Madison Alder Gary Halverson, whose past ties with the right-wing extremist group the Oath Keepers drew a firestorm of condemnation and criticism, announced Wednesday he was resigning effective immediately due to safety concerns for his family.
In a statement posted to his now-defunct city council webpage, Halverson said threats against his family as well as vandalism at his home pushed him to resign, and he wasn’t willing to put his family through it any longer.
“The safety of my family will always come first,” Halverson said. “My wife has PTSD from past trauma and the last week has been extremely triggering. Violence against women is a very real issue and having unknown individuals come onto our property and vandalize it is traumatic … [and] absolutely terrifying.”
The controversy began last week when the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism released a report on a leaked list of Oath Keeper membership rolls. The list, initially leaked last year, reveals current and former group members who supported the group financially. Ald. Halverson was among 609 Wisconsinites identified by the Anti-Defamation League — including five other elected officials in Wisconsin and four law enforcement personnel. Nationwide, there were more than 38,000 people total on the database.
The Oath Keepers are a far-right, anti-government militia group that claims to defend against tyranny, encouraging its members to disobey orders they believe would violate the Constitution. The group is currently being investigated for its role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, and multiple members, including the group’s founder, have already been charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes.
Ald. Halverson, who has represented District 17 since April 2021, joined the Oath Keepers in 2020 before leaving two months later.
“I joined without vetting the organization,” Halverson told Channel 3000. “I thought I joined an organization that welcomed veterans who cared about our democracy. I was misled and I terminated the membership two months later in August 2020.”
When the news broke of his past ties, many of Halverson’s colleagues, including council president Keith Furman, vice president Jael Currie and District 8 Ald. Juliana Bennett, expressed skepticism that Halverson didn’t know the Oath Keepers’ beliefs.
“[H]ow do you ‘accidentally’ join a white supremacist organization,” Bennett tweeted.
Bennett provided documents to The Daily Cardinal, shared with her by another council member, that cast doubt on Halverson’s claim he was not aware of the group's beliefs when he joined. The documents show the Oath Keepers’ archived homepage and Wikipedia page from May 2020.
The homepage features ideas popular in far-right circles like “The Dems Hijacked Our Government” and the discredited COVID treatment Hydroxychloroquine. The group’s Wikipedia page also details the group’s standing as a radical anti-government group.
Halverson did not respond to a request for comment concerning the nature of his relationship with the Oath Keepers.
Bennett told the Cardinal that it was ultimately irrelevant whether Halverson was aware of the nature of the Oath Keepers, saying the problem was that he was once affiliated with the organization and refused to acknowledge the harm his actions caused the community.
“Former Alder Halverson's continual dismissal and minimization of his involvement caused even more community outrage and was not reflective of a council member who was genuinely remorseful for the harm he caused,” Bennett said.
She added that Halverson’s affiliation with the Oath Keepers should have been public knowledge before now so the voters could have had full information about who they were electing.
In the statement announcing his resignation, Halverson also voiced regret regarding the current political climate and deplored the methods used by some to achieve their goals.
“I am deeply saddened that our current state of politics is filled with fear and intimidation tactics,” Halverson said. “The ends do not justify ANY means.”
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway concurred that threats and vandalism weren’t appropriate forms of discourse, and called Halverson’s decision to resign the right one.
“Ald. Halverson’s decision to resign is clearly the right thing for him and his family. Having experienced something similar myself, I understand how upset they must be by having their home targeted. While elected officials must embrace feedback from, and disagreement with, our constituents, I do not believe that graffiti or protests at our homes are an appropriate form of engagement,” said Rhodes-Conway. “I’m confident that the Common Council will find someone qualified to represent the district until the next election.”
The Common Council will appoint an individual to serve the remainder of Halverson’s term. Applicants must live in District 17, which spans the area north of Dane County airport, and have until Oct. 3 to submit an application. A Common Council Executive Committee meeting on Oct. 20 will interview candidates, and the new alder will be appointed on Oct. 25, to serve until April 18, 2023.
Already some people have signaled their interest in the seat. Sabrina Madison, the founder and CEO of the Progress Center for Black Women, announced in a Facebook post her intention to run for the seat.
“I've been considering a run for alder for several years,” Madison wrote. “So as with anything else, I can either just complain about the issues that are close to me/us, or I can listen to that voice in my head that won't give up until I've moved towards the kind of progress that I know and feel we [read community] are deserving of.”
Gavin Escott is a photographer and staff writer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal, focusing on city and state news. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.