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Website in St. Croix County taken down after “prepare for war” references.

The website of the St. Croix County Republican Party was taken down Wednesday, but not before seeking and receiving national attention for its incendiary language urging followers to “prepare for war.” It is far from an isolated instance.

Web pages and Facebook sites from local Republican, conservative, and other pro-Trump groups across Wisconsin continue publishing statements falsely warning of an effort by Democrats and liberals to take away people’s rights and casting doubt on the results of the Nov. 3 election in which President-electJoe Biden defeated President Donald Trump. 

The controversial post on the St. Croix County Republican Party website —published prior to the Jan. 6 assault on the US Capitol that left five people dead—began with a Latin phrase meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The message noted “the digital battlefield” before stating the “Marxist left and a complicit mass media” worked to ensure Biden won election “through any means necessary,” and that Democrats used “chaos” and “every dirty trick imaginable.”

The references to war and other divisive language prompted condemnation from many. In a Facebook post Tuesday, St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson, who ran as a Republican, said he was shocked and disheartened by the tone of the website, as well as the decision to keep it up, considering the violence that rocked the nation.. 

“The comments in regards to ‘prepare for war’ are comments that I do not agree with,” Knudson wrote, “and if taken in the literal definition of ‘war,’ I strongly condemn.”

Who removed the website remains unclear. County Republican Party Chairman John Kraft opposed a request from the state Republican Party to remove the message. Kraft was unavailable for comment for this story. He was one of three people suing Gov. Tony Evers’ for his statewide emergency order requiring the wearing of face masks in public. 

The St. Croix Republican Party Facebook page remains active but has not had a post since Jan. 7. Kraft posted to his personal Facebook page two days after the attack about a gathering of “patriots” who attended a county Republican Party event that evening.

“It’s never been clearer that we are absolutely at war with the left,” Kraft said in that post, “and they are now making the full frontal assault on the First Amendment.”

St. Croix County Democrat Party Chairman Dan Myers issued a statement calling for unity and decried rhetoric calling for violence. 

“It’s long past time to come together and find solutions to the problems that plague our local communities,” he said. 

Republicans in other counties also have made direct statements about their opposition to the certified presidential election results and to the potential removal of Trump from office, with some referencing potential violence. On Wednesday the US House of Representatives voted to impeach the president for his inciting the attack.

Three days after the insurrection, US Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) appeared with right-wing radio host Vicki McKenna at a “Save the Republic” rally in Wausau advertised by the Marathon County Republican Party and organized by the conservative group Get Involved Wisconsin. 

Tiffany spoke against the violence at the Capitol, but he was also among those who stoked the crowd’s rage when he voted against certifying Biden as president-elect, casting doubt on the election’s integrity despite no evidence and dozens of unsuccessful court challenges. Tiffany also spoke out and voted against impeaching Trump. And he was the only member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation to support a lawsuit by the Texas attorney general seeking to overturn election results in Wisconsin and other states. 

During McKenna’s speech at the event, she criticized what she called “Democratic elites,” using inflammatory language as she spoke of the need to protect the nation from political opponents.

“It’s the beginning of the end of this war,” she said. “We decide how it ends though. Just because this has been going on a long, long time, and we’re in a final battle, doesn’t mean we’ve lost.” 

In Shawano County, a Dec. 14 post on the county Republican Party’s Facebook page offers details of how Congress could reverse the certification of Biden as president-elect. The statement includes mention of potentially violent times ahead.

“Very interesting. (You might prepare yourselves for some temporary violence; Water, food medications),” the post states. 

In addition, multiple posts on Jan. 6 depict photos and video of people attending the convergence of people on the US Capitol. 

References to violence and a refusal to accept the outcome of the presidential election are troubling, said Geoff Peterson, chairman of the UW-Eau Claire political science department. But he said he isn’t sure how widespread those beliefs are among conservatives. 

“It’s really hard to get a handle on the breadth of belief on this,” he said. “It’s possible that you’ve got a lot of people who believe this. It’s also possible you’re actually looking at a fairly small minority, they just happen to be very vocal.”

And visible. On the same day as the pro-Trump mob was ransacking the Capitol and certain members seemed to be hunting down members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence, a crowd gathered at Green Bay City Hall to push for reversing the will of the voters. Convinced by Trump, Tiffany, Sen. Ron Johnson, and others that the election was fraudulent despite the lack of evidence, some in attendance predicted violence.

In a story posted on the website of WTAQ Radio, whose morning host boasts of “consistent conservatism without apology,” Mike Pakanich said the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) would soon be all that was left to use against what he thought was government “not standing up for what we believe in.”

“The Proud Boys? You know who they are. The oath keepers, the militia. Listen, they aren’t going to sit back and let our freedom go down the drain. You bet there’s going to be a war,” said an attendee who gave her name as Debra-Lynn about groups affiliated with white supremacists and domestic terror. “And we don’t want to have it. But if we have to fight the Devil, that’s all that’s left.”

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