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Elected officials, law enforcement, Jewish community praise police named in Oath Keepers’ article

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//November 3, 2023//

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Elected officials, law enforcement, Jewish community praise police named in Oath Keepers’ article

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//November 3, 2023//

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Published Nov. 3, 2023 at 8:01 a.m. CDT. Last updated Nov. 7, 2023, at 8:45 a.m. CDT.

After reading a Nov. 1, 2023, Badger Project article about the Oath Keepers, one might think two Bayside police officers and a Milwaukee Police officer joined an antisemitic, violent extremist group that had a major role in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection.

However, according to local elected officials, law enforcement entities, and members of the Milwaukee Jewish community, that could not be further from the truth.

A Wisconsin Law Journal investigation this week revealed many key elements of context were omitted from the Badger Project article, according to multiple sources.

Village of Bayside president and Milwaukee-based Attorney Eido Walny praised Cory Dale Fuller and Ryan T. Bowe, the two officers mentioned in the Badger Project article.

“I’ve known these two officers really well, and these are two really excellent police officers,” Walny said, noting that The Badger Project article “is no reflection of the Bayside Police Department.”

During an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Wednesday, Walny noted how the Bayside Department looked into the matter and determined there were no issues or cause for concern to the community.

“Their membership (in Oath Keepers) was more than a decade ago. It was very brief,” Walny said, noting that “Back then it was a pro-police organization. That is all they thought they were getting themselves into. They do not condone the more recent activities of the Oath Keepers group,” Walny added.

Bayside Police Chief Tom Liebenthal agreed with Walny.

Liebenthal, who did not respond to The Badger Project’s attempts for a comment, noted that at one point both the officers joined the group, “only very briefly.”

“There is no indication of a need to be concerned about anything impacting work performance for these officers. Quite the opposite, actually,” Chief Liebenthal told the Wisconsin Law Journal during an interview Wednesday.

“We looked into it and there was no need to conduct a formal investigation,” Liebenthal added.

According to Liebenthal, Fuller and Bowe joined Oath Keepers very briefly, more than 10 years ago — in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

According to the Badger Project article, David J. Larscheidt, a Milwaukee Police officer, also joined Oath Keepers.

Milwaukee Police Association President Andrew Wagner told the Wisconsin Law Journal Thursday that Larscheidt joined Oath Keepers in 2010 or 2011 after supporting what he at the time believed to be a pro-police group on Facebook.

Wagner noted Larscheidt has served as a Milwaukee Police officer for more than two decades without any issues.

The Badger Project reported that Larscheidt is “a member of Oath Keepers.” However, according to Wagner, the officer is not an active member.

Wagner said in 2010, when Larscheidt joined, he received a couple of police supportive stickers in the mail, put them in a drawer, and since 2010 has zero to do with the group, in the past 13 years.

The Milwaukee Police Department told the Wisconsin Law Journal they became aware of Larscheidt’s (previous) affiliation with Oath Keepers on Oct. 19, 2023.

“We are currently looking into this matter for any violations of our code of conduct. MPD is committed to working with our community to build sustainable healthy neighborhoods free of crime and maintained by positive relationships,” a Milwaukee Police spokesperson said.

Milwaukee Jewish Community reaction

Cheski Edelman, who serves as Rabbi for a Jewish place of worship in (Chabad) Bayside, praised Bayside Police Officers Fuller and Bowe on Thursday during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal.

“We love and trust the Bayside Police Department. They go above and beyond to make us feel safe and cared about,” Edelman said.

Edelmen says he knows both officers Bowe and Fuller personally and has only positive things to say about both of them.

“They are both fabulous and been nothing but professional. The Bayside Police Department has been incredible for our shul (place of worship) and the entire Jewish Community,” Edelman added.

A second Rabbi, Noah Chertkoff of the Reform Congregation, Temple Shalom in Fox Point, agreed with Edelmen.

“Fox Point Police and Bayside Police have been doing a wonderful job keeping the Jewish community safe,” said Chertkoff, during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal Thursday.

“The relationship that officers have with us is wonderful, compassionate, and kind to our community. That has been our experience,” Chertkoff added.

A third Wisconsin Rabbi, who spoke to the Wisconsin Law Journal on the condition of anonymity, said he has experienced no issues with any of the officers mentioned in the Badger Project article.

“I wouldn’t judge someone who was previously a member of the group a long time ago. There are a lot of things people do when they were younger,” the Rabbi said.

“There are quite a few organizations that change and now stand for something else,” he added.

The Milwaukee Jewish Federation also issued a statement:

“The local Jewish community has had, and continues to have, a positive relationship with law enforcement and maintains a high-level of confidence in the local law enforcement community. While Oath Keepers is an organization that espouses conspiracy theories, it’s likely that people who join the organization may not fully understand the antisemitic origins of those theories. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation strongly believe that education around antisemitism and all forms of bigotry is the best tool to disempower those ideologies. The JCRC and Milwaukee Jewish Federation stand ready as an educational resource to help individuals and organizations raise their awareness about antisemitism,” a spokesperson for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said Friday.

Modern Day Oath Keepers

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group anonymously leaked the names of hundreds of members of the Oath Keepers to them. ADL then discovered 373 names on the list belonged to law enforcement personnel. Additional names included military, first responders and elected officials, including six in Wisconsin, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.

According to the ADL, in the wake of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, significant public and legal scrutiny was focused on the Oath Keepers. Despite the group’s national profile as an anti-government extremist group associated with the militia movement, few specifics were known about its membership.

ADL says that changed in September 2021, when the non-profit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) published – among other data – more than 38,000 names on the Oath Keepers’ membership list. The membership data provides insight into the people who signed up and paid dues to the organization over the years and helps illuminate the extent to which the group’s anti-government ideology has permeated mainstream society.

Back in 2022, when the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, was found guilty of seditious conspiracy, ADL praised the verdict.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director said, “Today’s guilty verdicts for Stewart Rhodes and other Oath Keepers who played a key role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol sends an indisputable message that extremism does not pay and that you cannot undermine American democracy.”

The Badger Project said they attempted to contact multiple law enforcement sources, the three officers and the Milwaukee Police union for its story, but did not receive responses.

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