I'd like to provide a follow-up to my diary earlier this week, Tea Partier Punches WI Solidarity Singer in the Face.
As that diary reported, several gun activists brought disruption and violence to the Solidarity Singalong at the Madison Capitol on Tuesday. The singers have been a constant presence of non-violent, musical protest every weekday for the past fifteen weeks, singing from noon to 1 every weekday in the Rotunda or the Capitol Steps. Previous Solidarity Singalong diaries can be found at:
WI Solidarity Singalong: Voter Suppression Edition
WI Solidarity Singalong: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round
On Tuesday, however, three gun activists disrupted the daily singalong. First, former state senator Dave Zien used his wheelchair as an intimidation device, zipping around the inside of the singers' circle shouting "Walker for President!," running over the singers' belongings and forcing them to step back lest their toes be run over as well.
Then two of Zien's friends unfurled a Gadsden flag ("Don't Tread on Me") on the first balcony where additional singers were holding banners. They carried the flag around the balcony and, when their path intersected with the banner-holding singers, kept right on going, bumping the singers and draping the flag over their heads as they went. When a singer stepped up to defend the banner holders, trying to grab the flag that was draping over their heads, one of the flag-holders put the singer in a head-lock and punched him in the mouth, breaking one of his teeth.
Both flag-carriers were arrested and later released. Henry C. Rahr, owner of H&C Arms gun shop in Green Bay, was arrested for assault and disorderly conduct. Eugene "Gene" German, a firearms instructor from Minnesota (!) was also arrested for disorderly conduct. (Mug shots here.)
The singer who took the punch was ticketed for disorderly conduct as well, but not arrested -- which is why he's not with the mug shots. He plans to contest the citation; Rahr and German plan to contest theirs as well. Though the singer is named in other press reports, I will not include it here, following the journalistic convention of not naming crime victims.
Responses and reactions and "what happened next" after the jump.
I emphasize the gun-activism of Zien, Rahr and German because that was the occasion for their presence at the Capitol. They were there to cheer the debate and passage of Wisconsin's new concealed-carry law. After the singalong was over and the arrests processed, Zien and German were seen in the Assembly chamber.
From The Progressive:
Later in the afternoon, Dave Zien was watching Assembly proceedings from the Gallery, while Eugene German sat in the Assembly lobby, a space generally off-limits to the general public unless they are invited guests of Assembly Representatives.
It is reported that Zien, as a former state senator, received a standing ovation when he entered the Assembly chamber.
In an article the following day, Zien went on record with his version of events. The online article from WEAU13News (Eau Claire) frames it like this:
Zien, who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in March, was caught on video rolling his wheelchair over protesters belongings in the capitol rotunda during a daily sing-along. We talked to Zien Wednesday afternoon and he tells us it all happened completely differently.
Here's the video of Zien's circuit of the Rotunda, taken by one of the singers.
It seems quite clear that Zien was attempting to provoke a reaction that could discredit the singers. Singers reported that a camera crew from a Fox affiliate had accompanied Zien and friends to the Capitol to film whatever happened.
Failing to provoke the desired reaction, Zien went ahead and claimed that he got what he wanted anyway, despite the singer's video evidence!
Zien told us on the phone it was a protester who slipped a sign beneath his wheelchair.
“That video was made by the protesters, that video started at the point where apparently somebody put something beneath my wheelchair, how dare they treat a cripple like that. But apparently somebody put something beneath my wheelchair and I couldn’t back up and I couldn’t go forward. At no point did I run over anybody’s toes. As far as I know I have the right to free speech like anybody else,” Zien says.
I would find this entirely laughable if it weren't for the way he played the "cripple" card. That, I find appalling. The word "cripple" is one of those epithets that's been used for years to demean and disempower people with physical disabilities. Like the word "queer" or the "n-word," there's been a movement among disability-rights self-advocates to take it back, to proudly fling it in the faces of those who would dehumanize them. (For example, there's a "Cripple Power" Facebook group.)
But that's not how Zien is using it. He's putting himself down in a bid for public sympathy -- in spite of the fact that he had pretty much all the power in the encounter! His status as former state senator meant that the Capitol law enforcement treated him with a respect that his actions did not deserve. (Look at the video and imagine what the police response would have been if the guy in the wheelchair had been one of Madison's many homeless residents...) Zien had friends with him, plus his very own camera crew. He was not, by any means, a powerless "cripple"!
Here's his parting shot:
Zien says Capitol police interviewed between 8 and 12 protesters on Tuesday; he is asking that all of them be charged with obstruction of justice for giving false statements.
Meanwhile, the question of the camera crew is an interesting one. Who were they, and what did they capture on video?
The camera crew turned out to be from Fox6 News in Green Bay. Their story, linked below, shows video only of the aftermath of the punch, with Rahr and German standing to the side holding their flag while the singers animatedly share their stories with the police officers. They make an interesting claim about their presence at the Capitol:
Man arrested for punching pro-union demostrator inside state Capitol (Fox 6 Video)
A FOX6 News photojournalist heard the rumblings of something going on in the Capitol rotunda and captured on video what remained of the incident.
I will note here that Green Bay is more than a two-hour drive from Madison. I also have the sneaking suspicion that the rest of their video did not show what Zien and friends wanted it to show, hence the pretense that the cameras didn't get there in time -- again, there were multiple singer-witnesses that the crew was filming well before the punch was thrown. I also suspect that, between the singers and law enforcement, moves have been made to acquire the rest of the Fox6 video evidence.
Meanwhile, the singers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday, with twice as many participants as on Tuesday. Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch of the "Fab 14" was there, as were Democratic Assembly reps Peter Barca and Kelda Helen Roys. Senator Jauch had this to say:
For all those who join the solidarity singalong: thank you. The songs of democracy that echo throughout the rotunda are inspirational. Music tells the story of struggle and speaks the truth about justice. All who join are the face of Wisconsin and their chorus sings the soul of this beautiful state we wish to restore.
Wednesday's singalong was also recorded in a lovely video:
I was particularly moved by Chris Reeder, the song-leader, opening the singalong with a reading of a quote on non-violence from Martin Luther King Jr., while standing near the lamp that is marked with the direction to King Street!
During Thursday's singalong, Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller showed up and sang along heartily to "Solidarity Forever," raising the solidarity sign along with the group.
Regarding the concealed-carry bill, it was indeed passed that day. The following day, the metal detectors were quietly removed from the Capitol entrances, ahead of the schedule to which the Wisconsin Department of Administration had finally deigned to agree. Though concealed-carry won't actually go into effect until later this fall, I found the timing disturbing. The text of the new law does not prohibit guns in the Capitol!
It will feel very good, however, to be able to enter at will without having my daughter wanded in her stroller. Singers were making jokes about all the things on the "prohibited" list that will no longer be searched at the door: crockpots, easels, snakes! (Why in the world were snakes on the list?!) My favorite response to the snake issue, and to Rahr and German's misuse of the Gadsden flag, was this sign designed by one of the singers:
The singalong also now has a live-stream, which will broadcast on days when the singing takes place in the Rotunda (also providing a nifty source of video evidence should any other incidents occur.) Grab a songbook online and sing along, from noon to 1pm CDT Monday-Friday!
We will continue to sing as long as Scott Walker remains in office as governor of Wisconsin.