The Right Is Using Waukesha As a Weapon Against Bail Reform

The person of interest in the Christmas parade attack was released on a $1,000 bond two days earlier.
November 23, 2021, 4:10pm
A makeshift memorial is pictured along the route of the parade on W Main Street in Waukesha, Wisconsin on November 22, 2021, the day after a vehicle drove through a Christmas parade killing five people. - US authorities identified the driver suspected of

As victims of the horrific Waukesha Christmas parade attack lay in the hospital or were mourned by their families, some on the right turned their attention to what’s become a familiar bogeyman: bail reform. 

Darrell Brooks, the 39-year-old person of interest in the car attack, was released on a $1,000 bond in Milwaukee County Friday, just two days before a person driving a red SUV killed five people and injured more than 40. Brooks had been charged on Nov. 5 after a woman with whom he had a domestic disturbance told police that he ran her “over with his vehicle,” resulting in her hospitalization, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Advertisement

Brooks has a lengthy criminal history, with more than a dozen arrests going back to 1999, the Journal Sentinel reported. On Monday, the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said Brooks’ bail was set “inappropriately low” and “not consistent” with the DA’s “approach toward matters involving violent crime,” and pledged an internal review of the bail recommendation. 

But although Chisholm’s office quickly said Brooks’ low bail was a mistake, conservative politicians and commentators immediately seized on the story as evidence that the broader push for bail reform is at fault for the tragedy. 

In particular, they highlighted a 2018 tweet from Chisholm—who was first elected in 2006—promoting an assistant district attorney’s quote on the office’s effort to “not keeping individuals held unnecessarily on cash bail in the Milwaukee County Jail.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board put out an op-ed charging that the “influence of the progressive bail campaign on Mr. Chisholm’s office should be part of the probe” into Brooks’ release, and multiple conservative outlets tied Chisholm to billionaire liberal donor George Soros. (It’s unclear whether Soros has actually donated to Chisholm’s campaign; Chisholm’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) 

Right-wing commentator Mike Cernovich, who speculated in the immediate aftermath of the attack that it could be “terrorism” inspired by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, shared a screenshot of the above tweet as well as Chisholm’s tweets congratulating San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles DA George Gascon—who both ran campaigns on reforming the criminal justice system—on their election wins. 

Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police chief who was sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud and pardoned by former President Donald Trump, tweeted: “I’ll give the Milwaukee DA credit for the review, but this is exactly why bail reform must be looked at.”

Current conservative candidates also jumped on the story. Adam Laxalt, the former Nevada attorney general now running for U.S. Senate as a Republican, said of the investigation: “This shouldn’t take long. All Chisholm needs to do is look in the mirror and he’ll get his answer.”

Blake Masters, a Peter Thiel-backed venture capitalist who has previously complained of “anti-white racism,” compared the media coverage of Brooks to that of Rittenhouse, who was acquitted on murder charges last week.

Advertisement

“The real headline is ‘Black felon, released days ago on $1,000 bail, kills 5 and injures 40 by driving SUV into Christmas parade,’” Masters tweeted Monday, adding: “Instead, they want you to believe that Kyle Rittenhouse, acquitted by a jury, is the real threat to society. Is this ‘racial equity?” 

On Tuesday, Masters tweeted a screenshot from a 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report on Chisholm’s office’s diversion programs for nonviolent drug offenders, which references a Chisholm quote from six years before that. “Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into treatment program, who's going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm told the Journal Sentinel in 2007. “You bet. Guaranteed. It's guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”

Brooks’ release, however, was not due to Milwaukee County’s diversionary program, which aims to rehabilitate those “at low risk for re-offense” by rehabilitating them outside of the justice system.  Waukesha police said Monday that Brooks was fleeing the scene of another domestic dispute on Sunday, and that there was no evidence so far that it was a terrorist attack or that he knew anyone in the parade. 

Police also released the names of those killed: 52-year-old Tamara Durand, 52-year-old Jane Kulich, 71-year-old LeAnna Owen, 79-year-old Virginia Sorensen, and 81-year-old Wilhelm Hospel. Durand, Owen, and Sorensen were all members of the “Dancing Grannies,” a Milwaukee-based dance troupe that participates in dozens of parades every year, and Hospel was a volunteer, the group said in a Tuesday Facebook post.

“Our hearts are heavy over the loss of our grannies and volunteer. Our injured grannies are in stable condition with one being released from the hospital Monday,” they said. “The outpouring of prayers, messages, and sentiments sent to the grannies over this devastating loss have touched us deeply.” 

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.