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Wisconsin Spotlight | Jan. 20, 2021

MADISON — Roy Stern was working outside his Hustisford home Monday when three sheriff’s deputies paid a call. They wanted to ask him some questions.

A Dodge County Sheriff’s Department investigator said the agency had gotten an “anonymous tip” that the 73-year-old retiree was headed to the Madison Capitol today (Inauguration Day) to “raise all kind of trouble.”

“It was a little disconcerting,” Stern, a longtime community member and local volunteer, told Wisconsin Spotlight. 

He said he got the sense he was accused of being some kind of domestic terrorist or insurrectionist, descriptors used by liberal politicians and news outlets in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. The violent demonstrations were led in large part by right-wing groups that dispute the November election results — principally that Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican President Donald Trump.

Stern wasn’t at the U.S. Capitol. He said he has no plans to be at the Wisconsin State Capitol today for any protests as Biden takes the oath of office to become the 46th president of the United States.

He has turned out for conservative demonstrations in recent weeks in Madison, peaceful protests from people concerned about what they see as widespread election law violations.

“There was no rioting. It was a peaceful assembly,” Stern said. “That’s the way things have got to be done, in a civil manner.”

“People are concerned about the direction the country is going. We have our rightwing viewpoints, but the last time I checked that was not a crime,” he added.

But in the days following the Capitol riots, a growing chorus of powerful liberals is painting their political opponents with a broad brush, marking anyone who disagrees with the election results — or even the policy ideas of Joe Biden and his liberal allies — as an enemy of democracy.

Stern said he was openly cooperative with the authorities, but asked if they meant to arrest him. The investigator said they were just checking out the anonymous accusations.

Scarier still, Stern said, was that the officers brought up his two friends in the conversation. It was head-scratching. One, he said, is a pretty “apolitical” person, well known and respected in his community. 

The officers left after a few more questions. Stern said the investigator called him later and told him that the department determined Stern was not a threat and they would not be continuing their investigation. 

Reached for comment Tuesday, Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt confirmed that the department had received an anonymous complaint about Stern.

“We looked into this and didn’t find anything out of the norm,” he said, adding there was nothing credible in the complaint.

Stern said deputies told him that the department had received several anonymous tips about plans or plots of right-wing individuals. Schmidt disputed the assertion.

“I haven’t heard anything. There’s been no intelligence on that brought to me,” the sheriff said.

It’s all left Stern with an unsettling feeling.

“This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany, how the Nazis came to power,” he said. “They came to power via democratic ways, elections. Once they had that power they took it and ran.”

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