The email came to Gov. Scott Walker from the personal account of a deputy prosecutor and Republican activist in Indiana.
After praise for Walker, the email -- sent Feb. 19, during union demonstrations against Walker's budget repair bill -- then took a darker turn. It suggested that the situation in Wisconsin presented "a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation."
"If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the unions," the email said.
"Currently, the media is painting the union protest as a democratic uprising and failing to mention the role of the DNC and umbrella union organizations in the protest. Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions. God bless, Carlos F. Lam."
Email headers with detailed IP addresses suggest that the message was sent from Indianapolis.
But Carlos F. Lam, the deputy Johnson County, Ind., prosecutor and an Indianapolis resident, said he never wrote it.
Reached Tuesday by phone at the number listed on the email, Lam confirmed his email address matched the Hotmail address appearing on the Walker email, but said he had never written to Walker.
"I am flabbergasted and would never advocate for something like this, and would like everyone to be sure that that's just not me," he said, after being read the email.
Asked his views on Scott Walker, Lam said, "I think he's trying to do what he has to do to get his budget balanced. But jeez, that's taking it a little bit to the extreme," he said of the email's suggestion to fake violence. "Jeez!"
Lam said he hasn't filed a police report, but he intends to do so by the end of the week.
He said he was minivan-shopping with his family when the email was sent.
Walker's bill to balance the budget and strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees was introduced Feb. 11 and triggered protests involving tens of thousands of people at the Capitol for weeks.
The email was sent the same Saturday on which another Indiana law-enforcement figure, state Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Cox, tweeted that riot police should "use live ammunition" to clear the Capitol of protesters.
Cox was fired Feb. 23 after Mother Jones magazine published the suggestion from his private Twitter account.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism discovered the email to Walker among tens of thousands released to media organizations last week as part of an open-records lawsuit settlement with Isthmus and the Associated Press. It was in a folder produced by the governor's office called "Pro," full of emails supporting the governor's budget repair bill.
A lawyer in the governor's office, Nate Ristow, said most of the emails to Walker were sorted into folders automatically by a computer, though some were added to the folders manually.
Cullen Werwie, Walker's press secretary, said no one at the office had seen the email or contacted Lam. Werwie condemned the email's suggestions Monday in a statement to the Center.
"Certainly we do not support the actions suggested in (the) email. Governor Walker has said time and again that the protesters have every right to have their voice heard, and for the most part the protests have been peaceful. We are hopeful that the tradition will continue," Werwie wrote.
On Feb. 22, when a prank-caller posing as major Walker campaign donor David Koch suggested planting troublemakers in the crowd, Walker began by saying, "Well, the only problem with that -- because we thought about that," but ultimately said he'd decided it was a bad idea.
"My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems," Walker told the blogger.
Walker's comments troubled Madison Police Chief Noble Wray and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.
"I find it very unsettling and troubling that anyone would consider creating safety risks for our citizens and law enforcement officers," Wray said in a statement at the time.
Lam, who asked that his name not be used, said he was particularly concerned since "the person who wrote this seems to know a lot about me" and his account "had been hacked in the past." After being read the email, he said he took down his Facebook page, changed his cell phone number, email passwords, "library, medical, bank, student loan, and a whole host of records," and was afraid for his and his family's safety.
He said he has made some political enemies, particularly in primary fights he helped on, and also said he often left his email account open at his home. But he said he couldn't think of any specific suspects.
Madison Police Det. Cindy Murphy said that if Lam's account was hacked and his identity was stolen, either Wisconsin or Indiana could have jurisdiction over that crime. If he filed a complaint, it would be straightforward to request information from Hotmail and Lam's Internet service provider (ISP) about the location of the computer logged into his account when the email was sent, said Murphy, who specializes in computer forensics.
"If we run all this down and it does turn out that he was hacked into, then he is a victim, and he should be outraged -- and somebody should be held responsible," she said. "And no one can fake the data that's held by the ISPs."
Prosecutor outspoken about conservative views
All the information about Lam in the email was available online, including his email and phone number.
His blog posts, video appearances and comments on the Internet paint the picture of an outspoken, politically active, longtime Republican who has publicly lambasted collective bargaining for state employee unions and alluded to government taxation as "essentially taking money at gunpoint."
In one of his 1,306 comments on a stock investors' site, Lam called Indiana "an unsustainable public worker gravy train bubble." In another, he said "unions & companies that feed at the gov't trough will fight tooth & nail against anything that un-feathers their nests."
Lam wrote in his account profile there that he "believes that to truly prosper as the republic envisioned by the Founding Fathers, we must return to principles of sound money and limited government. He has his own '3G network' that is quite apart from Apple: guns, gold and gasoline.'"
Madison criminal defense lawyer Michael Short said that if Lam wrote the email, he should be investigated for a possible breach of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, for "suggesting that officials in the Walker administration commit a felony," namely, misconduct in public office.
Those rules state that "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" amount to professional misconduct. They are the rules to which lawyers are held accountable by the Indiana lawyer discipline system.
But Lam's boss, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper, adamantly defended Lam, whom he has known for most of his career. The Republican said he was not considering any such investigation.
"Whether there's rules of professional conduct that apply or not is irrelevant, because he didn't send it," Cooper said.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and other news media. Kate Golden is at email@example.com.
All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.