MADISON — The same leftist attorney general who can’t bring himself to call the mob violence in Kenosha last year a riot is warning school district parents and residents fed up with mask mandates and critical race theory indoctrination they’d better watch what they say — or face criminal charges.
WTMJ-TV reported that Attorney General Josh Kaul’s Office of School Safety recently spoke to school leaders about “what kinds of speech are protected and when police involvement is appropriate.”
Kaul’s Department of Justice is stepping in, according to TMJ-4, in the wake of school board meetings turning “heated around issues like mask mandates.”
The report cites as an example a recent meeting of the Burlington School Board in which members of the public shouted, “Cowards. You (expletive) cowards,” and “We pay taxes for you to be in that job.” Police reportedly intervened when some attendees began searching for school board members to confront them during a recess.
The story conveniently left out an incident last fall in which Black Lives Matter protesters disrupted and ultimately shut down a Burlington School Board meeting and reportedly threatened and assaulted members of the board.
The message appears to be directed at the growing ranks of frustrated parents and school district residents who have had it with power-grabbing school administrators and school board members pushing heavy-handed COVID-19 mitigation polices and radical curriculum.
“So when we think about is it typical for people to voice their opinion at a school board meeting, yes it is,” Kristin Devitt with the DOJ’s Office of School Safety told the news outlet. “One thing that is different is where we see people making threats — where there is physical violence involved. When the emotions are high and that is when we see behaviors changing and things becoming concerning.”
The line is clear on violence, but it’s much murkier when it comes to “angry” speech and certainly speech public officials don’t like or agree with. There’s a lot of the latter being described as “threatening” or even “hate speech” by the left. And it appears liberal Attorney General Josh Kaul is heavily stepping on that slippery slope.
Constitutional law expert Rick Esenberg notes “true threats” can be punished. What constitutes a “true threat,” however, is a matter of debate.
“The first problem is that none of the examples given in the article comes anywhere close to being a true threat. That something is hurtful or triggering or uncivil or even that it constitutes ‘doxxing’ does not make it a true threat,” said Esenberg, president and general counsel for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
In the context of the WTMJ story, the attorney general’s office had an obligation to make clear what defines a clear threat.
“As it is, (Devitt’s) statement poses a risk of chilling constitutionally protected speech,” Esenberg said.