8 Authoritarian Tactics Right-Wingers Have Used to Sabotage the Wisconsin Uprising

How Gov. Walker, Republican lawmakers, Tea Party groups, Fox News and conservative pundits have gone after Wisconsin's public workers and their supporters.

When conservatives seized townhall meetings, yelled racial insults at black lawmakers and threatened politicians who voted for health care, the right-wing celebrated their corporate-backed efforts as a populist uprising. And when teachers, police officers, firefighters and students took to Wisconsin's capitol in peaceful protest, the right-wing crusaders against government overreach have embraced creepy authoritarian tactics to shut down the demonstrations. Their actions serve as a much-needed reminder of how threatening unions are to corporate powers and how essential a weapon against the conservative agenda.

Here are eight creepy ways Gov. Walker, Republican lawmakers, Tea Party groups, and (of course) Fox and conservative pundits, have gone after Wisconsin's public workers and their supporters.

1. Threat of Military Force

Inspired by the American business elite's proud history of bloody union-busting, Walker threatened to call in the National Guard if the states' employees didn't accept the total repeal of their economic rights.

While Walker assured public employees that he would not preemptively unleash the National Guard on them, he did warn that they'd been prepped just in case.

As blogger Paul William Tenney pointed out, "Can anyone imagine the capitol police threatening to break up Tea Party protests in D.C. during the health reform debate?"

(Actually, no: Democratic lawmakers don't threaten their political opponents with force; and if they ever did, conservatives' sense of victimhood would swell so massively it would destroy the universe.)

2. Sabotage Protests

If you were a Republican lawmaker bent on dismantling 100 years of labor gains, what would you say to the right-wing billionaire who funded your way to office so you could do just that? Thanks to the ingenuity and balls of theBuffalo Beast's Ian Murphy, who posed as David Koch and held a lengthy phone conversation with Walker, we know the answer to that! Mostly, we know that Walker is willing to subvert ethics rules and the norms of basic human decency to get the union-busting legislation passed.

Baited by Murphy, Walker admitted that he had considered planting "troublemakers" in the crowd to make the protesters look bad, and to help put public opinion --  which is decidedly against his actions and the legislation -- on his side.

Walker says he decided against the plan. Not because it's, you know, wrong, but because an escalation of the conflict into potential violence might put public pressure on him to resolve it. And clearly, that's not an option, since Walker's plan rides entirely on refusing any negotiation with union leaders or Democratic lawmakers that doesn't end in what he wants. (Union leaders have already conceded the economic parts, agreeing to much higher pension and health care costs -- they just aren't willing to let Walker actively destroy public employee unions by taking away collective bargaining.)

Besides, is it really his job to take what his constituents want into account? How much money did teachers contribute to his campaign anyway? (Here's how much money the Kochs gave him.)

Anyway, today Madison's police chiefunderstandably asked Walker to elaborate on why he'd considered creating disruptions at a peaceful protest.

"I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers. Our department works hard dialoging with those who are exercising their First Amendment right, those from both sides of the issue, to make sure we are doing everything we can to ensure they can demonstrate safely," he said.

3. Holding Workers Hostage

Walker's concern for the people of Wisconsin was also on display during the call, when he bragged to the fake Koch that one plan he had in the works was to blackmail the Democratic lawmakers who left the state by laying off workers.

“So, we’re trying about four or five different angles. Each day we crank up a little bit more pressure. The other thing is I’ve got layoff notices ready, we put out the at-risk notices, we’ll announce Thursday, they’ll go out early next week and we’ll probably get five to six thousand state workers will get at-risk notices for layoffs. We might
 ratchet that up a little bit too.”

In a piecereposted on AlterNet, Mary Bottari points out that Walker's plan to hold workers' jobs hostage is not only reprehensible but possibly illegal. "If he is choosing to lay off workers as a political tactic when he wasn’t otherwise planning to do so then it is not just morally repugnant but legally questionable. State and federal contract and labor law has protections against this type of abusive behavior and inappropriate quid pro quo," writes Bottari.

4. Blocking Access to Pro-Union Website?

On Tuesday, Mike Elk reported that the Website of Defend Wisconsin, which features organizational information for protesters, was blocked in the Capitol, with software normally used to obstruct lawmakers' access to porn. The site was inaccessible all day Monday and into the morning Tuesday.

Perturbed by a tactic most recently used to quash protests in Egypt, Democrats quickly issued statements condemning the move. Wisconsin Democratic Party press secretary Graeme Zielinski said, "In a direct assault on the First Amendment, Scott Walker's administration is blocking access in the Wisconsin Capitol to opposition websites," according to CNN. Former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Charles Hoornstra pointed out that if Walker or his team were responsible for blocking the site, it could be a violation of state and federal law.

Walker's office claimed they had not purposefully targeted the site, but that all recently created Web sites were blocked until they could be reviewed by special porn-sniffing software.

Elk also reported that the Teaching Assistants Association claimed they'd been kicked off WiFi in their capitol headquarters.

5. Police Sent to Intimidate Democrats

In a type of bold move not common to Democrats, 14 Democratic Representatives prevented a quorum by leaving the state when Walker tried to steamroll the anti-union legislation through. And in a move weirdly dissonant with...American values (?), the governor has sent Wisconsin police to the homes of lawmakers to pressure them to come back.

According to Reuters, some Republicans suspected they'd been sleeping in their own homes at night. Since police would not have had the authority to arrest them, clearly it was just a tactic of intimidation.

6. Propaganda/Lots of Lying

It's hard work convincing people that peaceful demonstrations against extremely unpopular legislation present a threat to American values. To that end, several Tea Party groups that are NOT from Wisconsin are trying to blanket the state with ads pitching a particularly absurd right-wing alternate reality about the protests. Yesterday, Americans for Prosperity -- yes, the group founded and partly funded by the Kochs -- started a massive ad campaign on both network and cable TV in Wisconsin. The first ad is insane, unsurprisingly: an alarmed female voice set to tense music warns about "government unions." President Obama is blamed for everything, of course. The out-of-state agitators who made the ad warn that out-of-state agitators are swelling the ranks of protesters.

Our Country Deserves Better PAC (aka, the Tea Party Express) is also getting in on the action. Yesterday, they sent supporters an email asking for donations for an ad buy in the state. Here's part of the breathless email:

For the past two days we've been quietly putting together a TV and radio ad campaign that will blitz the state of Wisconsin with a message in support of Gov. Scott Walker's efforts to fight off the public employee unions in that state.

We kept these plans silent so they wouldn't leak to the news media or Barack Obama's political team -- going so far as to take our staff to the remote Nevada desert to undertake this work.  Now we can unveil this once-secret effort to fight back against Barack Obama and his public employee union mobs, and rally support for Gov. Walker of Wisconsin.

Then, of course, there's Fox. Glenn Beck has just been randomly combining words like "unions," "Muslim Brotherhood" and "New World Order." Communism as well, obviously. (Maybe when whatever terrible thing that Glenn Beck says is going to happen happens, he'll will find shelter in the Tea Party Express Nevada bunker?) Media Matters highlights some of the other unhinged Fox coverage.

In an especially classy move, the network flipped the statistics on a public opinion poll on Walker's wildly unpopular legislation; the onscreen graphic read that 61 percent support taking away collective bargaining. The poll that exists in reality actually showed that 61 percent would oppose a similar measure introduced in their state.

7. Shoot 'Em

Of course, lies, threats, intimidation and blackmail can only do so much. A conservative Indiana Deputy Attorney General had a different idea of how to deal with the protests. When Mother Jones tweeted a report that riot police would be called in (turned out not to happen), the AG tweeted back, "Use live ammunition." When Adam Weinstein followed up, the two had the following exchange:

From my own Twitter account, I confronted the user, JCCentCom. He tweeted back that the demonstrators were "political enemies" and "thugs" who were "physically threatening legally elected officials." In response to such behavior, he said, "You're damned right I advocate deadly force." He later called me a "typical leftist," adding, "liberals hate police."

(He has since lost his job.)

8. The Chamber

One more thing: right before the governor of Wisconsin announced his plan to destroy the state's unions, we learned that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had even grander ideas. The Chamber's law firm had hired, on spec, a bizarre consortium of "cyber security" firms to launch a campaign of disinformation and outright sabotage against their political opponents. "Team Themis," as they nerdily called themselves, planned to target the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), along with other critics of the Chamber like Think Progress(which reported the story) and ChamberWatch. (If you don't remember the details of the wildly entertaining story of how the hackers of Anonymous published thousands of internal emails from HBGary, one of the firms in Team Themis, read about it here.)


In conclusion, here's some lighthearted banter about beating people with baseball bats from the Buffalo Beast conversation between "Koch" and Scott Walker:

Koch: Bring a baseball bat. That’s what I’d do.

Walker: I have one in my office; you’d be happy with that. I have a slugger with my name on it.


Tana Ganeva is an AlterNet editor. Follow her on Twitter. You can email her at [email protected].