A video posted on social media on Friday shows a UW-Madison employee driving his motorcycle through a group of protesters in Capitol Square as election protesters and counter-protesters faced off.
UW student and founding member of the UW-Madison BIPOC coalition Tarah Stangler had her foot run over by the motorcycle. She claims she and two others were directly hit, while another was grazed by the bike’s exhaust pipe.
“He ran my foot over, there was one person leaning on his front tire and she kind of bounced off it, and someone’s finger got stuck in the clutch of his bike and dragged them about a car's length before someone else grabbed them and pulled them out of it,” Stangler recalled.
Stangler said her foot wasn’t broken by the bike, but that both her leg and foot suffered severe contusions.
“The bruising has gone down a little, but the past couple of days [my leg] has been pretty angry,” Strangler said.
UW-Madison Director of News and Media Relations Meredith McGlone confirmed to the Wisconsin State Journal that the motorcyclist seen in the video is Rich Yaeger, a senior power plant operator at the university.
“UW-Madison takes these allegations very seriously,” the university tweeted Tuesday morning. “We will take appropriate action based on university policy and standards of employee conduct once an investigation is completed. We reject 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 did not respond to a request for comment.
Yaeger’s acts of violence and racism
The conflict started when Yaeger drove up to a car blockade in Capitol Square and demanded he get through.
“I was actually reading a book on the back of my car when [Yaeger] rolled up to our barricade,” Stangler said. “He asked us what we were doing, but every time someone tried to answer him he would just rev his engine.”
Yaeger was also taking video on his phone during parts of the confrontation and posted five videos to both YouTube and Facebook. In the description of the videos on his YouTube page, he writes that protesters are “pathetic” and “the street and the square were MINE.”
In the YouTube videos, Yaeger can be seen inching closer to the barricade as he yells at the protesters, eventually ending up in a small space between two cars with protesters around him.
“You better be careful,” Yaeger said to Stangler at one point. “[The motorcycle’s belt] will suck your little pigtails right in there. It’ll rip them right out of your head.”
Yaeger also seemed to threaten one protester with a large metal flashlight, warning he could use it to hit the protester on the head, according to Strangler.
Shortly after putting the flashlight away, Yaeger screamed for help for a few seconds, following it up with “you guys are f****** pathetic man.”
At that point, Yaeger began to move his bike forward while protesters continued to try to block his entry into the corner of the square. Yaeger then guns the bike for a second, running over Stangler’s foot and hitting others, while breaking out of the blockade into the street where protesters were standing.
“What happened you f****** p*****s,” Yaeger shouts back at the group.
After another minute of heckling protesters, Yaeger drove away from the scene.
Almost immediately after leaving the square, Yaeger took to Facebook to chide the protesters he had just driven through.
“Since then, he’s tried adding me and other people on Facebook, and has been messaging people about their posts,” Stangler said. “I didn’t realize until yesterday how harmful it was to me to hear his description of me and those that I care about.”
In one message posted publicly, Yaeger told a protester they should “have a good cry already,” adding: “Your photography is jubilee and pedantic. Loser.”
On his Facebook page, Yaeger says he is a “fully out of the closet Trump supporter” — at one point posting that it would be “excruciatingly embarrassing” if Biden were to win the election.
His page is laced with profanity and insults toward “Democrat destroyers,” often using derogatory language like “c***” or the N-word, posting, “I don't cut out my tongue for anybody!”
“Get the fuck out of my face n*****,” Yaeger says in one of his Facebook videos from Friday, as he drove away from the Capitol. “Whoops did I say that out loud, sorry I was trying to fantasize inside my head.”
On Aug. 26, he posted a meme mocking one of two demonstrators who were victims of a deadly shooting during unrest in Kenosha, Wis., over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man.
“You look at a person like this and think it’s ok he just snapped, he just did something out of character,” Stangler said. “But you can see this is a continued pattern of behavior — and to see him employed by the university — it just makes me scared. Could other university employees have that same opinion?”
UW-Madison to take action?
Moving forward it is still unclear what will happen to Yaeger’s employment with the university; however, the UW-Madison BIPOC coalition has demanded he be fired without severance pay and put on unpaid administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing.
“Hey @UWMadison, have you fired [Yaeger] yet? He used racial and homophobic slurs against your students (and our founding members). Not to mention he RAN ONE OF THEM OVER,” the group Tweeted out Monday. “We’re done with your performative activism. Fire him & make a statement about how you condemn his actions.”
Stangler said she assumed Yaeger would be fired for his actions, but that the university needs to also publicly condemn his actions and all white supremacy to help rectify the situation.
In a tense October meeting between the BIPOC coalition and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank, student activists agreed to meet with Blank twice a semester and in emergencies.
“The subject in my email to university leadership was ‘Does this constitute an emergency yet,’” Stangler said. “I haven’t heard anything back from the chancellor about it specifically yet, but I would like her to at least directly communicate with me and the other people who got hit to talk about what she plans to do next.”
“For too long the university has been lenient about outright condemning racism,” she said. “That’s not ok, we can’t keep doing this.”