Wisconsin at the center of the Jan. 6 conspiracy

By: - July 12, 2022 6:45 am
The Wisconsin State Capitol Building at night. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The Wisconsin Capitol at night. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

On the eve of the next Jan. 6 House committee hearing, which begins at noon Central Time on Tuesday, the Defend Democracy Project, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting efforts to undermine elections, held a virtual press briefing focused on Wisconsin’s central role in the plot to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Norman Eisen, former ambassador to the Czech Republic and an expert on corruption and democracy issues at the Brookings Institution, gave an overview of the evidence so far and previewed Tuesday’s hearing. Possible crimes the committee has uncovered include obstruction of an official proceeding in Congress and a conspiracy to defraud the United States, Eisen said.

“And it’s not just federal crimes we’ve heard about,” Eisen added, recapping testimony from Republican officials in Arizona and Georgia about being pressured to falsify election results, as well as Trump advisers’ coordinated push to get phony electoral ballots for Trump from seven states including Wisconsin.

Eisen was joined by three Wisconsinites, State Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison), Kyle Johnson, the political director of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing Communities) and Mel Barnes, an attorney with Law Forward, the nonprofit, progressive law firm that is suing Wisconsin’s fake electors who cast phony electoral ballots for former President Donald Trump.

Underscoring the panel’s message that Wisconsin played a critical role in the battle over democratic elections and the 2020 results, Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, over the weekend to celebrate a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that bars the use of drop boxes for voting. Trump called for the nullification of Wisconsin’s 2020 Electoral College votes and ordered  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), to “do something, for once, about this atrocity!”

“I think it’s really important for members of the public in Wisconsin to know we’re not talking about something that’s happening somewhere else, or to other people. This is something that is happening in Wisconsin, specifically,” said panel moderator Joe Zepecki of the Defend Democracy Project. He pointed to Trump’s remarks about the drop box decision as evidence that “this is not over. This is ongoing.”

Tuesday’s hearing will focus on Trump’s connection to a plan to use violence to help overturn the 20202 election results. And the violent white nationalist groups that took part in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, including the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers, have used Wisconsin as a “training ground,” Zepecki said, when extremists met in Wisconsin while plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “These extremist groups are here. … they are dangerous,” Zepecki said, adding, “We also have the dangerous, dangerous idea that the votes of the people of Wisconsin don’t matter.”

“It’s really important to remember that here in Wisconsin, the fraudulent electors, these are not random people who walked off the street and decided to do this,” said Barnes of Law Forward, adding that Andrew Hitt, the former head of the state Republican Party and Robert Spindell, a current member of the Wisconsin Elections Board were among those who cast false electoral votes for Trump. “This is a big deal,” said Barnes. “It’s a danger to our democracy, and certainly to our future elections, which we know will continue to be close. And we must make sure that voters continue to decide the outcome of elections in our state.”

Barnes connected the revelations of the Jan. 6 House committee hearings to recent unpopular U.S. Supreme Court decisions on abortion, gun safety and voting rights, saying, “the facade that these unpopular views are winning in our political discourse is really starting to crumble.”

“We’re seeing that as the committee uncovers more and more of this conspiracy, the extreme actions that these folks had to take to try to hold on to power. We know that Wisconsinites and Americans do not agree with them.“

On Tuesday, “I think we will learn more about what happened with this coordinated criminal conspiracy theory,” Barnes said, “and hopefully be able to hold some of the bad actors here in our state accountable to make sure this never happens again.”

Johnson of BLOC, an organization committed to building political power at the street-level for underserved communities, said, “The best way to describe how we’re all feeling is pissed off.”

The voters he has contact with have been angry to learn about Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s role in attempting to deliver Wisconsin’s fake electoral ballots to Vice President Mike Pence, he said. Community members feel poorly served by political leaders who would rather cheat to hold onto power than win by meeting the real needs of their constituents, he said.

“No one is exempt from the law — Black, white … Pacific Islander, American Indian — all of us in Wisconsin want everyone to be held accountable,” he added.

“I think it’s important to understand that it isn’t really about 2020,” said Roys. “It is about undermining confidence in our whole electoral system and the mechanisms for how we vote.” By casting doubt on a highly decentralized election system, Trump and his supporters continue to try to set up a plan to steal the next election, she said.

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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.

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