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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Student activist receives letter advocating shooting ‘thugs’

A UW-Madison student and activist received a letter at the school’s Multicultural Student Center that encouraged taking the lives of “rioters,” urging citizens to put “holes in the bodies of such thugs.”

The letter, titled “Effective Dealing With Rioters,” was signed by James Pawlak of West Allis, Wis., and was addressed to both the Multicultural Student Center and to Cortez de la Cruz, a UW-Madison rising senior and First Wave Scholar. Pawlak left a return address and email address, as well as a website where “more of [his] thoughts” could be found.

The writer of the letter specifically called out “mobs” and "rioters" at UW-Madison, UC-Berkeley, Middlebury College and Claremont McKenna College, although there have been no reports of violence at UW-Madison protests. He wrote that the schools are “ruled by such terrorists as [sic] are not suppressed by cowardly school administrators.”

De la Cruz posted a picture of the letter on Facebook Sunday, calling the letter “a death threat.”

“I have no clue how big or small this organization is, but what I do know is that it only takes one person (with a gun) to change another’s life,” de la Cruz wrote.

Speaking to The Daily Cardinal Tuesday, he expounded on his post.

“Of course I take [the threat] seriously, but then there’s also a side of me that just knows, being a person of color, it’s not a complete shock,” de la Cruz said. “It’s not going to scare me … part of being a social activist is that it just comes with the territory.”

He also emphasized that “the idea of liberation and freedom” is much bigger than him.

“Even hypothetically, say I’m taken out. I’m still working towards an ideal that you can’t kill. There’s always going to be more people who think like me … to keep the movement going,” de la Cruz said.

De la Cruz said that the university reached out to him and informed him that Pawlak had previously sent threatening letters to other members of the UW-Madison community, including faculty.

UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university has "been in contact with the student to offer support" and that UWPD is investigating the incident.

Pawlak’s website includes similar threats of harm against “thugs,” “mobs” and “those waging Jihad.” Pawlak also frequently criticizes the Qur'an, denounces undocumented immigrants and calls those who question the legitimacy of President Donald Trump’s election “fascists.”

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The website lists Pawlak as a 79-year-old retired corrections officer.

In an email to The Daily Cardinal, Pawlak said his motivation for sending the letter was "the Bill of Rights as intended by the Founders of our Republic."

"As far as I can recall I intended to show that there is a solution when police refuse to protect against mob actions," Pawlak said, although there is no evidence that campus or city police ever jeopardized the safety of community members during Madison protests.

De la Cruz encouraged students and others to share his Facebook post “for public safety” and wrote that he would continue advocating for people of color and other oppressed people.

“If James or whoever… think this will swerve me from my mission of helping or liberating the oppressed, they must not know me, or the amount of Brown and Black Pride I have that sustains me.”

UPDATE June 14, 11:15 a.m. This post was updated to include comments from James Pawlak.

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