Wisconsin governor activates National Guard after night of violence, 2 statues toppled

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers activated the National Guard on Wednesday after protesters toppled two statues, vandalized buildings and a state senator was attacked outside the Capitol during a night of violence that erupted following daylong protests.

The guardsmen will protect state properties and "make sure people can exercise their First Amendment rights while ensuring the safety of members of the public and state buildings and infrastructure," Gov. Tony Evers said.

The unrest that unfolded Tuesday night began after 200 to 300 protesters marched through downtown Madison and escalated once they reached the state Capitol grounds. Some tried breaking into the Capitol building but were repelled by police inside with pepper spray.

“The mob has become very bold,” said Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore. “They see they can get away with a little, and they inch forward more and more. [Downtown Madison] is a battle zone right now, and I fear for my city.”


Wisconsin's "Forward" statue lies in the street on Capitol Square in Madison on Tuesday. The statue has since been recovered, officials said. (Emily Hamer/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Wisconsin's "Forward" statue lies in the street on Capitol Square in Madison on Tuesday. The statue has since been recovered, officials said. (Emily Hamer/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

A spokesman for the group issued a list of demands, including the firing of a Madison police officer involved in the 2015 shooting of Tony Robinson, 19-year-old black man. The incident that had been referenced in recent weeks amid nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice.

One protester was arrested after he allegedly went to a restaurant across the street from the Capitol with a baseball bat. The man, identified as Devenore Johnson, 28, spoke through a megaphone while walking around the establishment. He was arrested and was seen being carried by police to a squad car.

Others gathered near a condominium building and surrounded a tow truck, forcing the driver to abandon the vehicle. The crowd broke into buildings, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a city-county building. Windows at the Tommy Thompson Center, named for the former Republican governor, were smashed as well as lights at the Capitol.

Evers said there was “significant damage to state property.”

Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter encountered protesters when he walked into the Capitol building and began recording them. He said he was “assaulted and beat up” by eight to 10 people as he took the video.

“Punched/kicked in the head, neck, ribs,” Carpenter tweeted. “Innocent people are going to get killed.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway condemned the overnight violence in a virtual news conference Wednesday.

"The behaviors that we saw were incredibly dangerous, putting people's lives at risk," she said. "It is important that we separate First Amendment protests from those engaged in criminal conduct."

She added that anyone involved in criminal behavior "will be held accountable."

Protesters also turned their anger toward two statues -- one of Civil War Col. Hans Christian Heg, who fought for the Union side and was an ardent abolitionist, and one of Wisconsin's motto, "Forward." The base of the Heg figure was defaced with graffiti that read: "Fire Matt Kenny," the Madison police officer involved in the 2015 shooting.

He was cleared by prosecutors of any wrongdoing

Protesters dragged the statue a half-mile away and dumped it into a lake. Both figures were covered, Evers said Wednesday.

The anger unleashed on the statues follows similar acts against monuments of controversial historical figures in the wake of George Floyd's death while in police custody.

“The fall of the statues is a huge gain for the movement, though I think that liberal and conservative media outlets will try to represent last night as senseless violence rather than the strategic political move it really was,” Protester Micah Le wrote, according to The Associated Press.

President Trump vowed this week to protect public statues and federal monuments after a series of vandalism incidents and nationwide clashes between police and protesters while trying to forcefully remove them from public spaces. He is expected to sign an executive order this week making the destruction of such properties punishable by jail time.


Republicans have called on Evers and Rhodes-Conway, both Democrats, to do more to protect the Capitol while lashing out at them for not acting quickly to quell Tuesday's unrest. Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany has called on Evers to resign.

In a statement, Rhodes-Conway called the protesters “exceedingly dangerous" while Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first Black person to hold that office, said “far right provocateurs” had “fanned the flames of hate."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.