken advocate for many much needed reforms to combat systemic racism and to make our justice system more equitable, including investing in an expansion of training on de-escalation, implicit bias, cultural competency, and critical incident response,” Director of Communications Gillian Drummond said. “DOJ staff in the Training and Standards Bureau are continuously reviewing existing practices and working to implement best practices across the state.”

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.

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