St. Croix County GOP chair resigns after incendiary post on official website

John Kraft sparked controversy with his 'Prepare for War' post on the party website earlier this month.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

After making headlines across Minnesota and Wisconsin, the chair of the St. Croix County Republican Party has resigned after posting incendiary and militaristic language on the local party office's official homepage.

In a statement shared on Facebook, the county GOP's "executive committee" wrote that former party chair John Kraft edited the website without the group's approval, and that they asked him to resign. 

"We reject the language used and have taken down the website," the statement says. "While we remain committed to forthright discussion of political ideas and differences, that discussion must be within the confines of civil discourse, without the perception of intimidation, accusation or threats."

It added: "We oppose violence as a method to achieve political goals. We will continue to actively support the goals of the Republican Party and communicate them in a civil manner." 

Until recently, the website looked typical for a local political office, online archives show.

"Welcome to the St. Croix Republican Party," it read in late November, followed by stating "limited government, lower taxes, less spending and individual liberty" as the group's political values.

Sometime between Nov. 27 and Jan. 7, that greeting was altered to "If you want peace, prepare for war," which in recent years has been tied to alt-right and white supremacist movements, appearing in blogs and clothing.

In white font against a black background, the rest of the message used militaristic language, encouraging people to "mercilessly fight" for the party and "eliminate leftist tyrants" from local offices. Some parts of the website were deleted altogether.

After the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's column sparked denouncements of the website from the Republican and Democratic parties is Wisconsin, as well as St. Croix County Sheriff Scott Knudson, who wrote in a post to the Sheriff's Office Facebook page that he was "shocked and disheartened by the tone of the message."

"We’re trying to get things moving in the right direction," said former county board and state Assembly candidate Ryan Sherley, who serves as secretary for the local party. "I would say that had the entire board known what was going on with the website ... it would have been done differently."

The website as it appeared before it was deleted last week following news reports

The website as it appeared before it was deleted last week following news reports

Kraft defended the language to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, saying "no press is bad press" in a story published last Monday. He has not responded to requests for comment.

Kraft has also publicly posted incendiary statements on his personal page, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported

Kraft has not responded to multiple requests for comment 

Board members weigh in

A recent investigation from the New York Times shows that support for President Donald Trump runs strong at local levels of government across the country, even as prominent national Republican politicians have broken ties with Trump since his election loss and the subsequent insurrection at the Capitol.

"The falsehoods, white nationalism and baseless conspiracy theories he peddled for four years have become ingrained at the grass-roots level of the party, embraced by activists, local leaders and elected officials," the story reads. 

Last week, former deputy chair of the Minnesota state Republican party Michael Brodkorb published an opinion piece in the Minnesota Reformer calling for the Republican party to "expel these extremist elements from their ranks." 

Dan Myers, who oversees the St. Croix County Democrats, told Bring Me The News last week that he thought the Kraft's website update only represented fringe beliefs, rather than standard republican values. 

"It speaks for the violent, hate-filled rhetoric of the Trumpists. These are the extremists. They’re not the general, run-of-the-mill, Republican conservatives," Myers said. 

"I think that’s correct," said St. Croix County Board Supervisor Bob Feidler, who is listed as a board member for the St. Croix County Republican Party. "To be blunt, people here are very nice people. They are very thoughtful, and courteous, and this was an anomaly that happened ... We don't talk that way as a norm. We might say we disagree ... but we don't talk in the sharp language that might have been used (on the website)." 

But when it comes to "Trumpism," Feidler and Sherley differed from Myers' analysis.  Both St. Croix Republican Party board members said that support for Trump has not been a divisive factor within the local Republican party. 

"Support for Trump in St. Croix County, at least on the Republican level, is very unifying," Sherley said. He added that the party does not promote the falsehood that election fraud kept Donald Trump from being re-elected. Under Kraft's leadership, the Facebook page was used to promote the president's lie as recently as mid-December. 

"It’s so difficult to define Trumpism. I think some people who dislike President Trump would define it in a way that would seem quite ornery and dark, and capable of things that we normally don't associate with the president. But others think it reflects the fine values, the traditional values of Americans," Feidler said. 

Sign up: Subscribe to our BREAKING NEWS newsletters

St. Croix County Board Supervisor Cathy Leaf told Bring Me The News last week that the rhetoric used by Kraft mirrored that of protesters against masks at public comment this past fall. Board members supporting a mask requirement in public spaces have been called "enemies of the people" and "domestic terrorists." 

The St. Croix County Republican Party was among political groups like Activated Patriots and Citizens for the St. Croix Valley encouraging residents on social media to speak against the proposed ordinance at the meetings. 

“I take all of that very seriously given the environment we’re all in,” Leaf said. “What is irritating and what I don’t think John Kraft realizes what he’s done — words matter."

"There are people who say, oh, they won’t do that. It’s the rational part of our brain that says they won’t do it — but they did," she added, referring to the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol led by Trump supporters. 

Feidler said he didn't see a tie between Kraft's rhetoric and the language from anti-mask protesters, adding that "lively" county board meetings are not "abnormal." 

"There maybe one or two occasions that the chairman had to remind people to not voice their opinion loudly," he said. "That happens in so many meetings." 

Next Up

coronavirus, covid-19, doctor

CDC report reveals how first cases of Brazilian COVID variant came to MN

Dozens of people had to be tested for the virus after the first and only two cases of the P.1 variant were detected in Minnesota.

stormking bbq

Black Sheep Pizza's owner, Rapids Brewing opening BBQ brewpub in Minneapolis

The brewpub is a new iteration of Jordan Smith's Texas-inspired StormKing BBQ restaurant.

united-states-capitol-1675540_1920

U.S House passes 'For the People Act' in effort to expand voting rights

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces the challenge of the filibuster.

Stephen Weatherly

Vikings to bring back former DE Stephen Weatherly

Weatherly spent last season at the Carolina Panthers.

All Energy Solar Residential Installation

End 'renting' from your utility company and go solar

A solar installation is one of the few home improvements that actually pays for itself.

Mayo clinic

Mayo Clinic makes $727M profits in 2020 despite pandemic

The clinic cited philanthropic gifts, investments and alternative revenue sources.

Walz

Walz: New COVID vaccine 'accelerates' state's vaccine rollout timeline

The governor said Wednesday the state will "significantly beat" its goal to vaccinate 70% of people 65 and older by the end of March.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Hornets erupt in 2nd half to blow out Timberwolves

The Timberwolves were outscored 73-46 after halftime.

BetterBloomingtonFirePhoto

Authorities investigate fatal Bloomington house fire

One person has been reported dead in the fire.

Minneapolis skyline

New tool helps Minneapolis homeowners disavow racial covenants in deeds

A new free program connects homeowners with the City Attorney's office to complete the process

Related

1024px-Hudson,_Wisconsin_9

County GOP's 'Prepare for War' post fuels existing tensions over extremism in Hudson area

The post by the St. Croix County GOP sparked condemnation from local law enforcement, and state party leaders.

Woman killed after crashing into horse in St. Croix County

The horse was in the middle of a Wisconsin road when it was hit by a Chevy.

Driver rescued after vehicle falls through ice on St. Croix River

Rescuers were able to find him using the GPS on his phone.

Crash kills unbelted driver in St. Croix County, WI

The wrecked vehicle was found by a construction worker on Saturday morning.

Crude, anti-Muslim Facebook post from official MN GOP group targets Rep. Ellison

The photo with caption was posted by the official Minnesota 7th Congressional District Republican Party Facebook account.

Former GOP chair Keith Downey is running for governor

He joins more than a dozen other candidates in the crowded race