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Madison Common Council president, vice president “disgusted” at Alder’s membership in Oath Keepers


Madison Common Council president Keith Furman and vice president Jael Currie issued a statement Thursday saying they are “disgusted” that fellow alder Gary Halverson was a member of the far-right extremist group Oath Keepers in 2020.

Halverson’s past membership came to light in a list of current and past members acquired and published by a non-profit called the Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), and republished by the Anti-Defamation League.

Halverson has said he was “misled” and joined the group in mid-2020 thinking it was “an organization that welcomed veterans who cared about our democracy.” He said he terminated his membership two months later in August of 2020, but has provided no documentation of that.

He has not said publicly who misled him or what led him to join, nor what led him to terminate his membership.

In June 2020, when Halverson joined, the Oath Keepers were in the public eye mostly for counterprotesting against the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the organization as “one of the largest far-right antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.” It has been operating since 2009 and were prominent supporters of President Donald Trump, opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement going back to 2014, and antigovernment extremists. Many members are among those who’ve been arrested for their roles in the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Furman and Currie said given all that, Halverson should have known what kind of group he was joining — especially at the time he joined.

“We’re disgusted to learn of Alder Halverson’s past paid membership in the Oath Keepers,” they said in a written statement. “Its extremist positions have been well known since its founding over a decade ago. Mere seconds of online research reveal the Oath Keepers as a far-right antigovernment group, not a group for veterans or the preservation of democracy. While the nation was reacting to the murder of George Floyd, this group promoted its membership using anti Black Lives Matter statements. At this same time, Alder Halverson decided to pay to join this extremist group. Alder Halverson is certainly entitled to this choice and it’s up to him to decide if he can continue as Alder with this secret now being public. Having this information certainly calls into question the motivation behind his votes. The voters of District 17 will have an opportunity to decide who their Alder is in April 2023.”

In an interview with Madison365 Thursday afternoon, Currie said it’s especially concerning that Halverson joined in June of 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter protest.

“Timing is of the essense,” she said. “Specifically, I feel like the Oath Keepers pushed a heavy anti-Black, anti-Black Lives Matter movement.”

Both Furman and Currie noted that the Common Council doesn’t have a clear procedure to remove a member, and Furman said “that’s not the council’s role.” Both came up short of suggesting Halverson resign.

“I think (whether he can continue to serve on the council) is a heavy question that he needs to reckon with,” Currie said.

Halverson ran unopposed in the spring of 2021 to fill the seat vacated by former Council president Samba Baldeh’s run for State Assembly. Halverson’s campaign website and social media presense launched in mid-November 2020, three months after he says he terminated his membership in Oath Keepers.

Both Downtown Madison, Inc and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce endorsed Halverson’s bid for Common Council. Both condemned the Oath Keepers and said knowledge of Halverson’s membership would have affected their endorsement decisions.

“Had the Chamber been aware of Ald. Halverson’s association with the Oath Keepers, it would have absolutely had an impact on our endorsement. During the endorsement interview process, one of the questions we ask candidates is about their membership in other organizations, and Ald. Halverson failed to disclose this information,” Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon said in a statement provided to Madison365. “The Oath Keepers is a reprehensible extremist group. Even in a best-case scenario, Ald. Halverson’s membership – however brief – shows a serious lack of judgment and curiosity. It should go without saying that, should he run again, this would impact our endorsement heading into the next election cycle.”

“If Downtown Madison, Inc. would have known about Gary Halverson’s affiliation with the Oath Keepers, it absolutely would have affected our endorsement decision,” DMI President Jason Ilstrup said in a statement to Madison365. “DMI would never willing endorse a candidate tied to such an extremist antigovernment group, whose values have zero in common with ours. We are very disappointed this information was not disclosed during our endorsement process. Now knowing the association, it will most certainly affect our endorsement moving forward.”

Halverson has not said whether he will seek re-election.

Halverson issued a statement to our news partner News 3 Now, reiterating that he “thought this was an organization that welcomed veterans and cared about our democracy. Once I discovered otherwise, I immediately quit, four months before the 2020 Presidential election.”

Halverson did not respond to email and phone messages seeking clarification on what led him to that belief about the organization, how he discovered its true nature, or whether he had any documentation of his resignation from the group.

In his statement, Halverson said after resigning from the organization, “I was then further disgusted by the abhorrent attack on our democracy on Jan 6. I have many friends across all political spectrums because I believe relationships are what builds a strong community. I have supported many different candidates including our current Democrat nominees for Senate, Congress and Governor. Ultimately, my heart is to serve my community, which I do every day to the best of my ability. My constituents in District 17 know this, my friends know this and my colleagues on the council know this.”

This story has been updated to include Halverson’s statement and statements from Downtown Madison, Inc and the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.