A Cross Plains Catholic priest warned last year by Madison Diocese officials to temper his right-wing political activity is downplaying the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and advocated donating money to those charged in the incident.
Father Richard “Rick” Heilman’s comments during a podcast and from the pulpit come as Congress’ Jan. 6 committee makes its case that former President Donald Trump was at the head of a conspiracy to halt the legal transfer of power to President Joe Biden and sparked the Jan. 6 attack.
Heilman in a July 8 sermon at his rural Cross Plains church, St. Mary of Pine Bluff, downplays the attack and contrasts it with how left-wing protesters “invaded” Wisconsin’s state Capitol in 2011 after the introduction of then-Gov. Scott Walker’s ultimately successful bill to restrict union power in the state.
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In fact, the 2011 weekslong round-the-clock demonstrations in Madison that at one point drew 100,000 people to Capitol Square were overwhelmingly peaceful and resulted in no injuries or death and only limited damage.
By contrast, the Jan. 6, 2021, riot resulted in injuries to 150 police officers, and a bipartisan Senate report found it was linked to at least seven deaths, including that of one unarmed Trump supporter who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby near the U.S. House chambers. The officer was later cleared of any wrongdoing.
Heilman refers to those who “played up the optics of violence” on Jan. 6 and says “we saw security guards opening doors and welcoming them in. Because they knew that they were the gentlest doves group. They weren’t the domestic terrorist group.”
During the sermon, a red baseball cap with the words “Make America Holy Again” — similar to Trump campaign caps declaring “Make America Great Again” — rests on Heilman’s lectern.
Heilman in the Jan. 19 episode of the U.S. Grace Force podcast also says he was told there were “actors” at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, who might have been plants working with the federal government.
“This just seems to me like those who were instigating, who were inspiring weren’t MAGA people, but were other bad actors,” he said.
The guest on the podcast that day, Joseph McBride, an attorney for some of the Jan. 6 defendants, endorses that view, saying there were unknown “agent provocateurs on the ground that day.” Among McBride’s clients are Christopher Quaglin and Daniel Goodwyn, members of the right-wing Proud Boys.
The podcast ends with a plug for donations for the legal defense of Jan. 6 defendants and web addresses where people can learn how to make them.
Heilman said in August that Madison Bishop Donald Hying cautioned him earlier last year not to “trail off into politics.” He said the advice came after he criticized a series of executive orders by Biden that included loosening restrictions on abortion.
He also said he received an email from diocese Vicar General James Bartylla after he shared a news story online that provided what he called some “good news” about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that’s been touted by some, despite limited evidence, as effective against COVID-19.
Heilman last week responded to an email from the Wisconsin State Journal and expressed a willingness to be interviewed for this story but did not respond to follow-up inquiries from the newspaper.
In August he said “my bishop and I get along great,” but that he tries to be a “good teacher” of Catholic principles, and “I know for some people, they get upset by that.”
The diocese and lay officials at St. Mary of Pine Bluff did not respond to requests for comment.