In his breakout speech to Iowa conservatives in January, Gov. Scott Walker described death threats he and his family received during massive protests against his administration in 2011, including an especially graphic one targeting his wife, Tonette, which threatened to “gut her like a deer.”
The audience gasped, and the story — which Walker first described in his 2013 book — has been widely circulated by the national media.
But while the administration and the state Department of Justice have been able to document other threats against Walker and his family, officials have been unable to produce any record of this particular threat — although the former head of the police unit guarding the governor said he remembers showing it to him at the time.
It’s also unclear whether the threat was ever investigated as others were. The state Department of Justice documented dozens of threats against Walker, his family, and Democratic and Republican lawmakers during protests over Walker’s 2011 proposal to effectively eliminate collective bargaining for public sector employees and the recall elections that followed. The threats were made by email, letter, phone, verbally and via social media like Twitter and Facebook.
While police routinely followed up on the threats, only six led to investigations by the DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation. Just one was prosecuted.
In January 2013, the State Journal sought records of all threats received by the governor. The threat against Tonette Walker was not included among the documents released in response to that request.
The Republican governor’s office was flooded with correspondence during the 2011 protests, and officials also noted that some threatening messages may not have been documented because they “were not deemed to rise to the level of a death threat or were not designated or filed as threats at the time of receipt.”
The newspaper later asked specifically for records of the “gut her like a deer” threat, but the Department of Administration said it could not locate any. DOA spokesman Cullen Werwie said in January that, based on the recollection of Capitol Police Chief David Erwin, then a captain in the governor’s Dignitary Protection Unit, “no record was created” of the threat.
Although he declined to be interviewed, Erwin said in a statement to the State Journal: “Generally we do not discuss security related issues as it relates to the dignity protection unit. With that said, I do recall showing the Governor the threat referenced in your questions.”
A number of other graphic threats against the governor and his family were documented, however.
One email sent to Walker’s campaign warned the governor could “watch” while the sender sexually assaulted his wife. Another email to the Walker campaign said, “DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE. I HOPE YOU, YOUR WIFE. KIDS GET MURDERED!”
One letter to Tonette Walker, which was postmarked in Green Bay and sent to the executive residence, began, “HI TONETTE, Has Wisconsin ever had a governor assassinated? Scotts heading that way. Or maybe one of your sons getting killed would hurt him more. I want him to feel the pain.”
A number of Democratic lawmakers also received a racist missive full of offensive slurs against President Barack Obama, which also said, “Death to all Marxists!” Another email read, “Take a gun to your head you union oned (sic) marxist piece of (expletive)!”
Most of the threats were dismissed, but one was prosecuted. Katherine Windels, a Cross Plains child care provider who sent email threats to 15 Republican state senators over their support for what would become Act 10, pleaded guilty to making a bomb threat in late 2011 and was placed in a first-offenders program.
Windels sent a message to the 15 senators that began by telling them to get their “things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks.”