RACINE – A five-minute court hearing set the stage for an angry clash Friday between the dozens who convened to support a man who committed election fraud in tribute to former President Donald Trump's false election claims and those who brought American flags and a sign that read "democracy demands justice."
The verbal confrontation on the steps of Racine County's courthouse Friday afternoon preceded a hearing on charges filed by the state Department of Justice against Harry Wait, a 68-year-old Union Grove man who leads a local group known as H.O.T. Government that promotes false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Wait was charged in September with two counts of election fraud and two counts of unauthorized use of an individual's personal identifying information after he fraudulently requested absentee ballots for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Racine Mayor Cory Mason to show violations of the law are possible.
"Our goal is to seek justice," Rick Wiegel of Mount Pleasant said while holding a handmade sign that said, "Lock Harry Wait Up."
"For them it's all about voter suppression. They want to keep the general public from voting," said Wiegel, who generally votes for Democratic candidates.
Supporters of Wait, some of whom wore t-shirts that read "Harry's Army" and "Harry's Fight is Our Fight," confronted Wiegel, including Jay Stone, who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate and has filed a series of complaints over elections that have been rejected or dismissed.
"You assholes want to let everyone out of jail," Stone yelled at one point and then called one Wait detractor a derogatory term involving male genitals.
As Wait greeted his protesters, one responded with "tell it to the judge, Harry."
"You people attending are actually helping me — I appreciate it," Wait said.
The courtroom was packed for a hearing that lasted just a few minutes. Before it began, Wait advised his supporters not to speak to anyone from the DOJ.
"They're on a witch hunt," he said.
According to the criminal complaint, an investigator with the DOJ's Division of Criminal Investigation alleges Wait requested eight ballots but all but two individuals gave him permission to do so.
The charges came two months after the state DOJ launched an investigation into the scheme to commit election crimes by Wait and others who believe Trump lost the 2020 presidential election because of voter fraud despite a lack of evidence supporting their claims.
Wait freely spoke about the crime at the time and contacted Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling and others about his actions.
In one email to Schmaling, Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson, Vos and others, Wait said, "I stand ready to be charged for exposing these voting vulnerabilities when I ordered Mason's and Vos's absentee ballot online, all without providing a photo I.D. or identifying myself."
Schmaling did not arrest Wait and instead publicized the plot on social media as being helpful in rooting out vulnerabilities in the state election system and blamed the Wisconsin Elections Commission, calling on commissioners to remove a way voters can easily request ballots online.
Wait's case has become a symbol of the false claims that continue to shape Wisconsin politics over the legitimacy of Joe Biden's presidency.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has praised Wait's actions, calling him a "white hat hacker."
Wait faces up to six years in prison for each count of using the personal identifying information of Vos and Mason without their permission, a felony crime. He faces up to six months in prison for each count of election fraud, which is a misdemeanor.