George Will: the Wisconsin John Doe raids and the system’s legitimacy

George Will, hard-hitting but on target, on what happened to people who took the wrong side of the Wisconsin public-employee wars:

The early-morning paramilitary-style raids on citizens’ homes were conducted by law enforcement officers, sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and lugging battering rams, pounding on doors and issuing threats. Spouses were separated as the police seized computers, including those of children still in pajamas. Clothes drawers, including the children’s, were ransacked, cellphones were confiscated and the citizens were told that it would be a crime to tell anyone of the raids.

Earlier on the Wisconsin John Doe raids, including this Cato piece. More Will:

Chisholm’s aim — to have a chilling effect on conservative speech — has been achieved by bombarding Walker supporters with raids and subpoenas: Instead of raising money to disseminate their political speech, conservative individuals and groups, harassed and intimidated, have gone into a defensive crouch, raising little money and spending much money on defensive litigation. Liberal groups have not been targeted for their activities that are indistinguishable from those of their conservative counterparts.

Such misbehavior takes a toll on something that already is in short supply: belief in government’s legitimacy. The federal government’s most intrusive and potentially punitive institution, the IRS, unquestionably worked for Barack Obama’s reelection by suppressing activities by conservative groups. … Would the race between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke be as close as it is if a process susceptible to abuse had not been so flagrantly abused to silence groups on one side of Wisconsin’s debate? Surely not.


  • The “Communist” label has been grossly abused over the decades to describe social democracy, desegregation, government day-care programs, the Obama Administration, and the welfare state. In the case of Wisconsin’s “Red Dawn” scandal of midnight raids on political opponents and secrecy orders, however, it fits like a glove.

  • I can’t agree. Yes, the Wisconsin investigation employed tactics most commonly associated with authoritarian regimes, yet I suspect most of its principals see themselves as moderates, liberals, or center-left social democrats, not devotees of a totalizing ideology. In a way it is more unsettling, not less, when such methods are used by persons who imagine themselves to be within the political mainstream and merely applying principles of law enforcement, as with the Palmer Raids just after World War One among many examples.

  • The DA that requested these raids should be removed from office and disbarred, as should the judge that signed off on them, and those that carried out the raids without asking what the hell is going on here should be demoted or fired.

    There is no excuse for this type of behavior in America, and it shouldn’t be tolerated regardless of the political persuasion involved. But Wisconsin does have a history of this sort of behavior…so I guess the locals just see it as business as usual.

  • I do dearly wish Mr. Will would use his column to castigate other over-bearing cases of police intimidation. (Mr. Olson certainly does). I would point out that Mr. Will concedes there were misdeeds by those in the Walker administration, so the initial investigations were warranted.

    Frankly, Gov. Walker does not seem to be a very sympathetic figure when talking about government overreach. He has used his office to attack the free speech of his critics.

  • @Allan–
    Pls list one to three instances of Gov Walker “attack[ing] the free speech of his critics” that you consider equivalent to these night-time raids and secrecy orders, with URL

  • ummmm, trying to close down the Wisconsin capitol when there were demonstrations, arguably in violation of the Wisconsin constitution.

    One can argue all day about whether Walker was justified, but one cannot argue that he was trying to suppress speech he did not like.

    I agree that Walker’s crackdown might not have been as bad as the raids. However, I was never insinuating that there was an equivilence. I was just saying that Walker is not a very sympathetic figure.

    One other point. If Walker does not like the raids, he can stop them. All he has to do is get the legislature to ban night-time raids like those the police (who are subject to Wisconsin law) conducted.

    Thus, I have little sympathy for Walker. His actions and inactions simply make me not feel sorry for him. But, just because he does not engender sympathy does not make the raids the correct choice. I would feel the same about a convicted murderer getting raped in prison. I have little sympathy, but it does not make it right. (And, no, Walker is not a convicted murderer).

  • Allan,

    I pay a decent amount of attention to cases of police intimidation, and “it’s illegal to tell people the SWAT team hit your house” is a new one to me. Aren’t such new developments newsworthy?

  • Stewart,




  • Allan,

    You said “I do dearly wish Mr. Will would use his column to castigate other over-bearing cases of police intimidation.” I pointed out that what he’s covering is newsworthy, inasmuch as I heard about a novel (to me, at least) legal aspect of the case from him, as a way of suggesting that he keep covering it instead of being redirected onto other topics that you think are a better use of his column space.

    Were you not suggesting that he use his space differently?

  • Walter,
    While I agree that most of the people involved in the Wisconsin shutdown see themselves as moderates, I imagine Palmer did too. These are extraordinary circumstances blah blah blah.

    Stop worrying about what people say and concentrate on what they do.


  • Stewart,

    I agree that what he covers is newsworthy. But, he makes it seem as if Walker and his cronies have been singled out in a manner that is not commonplace. The nighttime raids are part and parcel of the police state.

    Mr. Will can use his column space as he and his editors see fit. However, I don’t really take him seriously when he presents overly slanted facts to support his opinion. Mr. Will is a talented writer (and his baseball reporting is top-notch). I wish he would employ his talents better. It would make him more persuasive, to me at least.

  • @Allan–

    [Ref Scott Walker]
    >trying to close down the Wisconsin capitol when there were >demonstrations, arguably in violation of the Wisconsin constitution.


    >[Scott Walker tried]
    >to close down the Wisconsin capitol when there were demonstrations,
    >arguably in violation of the Wisconsin constitution.

    My impression is that these were not peaceable assemblies in front of the capitol to rally opposition to the policies of Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, but rather physical obstructions inside the capitol to prevent legislators from doing the job they were elected to do. In a representative democracy, this comes closer to “rebellion” than “peaceable assembly,” though obviously demanding a milder response than an armed assault would.

    In a representative democracy, the proper response to legislators ignoring your wishes (provided they stay within Constitutional and democratic limits) is to campaign for their defeat at the next election. That is more difficult, however, if DAs can break into your home at night for transparently political reasons.

  • @Allan–

    >[George Will falsely]
    > makes it seem as if Walker and his cronies have been singled out in a >manner that is not commonplace. The nighttime raids are part and >parcel of the >police state.

    In peacetime democracies, such raids normally target criminal activities only, not the mere dissemination of peaceable political speech (aka “the press”).

    Please cite a recent nighttime raid condoned by the likes of Scott Walker and George Will that is comparably offensive.

  • You are nitpicking. A crime is a crime is a crime.

    Assume, for a second, that what Walker is accused of is a crime (I know, you might have to suspend disbelief).

    Assume possession of marijuana is a crime.

    Would a nighttime raid be ok for a marijuana raid, but not a raid on those accused of the crime of collaborating in political campaigns? Why? Perhaps you believe that someone who has an ounce of marijuana is more likely to be violent than a political operative. But, I submit, that is a very biased viewpoint.

  • As for the Walker crackdown on demonstrators….

    You say tomato, others say tomato (ok, it loses something when written instead of spoken).

  • Allan, last I checked, possessing marijuana is not a Constitutional right; freedom of political speech (among others) IS a Constitutional right.

    Further, as you yourself suggested, Gov. Walker could try through the legislative process to repeal or override the law. One large problem: The optics would prevent this being a good idea until the investigations are over–or shut down–against those people and groups on Walker’s side….the interpretation being, the ones being investigated are getting political favors from the Governor’s office.

  • Assume, for a second, that what Walker is accused of is a crime

    So the mere accusation of a crime is enough to raid people’s homes? To suspend and violate their rights?

    If I were a prosecutor and claimed “Allan is a major player in the Martian drug cartel,” that gives law enforcement the right to barge into your home? Handcuff you? Demand you cannot talk about the raid? Demand you cannot talk about the case?

    You might say, “that can’t happen because there is no evidence I was involved in a crime.”

    Congratulations. You just made the point that others have been making. There was no crime here. The judge’s dismissal of the case says not only was there not a crime, but that there could not have been a crime and that the prosecutor was seeking only to suppress legal political speech.

    The mere accusation of a crime does not give law enforcement or a prosecutor the right to dig without legal cause. It does not give them the right to suspend the rights of others while they themselves break the law.

    Your mileage may vary, but it seems that you are looking at this almost from the angle that what happened is acceptable because it happened to Walker who is a Republican conservative.

    As a Republican conservative, I can tell you that if this happened to a left leaning, radical Democrat I would take the same stance that it is wrong and should not have happened.

    We shouldn’t play politics with rights and the law.

  • Gitargiver,

    You are missing my point entirely. I don’t disagree with your point at all. Personally, I think that SWAT raids where there is no evidence that there might be violence are ridiculous. I certainly do not know why they have to be carried out in the middle of the night, when doing it the next morning would get the same results. I do not think it was right simply because it was done to Walker. I think it was wrong in his case, and in many other cases also. I just have less sympathy for Walker and his comrades because they do the same thing to others and they have the power to change the law.

    Melvin. For the purposes of my argument, I would assume that Wisconsin’s law preventing the coordination of private money groups and candidates is constitutional and a felony. I concede that the assumption may well be wrong, but that is neither here nor there, as the police in the Walker case were acting on that assumption.

    Assuming that is the case, why would the police differentiate a raid to get evidence related to this felony from a raid to get evidence related to a suspected felony relating to marijuana?

    BTW, if Walker is ousted, the first thing I would hope the new governor would do is issue a blanket pardon.