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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 60.0° F  Fair
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Spectator removed from Wisconsin Senate gallery, purportedly for wiggling fingers and bouncing shoulders, during Voter ID debate
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Kohl-Riggs says he visits the Capitol building several times a week to sit in on meetings and hearings.
Kohl-Riggs says he visits the Capitol building several times a week to sit in on meetings and hearings.
Credit:C.J. Terrell

Arthur Kohl-Riggs says he followed the rules for spectators at Senate hearings, as best as he could, but those rules turned out to be stricter than he imagined. After reportedly causing disruption in the gallery of the Senate during Tuesday Voter ID Bill hearings, Kohl-Riggs, 22, and a friend were each removed from the gallery and given $263 disorderly conduct tickets.

"I want to watch my government work," Kohl-Riggs tells security staff while being removed from his seat, according to a video taken by his friend, C.J. Terrell, and posted on YouTube.

Kohl-Riggs was also captured by Wisconsin Eye, which broadcast and taped the session; the disruption involving Kohl-Riggs and his friend resulted in a brief recess. WISC-TV and Wisconsin Reporter provided video roundup of the testimonies and included coverage of Kohl-Riggs' removal from the Senate gallery.

According to Kohl-Riggs, the problems started with his attire, which included a piece of paper reading "Free Speech" attached to his shirt. However, he was permitted entrance by a Capitol page.

During remarks from Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee), Kohl-Riggs says he was moved to express himself, which he did by wiggling his fingers; this is a way to show approval instead of clapping or voicing agreement, so as not to cause any audible disruption. However, Kohl-Riggs says the same page that permitted him entrance earlier reprimanded him for the gesture.

"He said it was 'deaf for clapping,'" Kohl-Riggs relates.

Subsequently, when Coggs said something else Kohl-Riggs agreed with, Kohl-Riggs "bounced his shoulders" while his hands remained in his lap.

"It wasn't big, or loud, or disruptive in any means," Kohl-Riggs says, "and [the page] comes up and tells me, 'That's it, you've got to go.'" He was then approached by state patrol officers.

"I asked them what I've done, because I hope the people that are making me leave would know what I've done, and they just said, 'You have to leave, you have to leave,'" Kohl-Riggs says. When he refused to move, the officers lifted him from his seat and carried him from the gallery while Terrell filmed the event.

The video shows the guards physically lifting Kohl-Riggs from his chair. Terrell, also 22, who is doing the filming, can be heard loudly objecting to the removal. Both young men repeatedly demand to know what the guards are doing and why. "He didn't break rules!" insists Terrell. "This is garbage."

Both Kohl-Riggs and Terrell were issued citations for disorderly conduct. Kohl-Riggs' court date is June 3.

A former student taking a break from his studies, Kohl-Riggs says he visits the Capitol building several times a week to sit in on meetings and hearings. He suspects Tuesday's incident comes down to two factors: past negative interactions with the page who threw him out and tight security.

"From my point of view, the reason security is the way it is is primarily to deter people from voicing their opinions," he says. "And I think this is just an extension of that where they create the power to remove the voice of people trying to defend the actions of their government."

A call seeking comment from the state Department of Administration, which oversees Capitol security, was not promptly returned.

"I didn't go there planning to start anything," Kohl-Riggs says. "I really just wanted to hang out, but I wasn't going to compromise... I don't think I did anything wrong."

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