Protesters arrested after occupying Janesville Holiday Inn
JANESVILLE — Six protesters were arrested and could face trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer charges after dozens initially entered the Holiday Inn Express on Monday evening as part of an anti-Donald Trump protest.
Janesville Police Sgt. Mike Blaser said police gave the protesters several opportunities to move out of the building without being arrested but they refused.
“I think tonight is just an indication in a smaller scale of what we might see tomorrow,” Blaser said. “We've been planning for several days and we will have assets on the ground to help us manage whatever size crowd we do get here tomorrow.”
Trump is scheduled to speak at the Holiday Inn at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The six protesters arrested would not identify themselves to police before booking, Blaser said. They had joined hands inside of PVC piping and may have also been handcuffed inside the piping, he said.
The protesters used “professional” tactics, including having their own medic on scene, he said. They were members of the Showing Up for Racial Justice and Groundwork Madison groups.
The protesters entered the building at 6:30 p.m. Rock County sheriff's deputies were helping Janesville police separate them at about 9:30 p.m.
Hotel staff was not allowing anyone else in the hotel unless they were guests after the initial entrance of the protesters.
A state Assembly representative was among the 60 or so protesters who occupied the lobby. Most of the protesters left the lobby after being asked, but six remained.
Melissa Sargent, a Democratic representative to the state Assembly from the Madison area, was among those inside.
“We're here to call on the Holiday Inn to take a stand against hate,” Sargent said.
Not everyone supported what the protesters were doing.
A Rhode Island man, who only gave his first name of Mike, saying he feared social media reprisal if he gave his full name, said he was in Janesville on Monday night for business. He said he was undecided about whom he planned to vote for, but he wasn't in support of the protesters' tactics.
“I had no idea this was happening,” Mike said. “But it's repulsive the hotel would let these people in. It's making a mess for the people trying to check-in. People should be out in their designated area and not disrupting normal people.”
An organizer told The Gazette earlier that the Monday protest was a last-ditch effort to convince the hotel and/or the city to cancel Trump's appearance in order to prevent violence.
The hotel's owners on Monday afternoon issued a statement saying they would not cancel.
Kristen Brock-Petroshius of Madison, a member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said the group has been working with the local organizers of the anti-Trump demonstration, set for Tuesday outside the Janesville Conference Center, a part of the hotel.
Brock-Petroshius said local organizers have received death threats, and Monday's protest was an effort to avoid any bloodshed that might be caused by Trump supporters.
Nichole Mittness, one of the organizers of Tuesday's protest, confirmed she has received death threats and other comments threatening violence.
Mittness said she and others have been deleting the threats made on the protest's Facebook page but copying them and sharing them with police.
Mittness said Trump supporters have also accused her of being paid to organize Tuesday's protest, which is not true.
Brock-Petroshius said she also is a volunteer, as is everyone she works with at SURJ.
Brock-Petroshius said she has been a member of the SURJ-affiliated Groundwork organization in Madison for 10 years.
She said violence against peaceful protesters at Trump events has become more common as time has passed.
Monday's rally supports an online petition that calls for the Holiday Inn to cancel Trump's event, Brock-Petroshius said.
Some will say that canceling the rally is a free-speech issue, but the First Amendment does not tolerate hate speech, including Trump's anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim speech, Brock-Petroshius said.
“A lot of us think, … if this was the beginning of Hitler's rise to power in Germany, how many of us would sit by the sidelines and do nothing?” Brock-Petroshius said. 'If we can prevent the violence he is inciting from taking hold and become stronger in these coming months, then we've done our job.”
Those attending Monday's demonstration brought signs with messages such as "No Hate in Our State," “Stop Hate Stop Trump” and "White People Against Hate.”
The Trump rally is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Police said doors open at 1 p.m.
The local anti-Trump group, which has been stressing a peaceful demonstration that does not interfere with Trump supporters' rights, says its event starts at 11 a.m.
Other organizations or individuals might also attend but have not announced plans.
The owners of the Holiday Inn Express and Janesville Conference Center do not plan to cancel Trump's appearance Tuesday, as some protesters have called for.
Sanjiv Sud, a partner in Hospitality Guru Group, said in an issued statement:
“The Janesville Conference Center is the venue chosen by the Trump campaign to hold the town hall meeting. George Bush and Paul Ryan are among other politicians that have held events here. We offer no interpretation nor endorsement of any political message.
"We also respect the right for people to protest peacefully and will be letting the authorities handle anything of that nature. Overall, we believe high profile events such as these offer benefits to the local economy as well as encourage political awareness. Again, we respect each individual's political views.
“Our objective is to provide a professional environment and a high level of service to any event booked at our place of business. This objective fits our vision to be the preferred event facility for the Janesville community for this and future events.”
Last updated: 7:28 pm Monday, March 28, 2016