Just days after the U.S. Capitol was attacked by pro-Trump insurrectionists, Rep. Tom Tiffany appeared at a closed-door rally in Wausau that featured inflammatory speeches from right-wing radio host Vicki McKenna and other far-right Republicans.
Tiffany condemned the Jan. 6 violence but still voted to overturn the results of November’s presidential election, even after the mob — incited by President Trump — laid siege to the building as he and his colleagues met to certify Joe Biden as the next president.
Tiffany was also the only member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to sign on to a lawsuit by the Texas Attorney General in an attempt to overturn the election results in several swing states — including Wisconsin.
“Peaceful protest is a constitutionally guaranteed right and that right must be protected for all Americans. Violence is unacceptable,” he tweeted after the attack.
Yet in a newsletter sent Jan. 8, Tiffany continued to spread baseless conspiracy theories about the election and compared the Capitol attack to protests for racial injustice last summer.
“We also witnessed a spate of unacceptable lawlessness and vandalism during a breach of the Capitol on Wednesday not unlike the sustained violent rioting and destruction that gripped cities like Kenosha, Madison, Minneapolis, and Chicago for months in 2020,” the newsletter stated.
In the days since the attack, Democrats in Congress have begun the process to remove Trump from office, voting to impeach the president on Wednesday.
Tiffany has said this will only cause more violence.
“Speaker Pelosi’s decision to move forward with another partisan effort to remove the president from office with just days remaining in his term is unnecessary,” Tiffany said in a statement “The House heard, debated and rejected constitutionally authorized challenges to the electoral college last week – just as it did after the 2000, 2004 and 2016 elections when Democratic lawmakers lodged objections using the same framework in response to the concerns of their constituents. That is how our system of government works. Inflaming an already volatile situation, as this rushed and irresponsible ‘re-impeachment’ push promises to, is exactly the wrong approach.”
If Tiffany’s goal is to avoid further violence in “an already volatile situation,” that was not the tone of the Wausau rally — parts of which were livestreamed on Facebook by the Marathon County Republican Party.
What Tiffany said at the rally is not online, though McKenna’s speech was streamed. A Tiffany spokesperson did not respond to a request for video or a transcript of his remarks. A request for comment also went unanswered.
Kevin Hermening, a spokesperson for the Marathon County Republican Party, said that Tiffany addressed the crowd of 400 for about ten minutes, speaking about his vote not to certify the Electoral College results and the riot at the Capitol.
“What the Congressman had to say really resonated with the people who were there,” Hermening says. “He told us that so long as he was our member of Congress that he was going to fight to uphold the constitution and to defend the interests of election integrity.”
Tiffany, according to Hermening, again condemned the violence in D.C. but disputed that Trump had a role in kicking off the attack.
[Trump] asked the supporters who were there, to go down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol and to peaceably and patriotically protest,” Hermening, summarizing Tiffany’s comments, says. “Of course the Congressman condemned the violence, he said that our country is better than this and he said there’s a lot of investigation going on to both get to the bottom of how it happened and who was involved in it.”
The “Save the Republic Rally” held by conservative group Get Involved Wisconsin was held on Jan. 9 in a Wausau warehouse in front of a largely maskless crowd— a fact that was noted by McKenna as she complained about tools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The stated goal of the rally was to encourage conservative participation in all levels of government, though McKenna’s speech focused mostly on riling up the crowd by rehearsing right-wing grievances.
In a 15-minute speech, McKenna attacked Democratic “elites,” members of the Republican “establishment” such as Mitch McConnell and Mitt Romney, tech companies, the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn and the public school system.
But even as she refused to admit Trump had ignited the insurrectionist flame, saying “there was no incitement of violence,” she raised the temperature on the rhetoric and invoked violent action to protect America from Democrats.
“It’s the beginning of the end of this war,” she said. “We decide how it ends though. Just because this has been going on a long, long time, and we’re in a final battle, doesn’t mean we’ve lost.”
“There’s more of us, we love this nation, and if people actually come together and recognize their responsibilities — don’t wait around for me or somebody else to figure it out for you, do it yourselves — we will be able to stop this,” she continued. “Maybe not before we die, but to make sure our kids have the America that we grew up in … I am grateful to have been born in the free-est, greatest country in the history of any civilization and I am not willing to go gently into that good fascism.”
Elsewhere in the speech McKenna threatened injury against those who stood against her, though she quickly walked that back. She added that her side has strength in numbers — even though more Americans voted for Biden.
“People are going to get hurt, and I don’t mean physically hurt, but they’re going to get hurt,” she said. “Listen folks, we’re the dissidents — 74 million of us, half the country, we’re now dissidents and they are going to close ranks really fast … The fascism is not going to come slowly. We have to recognize this is not going to be an easy fight.”
McKenna’s speech at the rally echoes some of the statements of Republican figures across Wisconsin since the Capitol attack.
The St. Croix County Republican Party threatened violence on the homepage of its website.
“If you want peace, prepare for war,” the page, which has since been taken down, declared in Latin, with an English translation.
The Marathon County GOP, which livestreamed parts of the event, has made similar comments on Facebook.
“I will be going and purchasing several prepaid phones for future use to connect with children and key clients and certain friends when the great purge begins,” a comment from the page states.
Hermening, a former chair of the Marathon County Republican Party who speaks on one of the party’s livestreams and appears to be in control of the account, has also expressed an openness to violence in online comments.
“The events of Wednesday were just the start,” Hermening wrote in a Facebook comment. “Much like Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and others 250 years ago, the patriots WILL take back this country.”
Local Republican parties in several other Wisconsin counties have made Facebook posts spreading conspiracy theories about the Capitol attack, inciting further violence and other inflammatory statements.
For a week, Tiffany has headfaked toward condemning the violence while standing beside right wing provocateurs from talk radio and members of local parties openly calling for violent revolution. Yet on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he blamed Democrats for dividing the country.
“Joe Biden has talked about unity and healing,” Tiffany said in his remarks opposing the impeachment of PresidentTrump. “Is that what this is today? Is accusing Republican lawmakers of sedition and calling for their expulsion the plan for healing? Is working with Silicon Valley to digitally disappear those with whom they disagree the plan for reconciliation? I was among the first to condemn the riots in Madison months ago, and I condemn what happened last week, but where were the swift accusations of incitement and insurrection from the other side last year?”
“Is today’s political theater a preview of what the American people can expect from single-party rule?” he continued. “Two years of double standards and punishing those who voted for someone else? Madam speaker, I hope Mr. Biden is watching today and he will rise to the moment and call off this effort to rub salt in the wounds of millions of Americans. It is now time for all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, to turn down the temperature.”