Group Backing Dan Kelly Sends Disturbing Homophobic Texts, Videos to Voters 

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Republican-backed Dan Kelly participates in a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

By Keya Vakil

March 24, 2023

The text messages and videos spread lies about transgender kids, falsely accused the “woke left” of having an “unending thirst to trans our children,” and urged voters to support Dan Kelly’s campaign for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

A group supporting Dan Kelly in Wisconsin’s April 4 Supreme Court race sent a series of conspiracy-fueled, homophobic texts and videos to voters this week in a bid to scare parents, stir up anger at transgender people, and fear monger about his opponent, Janet Protasiewicz. 

Wisconsin voters received at least two different text messages with accompanying videos created by the American Principles Project PAC—a leading anti-LGBTQ group largely funded by billionaire Dick Uihlein. The messages and videos spread lies and misleading claims about transgender kids and distort Protasiewicz’s support of LBGTQ equality to somehow suggest she’s a threat to children. 

UpNorthNews spoke to three different individuals who received the texts and videos. 

Jamie Crofts, a Milwaukee resident, got a text on Thursday that misleadingly claims that the “woke left” has an “unending thirst to trans our children.”

“I was pretty horrified,” Crofts said. “Of all the things to send a get out the vote text for in a Supreme Court justice race, I was pretty shocked that they chose to attack trans children.” 

The text message also invokes the “parental rights” framing that well-funded, right-wing activist groups like “Moms for Liberty” have turned into a rallying cry to attack anything they consider “woke” culture, which can range from history lessons about race and racism to supporting LGBTQ kids to sex education.

The Kelly campaign—which is largely being supported by right-wing billionaires and anti-abortion groups—did not respond to a request for comment asking whether they agree with or condone the content of the texts and videos. But Kelly opposed same-sex marriage in old blog posts, claiming that it would “rob the institution of marriage of any discernible meaning.” He’s also compared Social Security to slavery and criticized abortion rights. 

The text Crofts received came with a video that references a case in Wales, Wisconsin, where parents sued a school district over a policy that allowed their daughter to go by male pronouns. The video twists the story and insinuates that the school forcibly transitioned their daughter into a boy, which did not happen. 

“On April 4, the balance of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court will determine if parents still have rights,” the narrator of the video says. “Don’t leave your children in the hands of Janet Protasiewiz. Vote for Justice Daniel Kelly. Your family depends on it.”

Crofts called the message and video an “absurd,” “fear-mongering” attempt to distract from real issues and scare voters into supporting Kelly.

“I don’t know a single person who is worried that a school is going to turn their kid trans,” Crofts added. 

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The Protasiewicz campaign also criticized the messages and videos, describing them as a scare tactic and an effort to distort her record.

“The right-wing groups supporting Dan Kelly’s campaign will say literally anything in an attempt to scare voters and distract from his record of extremism and corruption,” Protasiewicz campaign spokesperson Sam Roecker said in a statement. “Judge Janet Protasiewicz believes in treating everyone with dignity and respect, and she will bring fairness and impartiality back to the court. These claims aren’t based in reality and don’t reflect positions Judge Protasiewicz has taken in this campaign.”

The second text message misleadingly claims Protasiewicz is backed by “woke activists” who are “stripping parents of their rights in Wisconsin schools and forcing transgenderism down our throats.” 

The narrator of the second video funded by the American Principles Project PAC—once again spreading conspiracies and misleading information—says that “Radical activists want kids to start transgender therapies without parental consent. The extreme groups endorsing Janet Protasiewicz aim to take away parental rights and impose trans ideology on our kids.”

The second video, like the first one, then paints Kelly as a white knight of sorts who will support parents’ rights and “put an end to trans indoctrination in our schools.”

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Paul, who lives in Minneapolis but grew up in Wisconsin, received the second message, despite not having lived in his home state for 25 years. At first, he thought the message was from Kelly’s campaign, not an outside group, and like Crofts, he found the focus on trans people to be both offensive and an effort to distract from the issues. 

“With all that Wisconsin and the country are facing, it’s surprising that [they’re] focused on demonizing trans people,” Paul said. 

The message and video so disgusted Paul that he responded to it by making a donation to Protasiewicz’s campaign, describing it as a “small way to attempt to counter the influence of PACs that spout this kind of incendiary rhetoric.”

In total, the American Principles Project PAC has spent nearly $800,000 on digital ads boosting Kelly’s campaign, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Center Campaign.

The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the text messages and videos has become something of a staple of right-wing candidates and organizations in recent years, even as evidence suggests it’s an electoral loser. A barrage of ads targeting transgender children flooded the airwaves in dozens of states ahead of last November’s elections, including many from the American Principles Project PAC. 

The ads have been followed up by a torrent of anti-LGBTQ legislation this year. Since Jan. 1, Republican lawmakers have introduced at least 430 anti-LGBTQ bills nationwide, with the majority targeting the roughly 1% of Americans who identify as transgender, including trans youth. 

The effect has been corrosive, with gay and transgender youth expressing severe mental health consequences.

Seventy-one percent of LGBTQ youth—and 86% of trans and nonbinary youth—said state laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ young people have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a recent poll from Morning Consult and the Trevor Project.

“I have several transgender friends who are really scared about everything that is going on in this country right now,” Crofts said.

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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