Baraboo Wisconsin Schools Superintendent Lori Mueller says the district will not be punishing dozens of white teens who performed a Nazi salute. The reason? Not knowing “the intentions of their hearts,” and free speech protections, the latter likely in the event that their hearts are those of white supremacists, as was read by some.
“Ok I understand the first amendment but now we know that there is a fair size racist ideology in the Baraboo WI school district and community. Shameful.”
On Veteran’s Day weekend, a photograph of dozens of white male Barbaroo High School juniors at prom using a Heil Hitler salute sparked outrage.
Mueller launched an investigation after the photo went viral and garnered international attention. In a letter to parents on Thanksgiving Eve, it’s reported she said, “the district isn’t in a position to punish the students because they are protected by the First Amendment.”
When the photo went viral a number of students shared instances of racism, discrimination, racial bullying and white supremacy some claim is rampant at the school.
One school official said the image of boys with their right arms extended from the neck into the air with a straightened hand is not representative of the school. Many disagreed on the district’s Facebook page. Those comments are gone now. The school district shuttered its account late Monday night.
The salute is illegal in many European counties and Canada. It was used in Germany in the 1930s and ’40s to signify allegiance to Adolph Hitler.
A number of young people who shared the image on Twitter have since been forced to make their accounts private due to harassment.
In the now-deleted image, shared on Nov. 11., Armistice Day, the caption reads, “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” One student wanted no part of the Heil Hitler salute
Of the more than 40 students, reported to be the class of 2019 attending junior prom, the majority appear to be using the salute though not all. A number of boys are seen smiling and not using the Nazi salute. At least two others appear to be using a fist salute which is often seen as a ‘black power’ sign, though the meaning in this image is not clear.
Late Monday morning, student Jordan Blue who is in the photo at the far right and did not participate said the class was encouraged to make the gesture and did so.
Blue has long been bullied at the school, he said, and has been since middle school.
As Blue has said he would not participate, some not only used the Nazi salute, one student in the middle front is seen using the white power sign, the ‘ok’ hand gesture now co-opted by white nationalists.
Blue wrote he “hated” that he was in the picture.
One person commented, “Imagine the shame of having a son in this photo.”
The Twitter account for the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted its horror
And the Jewish Community Relations Council-Milwaukee at Milwaukee, the Jewish Federation, Wisconsin, Jewish Conference and the Anti-Defamation League Midwest issued a statement.
A number of students have come forward to share stories of racism at Baraboo
The images began circulating Sunday and once it did, other students began sharing instances of racism witnessed or experienced at the school.
The original shared post was from Twitter user Carly Sidey whose account was public this morning; it has since been set to private.
The photograph was shared by journalist Jules Suzdaltsev. After, a number of current and former students sent him direct messages, asking to remain anonymous so as to avoid further bullying and discrimination, alleging an existing and widespread culture of racism, homophobia and antisemitism at the school.
Albeit small, a protest was held in Baraboo Monday
Posted by the Baraboo News Republic, the video shows “members of the young Baraboo professionals group and several Baraboo High School students chant Monday on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse” on Monday.
Some on Twitter have pointed out that the school’s logo is similar to the Nazi Eagle
The Anti-Defamation League explains that the symbol of the Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920s “was appropriated by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists worldwide, with many variations.” The ADL also points out that “eagles are a common symbol among nations worldwide, including the United States, and not every image of an eagle is derivative of the Nazi eagle.”
It was revealed that the image was taken by the official prom photographer, Peter Gust, a former Wisconsin educator & was shared by parents and others
The Wheel Memories website run by photographer Peter Gust, who has a son at Baraboo, it’s reported, now has an inexplicable message on the page for Baraboo High School prom pictures. It reads in part, “…Due malevolent behavior on the part of some in society, this page has been modified. It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly be jerks!” The message continues ruminating on the power of the internet and ends with and apology, to whom is not clear, and “…to those who have harmed them, we as a society often ignore them I have chosen not to do that. You are jerks! Grow up!”
Students have said that Gust encouraged the pose and dozens of white male students went along and then, shared and posted the photograph with the hashtag #BarabooProud,
The image was previously on Gust’s website along with other pictures from the prom. As the internet has a long memory, those pictures can still be located in web archives.
According to his LinkedIn, Gust is a former Wisconsin teacher and curriculum consultant as well as teacher’s association consultant. He’s currently owner of Wheel Memories, a photography business for “the motorcycle community. Everything from portraits of motorcycles and their riders to coverage of rallies, events and conferences.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, instances of racism and antisemitism is not new in Wisconsin, including Baraboo.
Thirty minutes after Heavy published this post, the Baraboo Schools tweeted nearly verbatim what an administrator tweeted an hour earlier: “The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo. We are investigating and will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address.”
Hours after this story was published, the school district posted a letter it sent to parents
“The Baraboo School District sent the following letter to parents this morning in response to a photo circulating on social media.
Dear Parents/Guardians of Baraboo School District Students:
Early this morning, a photo that was taken last spring of some Baraboo School District students who appear to be making extremely inappropriate gestures began circulating on social media. The District has confirmed at this time that the photo was not taken on school property or at a school-sponsored event.
The school district is investigating this situation and is working with parents, staff and local authorities. If the gesture is what it appears to be, the district will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address the issue.
With that, we want to be very clear: the Baraboo School District is a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry, are respected and celebrated.
Dr. Lori Mueller, Superintendent
The statement may be downloaded by clicking here.
Late Monday afternoon, some eight hours after Heavy published this story, the school district sent another letter to parents. This one tells parents they don’t have to talk to the media & near the end says its schools welcome & respect all
“Dear Parents and Guardians:
As you are likely aware, a photograph, taken last spring before prom, has surfaced on social media. In
the photo, Baraboo students appear to make an extremely inappropriate gesture. It is a gesture widely
recognized for its association with intolerance, violence and hate.
We are extremely troubled by the image. The school district and local authorities continue to
investigate, speaking with the students and families involved to determine how and why this photo was
Throughout the day, local, state and national media have been giving this incident a great deal of
attention. Due to this attention, the Baraboo School District decided to place Baraboo High School on a
modified administrative hold in collaboration with the Baraboo Police Department, which means
business as usual with keeping detailed notes of who is permitted in and who is permitted out of the
school. Please know that while you and your student have the right to speak with reporters, you also
have the right to decline these requests. We want to ensure that our parents, students and staff do not
feel pressured to comment publicly if they do not wish to do so. In addition, the district is concerned
about student safety due to this media attention. If you feel that your student needs mental health
supports or is being bullied or harassed due to this incident please contact the school district at
608-355-3950 ext. 1010.”
The letter continues:
“Let us be very clear: hate has no home in the Baraboo School District. Our schools are spaces where
all people—regardless of their race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity,
national origin or ancestry—are respected and celebrated. The safety of our students and schools is
our most important priority.
“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do to ensure that our schools remain positive and safe environments
for all students, staff and community. We will provide more information on this incident as it becomes
The letter is once again signed by Mueller but her title has changed from superintendent to “district administrator.”
There were hundreds of comments on the schools’ Facebook posts. Baraboo deleted its Facebook & Instagram pages late Monday night. Its Twitter is still active
Commenters on Facebook immediately pointed out the photo was taken at the school’s prom and questioned who a high school prom is not a high school event as stated in schools chief Mueller’s letter to parents. Previously listed here, the comments are gone since the Baraboo School District deleted its Facebook and deleted its Instagram accounts.
But there was no shortage of commentary on the school’s Twitter page, which is still up.
The Facebook comments Heavy referred to in previous versions of this story included the most ‘liked’ about enabling young white males who may end up as “shooters,” comments suggesting the school culture accepting of racist and white supremacist behavior or, teachers need to do a better job of teaching, and given the stories being shared by other students who have either been victims of, or witnesses to, racism and racist bullying, some allege reveals a pattern of tolerated or dismissed discrimination.
The Baraboo Police Department confirmed it was ‘investigating’ the photo with the school district. That said, what jurisdiction or authority the police have was debated by people
“The Baraboo Police Department is aware of a controversial photo of a group of high school students that has been posted to social media. Officers are assisting the Baraboo School District with their investigation into this matter.”
Baraboo residents and other Wisconsin neighbors ocals weighed in on the BPD’s announcement it would be investigating. Like Tabitha Fosco.
“It looks like some kids shouldn’t participate in graduation. This is disgusting!!! I remember a girl in my class got caught smoking or drinking ( I cant remember which) the day before graduation and they wouldn’t let her walk across the stage. This is much worse. I hope the picture goes on every college application. Shame on these kids and the parents who didn’t stop this.”
And Jordan Pullen.
“This is an embarrassment to our community. The students should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. I think this is an educational opportunity as well. Maybe take these kids to one of the historical concentration camps and do a tour. Actually see what the Nazis did to these innocent people. I’ve gone to a few before and can tell you it is a life changing experience.”
What’s there to investigate, a person asked. There are a number of replies to the not-rhetorical question.
Politicians weigh in including Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers, whose first job was as a Baraboo teacher
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach took to twitter to post a letter addressing the photograph and said the Nazi salute may been seen as okay by students based on remarks and actions by Pres. Donald Trump.
“There is no place for hatred, intolerance and racism in our society. Unfortunately, based on what these students see coming from the White House, some of them may believe what they have done is acceptable. It is absolutely not. Leaders, from the President on down, need to condemn racism in all its forms and work toward a world where we learn from the mistakes of history.”
Democratic Governor-elect Tony Evers’ first job was teaching science in Baraboo it’s reported.
Local media reported Evers statement that expressed the “actions in the photo ‘have no place in Wisconsin.'”
“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to lead by example for a generation growing up in a climate where they see this behavior condoned,” Evers said. “I will be in contact with Barbaoo officials, but we must all be clear: intolerance and bigotry must never be tolerated, in our schools or anywhere else.”
Monday night at a school board meeting, some spoke out
The School District Has a Policy Against Discrimination
The Baraboo schools anti-discrimination statement appears on the schools homepage with contact information for any student or employee who believes they have been discriminated against.
“The School District of Baraboo does not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, national origin, ancestry, creed, pregnancy, religion, marital or parental status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability or handicap in its education programs (including career or technical educational programs) or activities. The School District of Baraboo will not tolerate harassment based on sex. No student or employee of the School District of Baraboo shall be denied fair and equal treatment under the law and the District is required by Title IX not to discriminate in such a manner.”
“Any employee or student who feels that he/she has been treated in a discriminatory way or denied rights under the law should contact an administrator: School District of Baraboo, 423 Linn Street, Baraboo, WI 53913 or phone (608) 355-3950. Questions regarding Title IX may be referred to the School District of Baraboo’s Title IX Coordinator: School District of Baraboo Director of Student Services 423 Linn Street, Baraboo, WI 53913, Phone: (608) 355-3950, x1530, Email: SEPSDIR@barabooschools.net”
After Mueller’s announcement of no punishment, many were concerned.
This is a developing story.