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UW-Madison fires employee who drove motorcycle through group of protesters

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Motorcyclist video screenshot

A screenshot of a video posted to social media shows a group of protesters standing off with UW-Madison employee Rich Yaeger, who is seen on the motorcycle, Nov. 6 on Capitol Square.

UW-Madison on Thursday fired an employee who in early November drove his motorcycle through a group of demonstrators, injuring several of them and prompting Madison police to open an investigation into the incident.

In a 10-minute video posted on Facebook and freckled with foul language, senior power plant operator Rich Yaeger claimed he was “wrongfully terminated” from his job in a Thursday morning phone call from two human resources employees whom he characterized as “hatchetmen.” He vowed to hire an attorney or legal team to help him.

The reasons for Yaeger’s termination appear to have little to do with his behavior on Nov. 6, at least according to Yaeger. On that day, supporters of President Donald Trump and counter-protesters took to Capitol Square as the presidential election had not yet been called for President-elect Joe Biden.

Yaeger, whose motorcycle displays a Trump sticker, clashed with a group of people who have been active in Black Lives Matter protests this year. He injured at least three of them as he squeezed his bike through a tight spot between protesters and cars, according to videos posted on social media.

One of the injured, Andi Janeway, previously told the Wisconsin State Journal that the encounter left the group with bruising, pulled tendons, a run-over foot and a burn from the motorcycle’s exhaust pipe.

Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Thursday that the case has been referred to the Dane County District Attorney’s office for a charging decision.

Alexandra Fischer, a paralegal in the DA’s office, said police recommended up to four counts of disorderly conduct and that the case is under review.

UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone confirmed Yaeger was terminated Thursday due to “workplace policy violations.” She declined to elaborate on those violations.

The university is processing a State Journal public records request submitted Nov. 30 for documents related to Yaeger’s employment and termination. The process typically takes at least a few weeks because state law requires subjects of the records to be notified of the request and given a chance to sue in an attempt to block release of the records.

In Yaeger’s video posted Thursday, he said he was fired from UW-Madison for three reasons.

The first was because Yaeger said he used foul language in front of his supervisors during his first shift back after the Nov. 6 incident. The language was directed not at his co-workers, he said, but to the “supremacists up there who look at me like a bug to be squashed. I am not a bug and I will not be squashed.”

After the shift, Yaeger penned an email to bosses apologizing for his use of foul language. However, “in anticipation that they were going to call me a racist,” Yaeger said he included the N-word three times in his message — “none of them derogatory, absolutely not, as a matter of fact, used with as much love as possible.”

Later in the week, Yaeger didn’t show up for work or call in to explain his absence, the third reason he said UW-Madison cited for his termination.

The clash with Yaeger and the university’s subsequent handling of the incident upset many UW-Madison students of color.

One group known as the BIPOC Coalition, which supports Black, Indigenous and people of color, expressed doubt that Yaeger would be fired and suggested administrators did not care about the safety of students of color because Yaeger continued to be paid during their investigation.

University officials, in response to those criticisms, have said they cannot provide many details during an ongoing investigation. On social media, UW-Madison said it “rejects all acts of violence and threats to any member of our community. These actions have no place on campus or in the Madison community.”

Yaeger declined to speak with a Wisconsin State Journal reporter over the phone Thursday, demanding through Facebook messages and text messages that the interview be conducted in person, which the newspaper declined.

“I’ve got rage, people,” Yaeger said toward the end of his video, zooming his cellphone camera onto the motorcycle that started the monthlong investigation. “This machine here, this machine kills fascists.”

Art of the everyday: See the world through the eyes of the Wisconsin State Journal’s photographers


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