A far-right QAnon conspiracy theorist and conservative group Turning Point USA are inserting themselves into Wisconsin’s high-stakes Supreme Court race, set to take place early next month.
The April 4 election between liberal Janet Protasiewicz and conservative Daniel Kelly will be the deciding swing seat for a deadlocked court following the retirement of one of the court's conservative judges. The state is heavily gerrymandered and is currently deadlocked with a right-wing state legislature and a Democratic governor, Tony Evers. The outcome of this race, already the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history, will likely impact abortion rights and the upcoming 2024 presidential election.
Kelly was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2016 by former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He was a consistent right-wing voice on the bench until losing reelection in 2020. During his term, Kelly came under fire for his refusal to recuse himself in a case in which he accepted money from the plaintiff before and after ruling in their favor. He also opposed calls by other retired Wisconsin judges to strengthen the standards for when judges should recuse themselves from a case in which they have a conflict of interest.
After losing his seat, Kelly was paid close to $120,000 by the Wisconsin GOP and the RNC to advise the party on election issues, including the fake electors scheme and soon after became a senior fellow at the Institute for Reforming Government, a conservative non-profit.
Before his appointment, Kelly voiced his staunch opinion against abortion rights and has garnered the support of numerous pro-life groups. He’s also ruled against a case in Madison that would’ve prohibited firearms on city buses and has compared affirmative action to slavery.
On March 7, Turning Point USA founder and right-wing radio host Charlie Kirk hosted Kelly on his podcast to lambast his opponent for a softball interview. In it, Kirk called the race “incredibly important” and added that it “could determine the fate of the 2024 election.” Kelly described Protasiewicz as “a politician dressed up like a judge, and she is no judge. … It appears to me that either she doesn’t understand the distinction between the court and the legislature, or she just doesn’t care.”
On February 21, the day of the primary, Juliane Appling, president of the right-wing anti-abortion Christian group Wisconsin Family Council, joined Kirk to attack Protosiewicz. Kirk agreed with Appling’s endorsement of Kelly, saying, “Dan Kelly is the best of all of them.”
Kirk also pointed to Wisconsin as key to winning in 2024 and the court’s ability to uphold election integrity.
The race has caught the attention of popular far-right activist Scott Presler, who is known for spreading QAnon conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim hate, and his efforts to help overturn the 2020 presidential election leading up to January 6. More recently, Presler has created a new Super PAC, Early Vote Action, with the goal of persuading conservatives to vote early.
New research by Dewey Square Group shows a concerning prevalence of bot activity on Presler’s recent social media posts. The report examined four of Presler’s most popular posts on Twitter and states to have found “a pattern of inauthentic coordination to amplify the reach of his posts on Wisconsin.” Researchers from the group looked for online accounts which were posting more than 144 times in a day “on average as ‘highly suspicious’ of being at least partly robotic or scripted, posting, automatically.” According to those four posts, Dewey Square researchers found that almost 20% of the Twitter accounts promoting Presler’s Wisconsin tweets appear to be fraudulent.
In recent weeks, Presler has been a guest on a number of right-wing media radio and streaming shows to promote his work on the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, including Charlie Kirk’s show, Steve Bannon’s War Room, and others.
On Wednesday, Presler took to Charlie Kirk’s show to discuss the campaign, where Kirk started out by saying, “I think it’s the most important election in 2023,” with Presler adding, “Everything is on the line with this election,” again citing voter ID and gun control issues. Kirk asked about out-of-state influence and money on the campaign; Presler noted that he himself is not from the state, “and the liberals are having a meltdown that I’m here in Wisconsin, yet the majority of Janet, the liberal opponent — her money is coming out of California, It’s coming out of New York, and we have Wisconsonites who are getting postcards from people in Boston, Massachusetts.”
That same day, Presler made the first of two appearances on Steve Bannon’s show, War Room, where both focused on the race’s potential importance in the upcoming 2024 presidential election. He told Bannon, “If we are unable to win this seat on April 4, electing Justice Daniel Kelly to the Supreme Court, then I promise you, the liberals and the Democrats will invalidate on day one, voter ID laws in Wisconsin and they will get rid of proof of residency in Wisconsin, and that is going to make it much more an arduous task of actually winning Wisconsin and winning the White House in 2024.”
Bannon went on to reaffirm his belief in the fake electors scheme, claiming: “if you read the minority opinion of the Supreme Court, it’s the best case out there for why the electors should’ve been sent back for further review. My point is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court is everything, and the 2024 election kicks off on 4 April. If we don’t win that … there is no path to the presidency, none, zero, take it from Stephen K. Bannon, that doesn’t go through Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, full stop, right? These three have got to fall in our column.”
The next morning, Bannon invited Presler back on to his program to reiterate the issue of election integrity while also arguing for Republicans to utilize more voting methods. Presler, taking a moment to plug his super PAC, stated, “We must do yes, Election Day voting but also early voting, early in-person, mail-in voting, absentee, and where legal, ballot harvesting. And so I’m focused on Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which is why I’m here in this state.”
Earlier this month, on March 6, Presler joined the Wisconsin right-wing radio show, The Vicki McKenna Show, to talk strategy. In it, Presler told listeners that “whenever I see a negative Joe Biden comment on the White House page, I reply to that person immediately, and I say, ‘Are you registered to vote at your current address?’” Going on, he added, “If everybody does that five a day, we can start to make sure that people are registered to vote, engaged, and prepared for the 2024 election, and it’s just a fun way to trigger the liberals while you’re doing it.”
Again on the topic of early voting, Presler proposed a concerted push at gun shows for voter outreach, claiming that “there are over 30 different gun shows across the state of Wisconsin. We need to be there, either getting people registered to vote, recruiting them as volunteers, or getting them on an early voting plan for April 4.”
Kelly himself has thanked Presler and promoted his efforts on Twitter.