MADISON – Facing his toughest campaign in years, state Rep. Dan Knodl got help this week from the Republican Party with a hard-edged campaign mailer that graphically detailed an alleged sexual assault by a man who was later paralyzed in a police shooting.
“Trigger warning: The police excerpts below are graphic and may prompt recall of previous trauma,” states the mailer, which was sent by the Republican Party of Wisconsin on Knodl’s behalf.
The mailer criticizes Knodl’s opponent for bringing her children to a protest over the treatment of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot from behind in August by a Kenosha police officer. It does not mention the shooting or concerns about racial discrimination that brought protesters to the street. Instead, it focuses on the assault allegation against Blake.
Bishop Tavis Grant, the national director of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said the mailer undermines the work of a task force on racial inequalities and could inspire violence against Black people.
“This young man was shot seven times in the back,” Grant said of Blake. “His injuries are irreversible. He is perhaps paralyzed for life. And to use him and weaponize him is outrageous. It is against all forms of decency, all forms of human consideration.”
He noted Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, shot three people two days later as part of an armed group claiming to help protect property during the unrest. He is charged with homicide and reckless endangerment for killing two people and injuring a third.
“This (mailer) is the kind of diatribe that fuels people like Kyle Rittenhouse and fuels the kidnappers wanting to kidnap the governor in Michigan as well as Virginia and here recently wanting to plot an assassination of Vice President Biden,” Grant said.
Knodl, R-Germantown, didn’t return a phone call Saturday, but the executive director of the state Republican Party, Mark Jefferson, defended the mailer.
“We strongly support racial equality and, unlike the left, believe it can exist without ignoring rape victims,” Jefferson said in his statement. “Nor is it about the officer’s conduct, which is under thorough review. It’s about Democrat hypocrites, and many in the media, who last year embraced #MeToo only to ignore assault victims now.”
The mailer describes Knodl’s tough-on-crime stances and criticizes his Democratic opponent, Emily Siegrist, for protesting with her children. It contends she will protest any issue just for the sake of protesting and includes a doctored photo of her holding a made-up sign that says, “Today I’m protesting to support abusers. Tomorrow? Who knows!!”
Blake was shot by Officer Rusten Sheskey as Blake was getting into a vehicle after police tried unsuccessfully to stop him with Tasers. Police recovered a knife from the vehicle, but prosecutors have not released full details of what happened or determined whether the officer acted appropriately.
Blake has been charged with third-degree sexual assault, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct for allegedly entering his girlfriend’s home in May while she was sleeping, accusing her of having sex with another man, assaulting her and leaving with her keys and her vehicle. Blake’s attorneys have said he is trying to resolve the case short of trial.
It’s a report on that incident that is quoted extensively in the mailer. It describes the alleged assault in detail.
Siegrist did not immediately return a call Saturday.
The shooting of Blake led Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to call the Legislature into special session to ban no-knock warrants and chokeholds and make it easier for people to sue when others call the police on them for no sound reason. Republicans immediately put off the session, but Assembly leaders created a task force to study such issues.
This week, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester announced the members of the task force, nearly two months after he formed it. The task force will hold its first meeting on Wednesday.
“If we want to make Wisconsin a better place for everyone, our leaders cannot engage in smear campaigns set to divide us,” the task force’s Democratic co-chairwoman, Rep. Shelia Stubbs of Madison, said in a statement.
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s Grant said he thought Knodl’s mailer would make it harder for the task force to do its work.
“There are members in the Assembly who are quite honestly obstructionists,” he said. “They want to block any reform that goes to the heart of a sharing of equal protection under the law.”
Molly Beck of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.