GOP's vote-suppressing militia: Why Scott Walker's thugs are getting violent

Scott Walker may want to be president, but he's got to win statewide first. And he's pulling out all the stops

By Heather Digby Parton


Published September 23, 2014 4:45PM (EDT)

  (AP/Jeffrey Phelps)
(AP/Jeffrey Phelps)

It seems like a long time ago but it's actually been just a couple of years since a whole bunch of Wisconsin voters had second thoughts about the man they'd elected to the governor's office and decided they couldn't wait another two years to be rid of him.  That recall election was a national story, with public employee unions and other progressive types lining up against the conservative majority that beat back the recall. Now Scott Walker is beating back what seems like endless ethics charges and legal scandals and is fighting for his political life. The man who was once touted as the Great Midwestern GOP Hope is rarely mentioned anymore for the presidency. He may even lose his seat in November.

One of the most interesting stories of that recall election was the extent to which the Republicans were willing to engage in no-holds-barred vote suppression largely led by a national group of vote suppression experts, the "poll watching" group known as True the Vote.  Despite no evidence ever being produced to show that systematic voter fraud exists or that any election has been decided by people who are ineligible to vote, True the Vote has managed to create the illusion that challenging voters at the polls is all that's saving the republic from an otherwise inevitable coup d'état led by a secret cabal of Democrats rigging elections with ineligible voters. Apparently, this is the only way they can explain to themselves that they are not universally popular.

All the vote suppressors are just pleased as punch that a panel of three Republican-appointed judges on the 7th Circuit waited until Sept. 12 to overturn an earlier ruling that their pride and joy, the Wisconsin Voter ID law, was unconstitutional --- and set off a last-minute scramble to ensure that voters are informed of the new law and have them in hand before Scott Walker faces the music. (Opponents have appealed to have the full 7th Circuit review but in the meantime, voter registration groups and state officials are having to work overtime to deal with the ruling.) And just to make things even more fun, the DMVs in 48 out of 72 counties are only open for five hours a day, two days a week. And that means voters in those areas without an official state ID only have 12 days to get them.

True the Vote generously noted on its Facebook page that the ID cards are free. Never say they didn't do these voters any favors. Their followers were certainly thrilled:

The only people that don't want this are the people who are trying to cheat the system. The same people that are screaming foul are the people that need an ID to get all their government handouts. I'm proud to show my ID when I vote because it means some union punk from out of state, or some illegal alien won't be able to steal my vote. It also means that some libtard dumbocrat won't be able to vote more than once.

In case you were wondering True the Vote calls itself nonpartisan.

So, now everyone can relax, knowing that there is no way that the thus far nonexistent voter fraud could ever happen in the future, right? Well, not exactly. It would appear that vote suppression may not entirely get the job done. Just because you have an ID doesn't mean you should be voting and even if True the Vote is patting itself on the back for its success, there are still some good Americans out there who are willing to make sure that you don't. This time they are going for full-blown voter intimidation.

A local Wisconsin activist named Meg Gorski captured a screen shot of some tweets by a group calling itself the Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia:

It fairly clear what they mean by "look."  According to this account, the Facebook page (now removed) left little doubt what they were talking about:

A visit to the group’s Facebook page features makes it clear exactly who they are targeting. All of the pictures on the page feature African-Americans. The group is trying to get African-Americans who may have outstanding warrants arrested in order to keep them from voting. The group wants people to report those they suspect of having warrants out on them to the police on election day, “Do the community a favor and keep an eye out for people wanted on warrants and report them to the police on election day.”

The “poll watchers” also plan on harassing and following people who they suspect of being wanted on warrants to their homes. The plan seems to be to use the police to intimidate African-Americans into not voting in November’s election.

And they are evidently prepared for violence:

The Madison Capital Times reported the Facebook plans were quite detailed:

Please private message us names of people you know are active voters and wanted on warrants. We can get our agents to watch their polling location, identify the individual, and then follow them to their residence. A call the police and they will be picked up for processing."

"Picked up for processing?" (Soylent Green?) They are also planning a "training" session on Sept. 20. After it's over they're all going to the shooting range for target practice. Everyone's invited.

They are using information from a website a volunteer has set up to identify people who signed recall petitions. He's created subsets of those with tax issues, those who are Democratic donors, those who (they claim) are sex offenders, etc., and they are listing the names in a searchable format that includes offenses as minor as speeding. Rush Limbaugh even gave them a shout-out the other day, saying, "Thanks to his hard work, we finally know who is not paying their fair share of taxes in Wisconsin." (That's not actually true; this list only includes those who signed the recall petitions. It's fair to guess that there are plenty of Scott Walker fans who aren't big on paying their fair share of taxes.)

In fact, this whole plan is particularly ironic considering that Scott Walker's most ardent supporters at the Wall Street Journal, Club for Growth and other knights errant of the 1 percent are constantly rending their garments at the notion their donors should be forced to put their names to their causes for fear of what the pitchfork-wielding rubes will do to them. This extended whine from Bruce Josten of the Chamber of Commerce says it all:

When some of those corporate names were divulged, not by us, by others, what did they receive? They received protests, they received threats, they were intimidated, they were harassed, they had to hire additional security, they were recipients of a host of proxies leveled at those companies that had nothing to do with the purpose of those companies. So we know what the purpose here is. It's to harass and intimidate.

Surely, they managed at least to vote despite all that. And I'm sure they were greatly soothed by counting all their money.

Voter intimidation is a very different tactic than vote suppression, which is a much subtler form of cheating. Indeed, it's outright illegal to target people by race and for very good reason. The history of the Jim Crow South made it necessary since fine, upstanding citizens like these would systematically terrorize African-Americans if they tried to vote. Those Twitter comments and the now deleted Facebook page make it clear that these people are targeting based on race, regardless of how much they pretend otherwise. And that could get them in some very big trouble.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton