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Toppling of Heg statue in Madison, among others, prompted federal crackdown on protests: report

The pedestal where the statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg stood is adorned with the words, "Black is Beautiful." Photo supplied.

The toppling of the Hans Christian Heg statue in downtown Madison contributed to the formation of the “Protecting American Communities Task Force,” or PACT, according to an internal Customs and Border Patrol memo, released Friday, July 17 by national security reporter Ken Klippenstein in The Nation.

The memo says President Trump on July 1 directed Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to begin coordinating a federal response to the “civil unrest and property destruction” currently gripping major American cities.

The memo pointed to the statue of Hans Christian Heg that was brought down in Madison June 23 as a contributing factor in organizing the federal response. The George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues brought down in Portland, Oregon, and the Ulysses S. Grant statue removed by crowds in San Francisco, California, were all cited as examples.

The Heg statue, and another statue that was not a historical figure, were both removed on June 23 during demonstrations sparked by the arrest of Devonere Johnson, 28, who was protesting inside Cooper’s Tavern, a downtown restaurant.

Madison as well has seen dozens of peaceful anti-racist protests. Several demonstrations devolved into the destruction of storefronts on State Street, physical altercations and confrontations with riot police.

Johnson, who also goes by Yeshua Musa, was charged in late June by US Attorney Scott Blader with two Hobbs Act violations carrying the potential of 40 years in federal prison. Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 9.

During another incident on June 23, an individual was caught on camera throwing a molotov cocktail into the City-County Building downtown. The homemade incendiary burned portions of the office floor. The federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms picked up the investigation, and announced a reward for information leading to an arrest.

Madison police arrested an individual accused of throwing the Molotov on July 1, the same day the President directed the creation of the task force. The ATF released photographs of other suspects to local media outlets identifying several other “persons of interest.” 

Federal authorities in the Customs and Border Patrol were responsible for the kidnapping-style arrest made in Portland on July 15. Protesters were met with tear gas on July 16, on top of the countless other times that police and Federal officers have used the chemical agent on demonstrators since the beginning of the George Floyd protests.

The arrest, as well as the wounding of a protester who federal agents shot in the head with an impact round, sparked calls for federal police to leave Portland. So far they have refused to leave.

Senators and congressional representatives called for the agents to leave Portland in a recent letter to both Acting Secretary Wolf and US Attorney General William Barr, who oversees the Department of Justice. 

In cities nationwide since the death of George Floyd on May 25, largely nonviolent anti-racist demonstrations and demonstrations of civil disobedience have challenged local and federal police.