“When it comes to
this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no
pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism
can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Democrats were so fearful of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin that John Chisholm, the Democrat District Attorney of Milwaukee Country, launched a secret “John Doe” investigation seeking to uncover links between conservative groups and the Walker administration. This bitterly partisan Democrat unleashed a wave of terror of “no knock” raids on the homes of conservatives in Wisconsin, using police tactics that might have been appropriate if they were storming fortifications held by terrorists. The victims were instructed to tell no one about the raids, especially their attorneys. These Gestapo tactics are detailed in a magnificent story by David French at National Review:
But with another election looming — this time Walker’s campaign for reelection — Chisholm wasn’t finished. He launched yet another John Doe investigation, “supervised” by Judge Barbara Kluka. Kluka proved to be capable of superhuman efficiency — approving “every petition, subpoena, and search warrant in the case” in a total of one day’s work.
If the first series of John Doe investigations was “everything Walker,” the second series was “everything conservative,” as Chisholm had launched an investigation of not only Walker (again) but the Wisconsin Club for Growth and dozens of other conservative organizations, this time fishing for evidence of allegedly illegal “coordination” between conservative groups and the Walker campaign.
In the second John Doe, Chisholm had no real evidence of wrongdoing. Yes, conservative groups were active in issue advocacy, but issue advocacy was protected by the First Amendment and did not violate relevant campaign laws. Nonetheless, Chisholm persuaded prosecutors in four other counties to launch their own John Does, with Judge Kluka overseeing all of them.
Empowered by a rubber-stamp judge, partisan investigators ran amok. They subpoenaed and obtained (without the conservative targets’ knowledge) massive amounts of electronic data, including virtually all the targets’ personal e-mails and other electronic messages from outside e-mail vendors and communications companies.
The investigations exploded into the open with a coordinated series of raids on October 3, 2013. These were home invasions, including those described above. Chisholm’s office refused to comment on the raid tactics (or any other aspect of the John Doe investigations), but witness accounts regarding the two John Doe investigations are remarkably similar: early-morning intrusions, police rushing through the house, and stern commands to remain silent and tell no one about what had occurred.
At the same time, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative organizations received broad subpoenas requiring them to turn over virtually all business records, including “donor information, correspondence with their associates, and all financial information.” The subpoenas also contained dire warnings about disclosure of their existence, threatening contempt of court if the targets spoke publicly.
For select conservative families across five counties, this was the terrifying moment — the moment they felt at the mercy of a truly malevolent state.
Speaking both on and off the record, targets reflected on how many layers of Wisconsin government failed their fundamental constitutional duties — the prosecutors who launched the rogue investigations, the judge who gave the abuse judicial sanction, investigators who chose to taunt and intimidate during the raids, and those police who ultimately approved and executed aggressive search tactics on law-abiding, peaceful citizens.
For some of the families, the trauma of the raids, combined with the stress and anxiety of lengthy criminal investigations, has led to serious emotional repercussions. “Devastating” is how Anne describes the impact on her family. “Life-changing,” she says. “All in terrible ways.”
O’Keefe, who has been in contact with multiple targeted families, says, “Every family I know of that endured a home raid has been shaken to its core, and the fate of marriages and families still hangs in the balance in some cases.”
Anne also describes a new fear of the police: “I used to support the police, to believe they were here to protect us. Now, when I see an officer, I’ll cross the street. I’m afraid of them. I know what they’re capable of.”
Cindy says, “I lock my doors and I close my shades. I don’t answer the door unless I am expecting someone. My heart races when I see a police car sitting in front of my house or following me in the car. The raid was so public. I’ve been harassed. My house has been vandalized. [She did not identify suspects.] I no longer feel safe, and I don’t think I ever will.”
Rachel talks about the effect on her children. “I tried to create a home where the kids always feel safe. Now they know they’re not. They know men with guns can come in their house, and there’s nothing we can do.” Every knock on the door brings anxiety. Every call to the house is screened. In the back of her mind is a single, unsettling thought: These people will never stop.
Victims of trauma — and every person I spoke with described the armed raids as traumatic — often need to talk, to share their experiences and seek solace in the company of a loving family and supportive friends.
The investigators denied them that privilege, and it compounded their pain and fear. The investigation not only damaged families, it also shut down their free speech. In many cases, the investigations halted conservative groups in their tracks. O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth described the effect in court filings:
O’Keefe’s associates began cancelling meetings with him and declining to take his calls, reasonably fearful that merely associating with him could make them targets of the investigation. O’Keefe was forced to abandon fundraising for the Club because he could no longer guarantee to donors that their identities would remain confidential, could not (due to the Secrecy Order) explain to potential donors the nature of the investigation, could not assuage donors’ fears that they might become targets themselves, and could not assure donors that their money would go to fund advocacy rather than legal expenses. The Club was also paralyzed. Its officials could not associate with its key supporters, and its funds were depleted. It could not engage in issue advocacy for fear of criminal sanction.
These raids and subpoenas were often based not on traditional notions of probable cause but on mere suspicion, untethered to the law or evidence, and potentially violating the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The very existence of First Amendment–protected expression was deemed to be evidence of illegality. The prosecution simply assumed that the conservatives were incapable of operating within the bounds of the law.
Even worse, many of the investigators’ legal theories, even if proven by the evidence, would not have supported criminal prosecutions. In other words, they were investigating “crimes” that weren’t crimes at all. If the prosecutors had applied the same legal standards to the Democrats in their own offices, they would have been forced to turn the raids on themselves. If the prosecutors and investigators had been raided, how many of their computers and smartphones would have contained incriminating information indicating use of government resources for partisan purposes?