It has been almost four months since Wisconsin governor Scott Walker won his recall election, which was prompted by a year-and-a-half-long battle with public-employee unions. Since Walker’s victory on June, the bright TV camera lights, most of the reporters, and the overwhelming majority of protesters have left the state capitol building.
Yet the most hard-core protesters remain, having been distilled down to a group of unemployed malcontents determined to irritate and cajole. With nothing legitimate left to demonstrate against, they wander the halls of the capitol, angrily berating people trying to work in the building.
The leader of these bottom-dwellers is a 23-year-old named Jeremy Ryan, who has earned the name “Segway Jeremy” because he is constantly perched atop a two-wheel mobility device. (I first mentioned Ryan on the Corner in June of 2011.) Ryan has been cited 30 times for public disruptions during the capitol protests, but his low point may have come early in July, when he staged a particularly vicious attack against Gwyn Guenther, a member of the capitol media corps.
For 40 years, Dick Wheeler was the dean of the Wisconsin capitol reporters. When he passed away last year, hundreds of people gathered under the dome to pay bipartisan homage to his work. Upon his death, his daughter, Gwyn Guenther, took over The Wheeler Report, a service that alerts readers to press releases and goings-on in state government.
According to a police report, on July 9 of this year, Ryan stood outside the capitol press room — now named the Dick Wheeler press room by legislative action — and mocked Guenther over the death of her father. Ryan sang “Wheeler is dead” over and over in a baritone voice until other reporters in the room called the police on him. (The report notes that when Guenther gave her statement to the police, she was very upset and had been crying.)
Proud of his accomplishment, Ryan has posted an edited video of himself singing “Wheeler is dead” outside the press-room door. The harassment from Ryan got so bad, Guenther eventually had to lease office space outside the capitol, meaning protesters had driven her from the press room named for her own father.
Despite the fact that Ryan’s harassment targeted reporters, none of the writers present actually mentioned the incident in any stories (although the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had mentioned Segway Jeremy at least three times in previous articles about protesters). Associated Press reporter Todd Richmond testified to the police in Guenther’s defense that if something wasn’t done about the protesters inside the capitol, “Eventually someone is going to get hurt.”
That scenario became more of a possibility with the recent installment of Dave Erwin as capitol police chief. For months, capitol workers have complained about the lack of control the capitol police have exerted over the protesters. Erwin, intent on reversing that trend, recently advised females working in the state house that if they felt threatened, they should try “punching” protesters with their free hand.
— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.