The collective will to keep Wisconsin’s labor structure from crumbling under the imposition of new laws backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker expressed itself through police raids, lawfare, threats of sanctioned state violence, humiliation and the confiscation of private property.
That’s the upshot of a new in-depth story teased today by David French at National Review. It relates the ordeals of three conservative supporters of Wisconsin’s Act 10 bill, a law that in 2011 introduced new limits on collective bargaining among public employees — to the outrage of pro-union stalwarts.
The accounts are almost unbelievable in their portrayal of state power wielded as a blunt political instrument. They describe raids, threats to secrecy, and intimidation tactics that wouldn’t feel out of place in a gangster movie. Here’s an example:
“IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE OR DEATH.”
That was the first thought of “Anne” (not her real name). Someone was pounding at her front door. It was early in the morning — very early — and it was the kind of heavy pounding that meant someone was either fleeing from — or bringing — trouble.
“It was so hard. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought someone was dying outside.”
She ran to the door, opened it, and then chaos. “People came pouring in. For a second I thought it was a home invasion. It was terrifying. They were yelling and running, into every room in the house. One of the men was in my face, yelling at me over and over and over.”
It was indeed a home invasion, but the people who were pouring in were Wisconsin law-enforcement officers. Armed, uniformed police swarmed into the house. Plainclothes investigators cornered her and her newly awakened family. Soon, state officials were seizing the family’s personal property, including each person’s computer and smartphone, filled with the most intimate family information.
Why were the police at Anne’s home? She had no answers. The police were treating them the way they’d seen police treat drug dealers on television.
In fact, TV or movies were their only points of reference, because they weren’t criminals. They were law-abiding. They didn’t buy or sell drugs. They weren’t violent. They weren’t a danger to anyone. Yet there were cops — surrounding their house on the outside, swarming the house on the inside. They even taunted the family as if they were mere “perps.”
As if the home invasion, the appropriation of private property, and the verbal abuse weren’t enough, next came ominous warnings. Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t tell anyone about this raid. Not even your mother, your father, or your closest friends.
What kind of woman did this happen to? Who is she?
Although the story protects her anonymity, she’s described as a supporter of Act 10 “and other conservative causes in Wisconsin.”
But the story offers some insight into the kind of people who attracted such forceful attention in its retelling of another, similar ordeal. That episode involves a police “raid” (or, more properly, an invasion) at the home of Cindy Archer, “one of the lead architects” of the bill.
It involves the same stuff: a nighttime SWAT-style police intrusion, dubious search warrants, warnings that Archer not speak to an attorney, and — at the end of it all — the confiscation only of a cellphone and a computer.
Six people with ties to Walker’s administration were eventually convicted in the so-called “John Doe” investigations, a series of probes into Walker’s network of associates in search of criminal activity.
“The state’s John Doe law dates back to Wisconsin’s days as a territory and is unique to the state,” Wisconsin’s The Capital Times explained last month. “It allows a prosecutor, under supervision of a judge, to investigate whether a crime has been committed and, if so, who committed it. The prosecutor can compel people to testify and turn over documents.”
That’s a unique and state-empowering law, one that current GOP legislators in Wisconsin have tried — so far without success — to reform.
But despite the law’s crime-finding power, Archer was never charged with any crime.