To many, the sound of a roaring Harley is iconic — an audible symbol of American freedom and ingenuity. To Wisconsinites especially, seeing a Harley on the road is a source of pride, as Milwaukee serves as the company’s global headquarters. Yet to Daniel Navarro, the sight and sound of a Harley represented white supremacy. As a result of that misplaced rage, over the July 4 weekend Navarro allegedly decided to take out his prejudice on Phillip Thiessen, swerving his pickup truck head-on into Thiessen. With the exception of a few local news outlets, the incident has received little attention. It simply does not fit with the national media narrative, so there will be no marches or protests commemorating Thiessen’s service-oriented life.
Born in Milwaukee, Thiessen was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving for four years after graduating from L. P. Goodrich High School in Fond du Lac. After his military service, he devoted the next 26 years to the police department of Fairfax, Va. Never forgetting his roots, he returned to Wisconsin to finish his career in law enforcement by serving as a Wisconsin Department of Justice special agent, working in the Internet Crimes Against Children unit. He leaves behind a daughter and grandchildren.
On July 3, gearing up for the July 4 weekend, Thiessen made the fateful decision to take his Harley out for a spin. Navarro, emerging from his mother’s basement, decided to take his truck for a drive to work out the vehicle’s battery since he had become so isolated he rarely left the house. He also allegedly emerged with the intent to kill. Navarro does not appear to have known Thiessen. However, on seeing Thiessen, he allegedly intentionally swerved his truck head-on into the Harley carrying Thiessen. The criminal complaint lays out in painful detail the thought process of a clearly deranged man.
Citing “recent events” and the “racial climate in the United States,” Navarro referenced a “silent majority that voted for Donald Trump as president and the political and racial tensions in the news lately, including racial tensions related to President Trump.” According to the complaint, he emphasized that “if Trump and white people are going to create a world like we are living in, then he has no choice and people are going to have to die.” Deciding to act on this rage, Navarro is alleged to have “intentionally swerved his truck” into Thiessen head-on because all Harley riders are “white racists.” Lest there be any doubt as to the intentional nature of the act, according to the complaint, Navarro had been “thinking about targeting a white person and killing them with a vehicle earlier that day,” and he “picked a motorcycle because he wanted the person to die,” because “white people drive motorcycles,” and “the Harley culture is made up of white racists.”
There is no need to connect the dots. While Navarro does not appear to have targeted Thiessen personally, he intentionally targeted Thiessen for what he represented in Navarro’s twisted mind. Despite the obvious politically and racially motivated nature of the attack and the clear Wisconsin connections, over the last three weeks the state’s largest news outlets have provided virtually no coverage of the attack. With important events like racist and lewd shaving-cream graffiti to report on, how could they have the capacity to cover a political assassination like this? And despite Thiessen serving nearly two years in a key role at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the current attorney general could not muster a press release condemning the attack. But since the attack, he has been able to carve out time to issue at least nine press releases relating to multistate litigation targeting the Trump administration.
To be clear, the media did not cause the attack, at least no more than it caused the attacks that nearly killed Representatives Steve Scalise or Gabby Giffords. Evil people consciously choose to commit evil acts using whatever tools of destruction are available. However, when national media and Wisconsin’s largest news outlets essentially ignore something so clearly tied to national events, it becomes nearly impossible not to conclude that they are doing so because it does not fit their preordained narrative.
While the media did not cause the attack, its unrelenting focus on what it claims to be poisonous race relations clearly had the effect, at least in the case of Navarro, of contributing to his decision to carry it out. Put another way, if President Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to a breakdown in civil discourse, then the media at least played a small role in triggering a deranged individual such as Navarro to kill.
Over the last four months, we have learned that important, and in some cases uncomfortable, conversations need to take place regarding race relations and government power. But for those conversations to have real and lasting impact, the media cannot filter out events like the hateful attack on a retired police officer and veteran such as Thiessen. We can, and must, learn from them as well.