Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
In the now-infamous phony phone call to Scott Walker, the reporter impersonating the billionaire David Koch asked the Wisconsin governor about "planting some troublemakers" in the crowd of protesters.
"We thought about that," Gov. Walker responded.
With that admission, Walker may have put himself in some legal jeopardy.
Since 1871, there has been a civil rights statute on the books entitled "Conspiracy Against Rights" (See TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 13 > § 241.)
It reads as follows:
"If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same ... They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."
Since Gov. Walker said, "We thought about it," it's logical to conclude there were at least "two or more persons" involved. And they may have been conspiring to "threaten" or "intimidate" protesters from exercising their First Amendment rights.
That, at least, is the interpretation of Lisa Graves, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, who previously served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States.
"Governor Walker has conceded that he considered disrupting the protests of Wisconsin residents exercising their right to assemble and petition the government for redress and that he discussed doing so with legislators and perhaps others," says Graves, who is now the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wis. "His admissions warrant further investigation of his compliance with civil rights laws that have been in existence since the Civil War to protect Americans from conspiracies to injure or intimidate them for exercising their fundamental rights as free people, which obviously includes freedom of speech and dissent."
Repeated calls to Gov. Walker's office for comment were not answered.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "The New York Times Plays Into Gov. Walker's Hands."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.