Mandela Barnes

The Democratic candidate for Wisconsin lieutenant governor said Monday that it was “crazy” for his Republican opponent to claim, with no evidence, that he knelt during the national anthem at the opening of the Wisconsin State Fair this summer.

Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was also at the ceremony, told reporters at a Milwaukee news conference that she was focused on the flag during the anthem and didn’t see what her challenger, Mandela Barnes, did. But she said other people later told her Barnes was kneeling.

“Rebecca, for real?” Barnes tweeted in response, a play on her Twitter handle of @RebeccaRorReal. “History of this nation should caution her from making wild allegations like this. That's a dangerous game.”

Barnes previously said Kleefisch was lying when she first claimed two weeks ago that “neighbors have told me” they saw Barnes kneel during the anthem, but didn’t specify it was allegedly at the State Fair opening in August.

“The whole damn program would have stopped if I had taken a knee,” Barnes told The Associated Press on Monday, saying he was around television cameras, veterans and many other people that day. Barnes, who is African-American, said he’s never knelt during the national anthem, but he supports the rights of others to do so.

The issue came up this month when Gov. Scott Walker tweeted more than a dozen times about his belief that all NFL players should stand during the anthem. Walker started the flap by retweeting a January message from Barnes where he posted, “Take a knee,” in reaction to a story questioning whether President Donald Trump knew the words to the national anthem.

Barnes questioned Walker’s patriotism and tweeted an image of himself wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback began a wave of protests by NFL players two seasons ago, first sitting on the bench and then kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.

Barnes said Monday that Walker and Kleefisch are using the issue because they are “desperate.” Polls show Walker and Kleefisch are locked in a tight race with Democrat Tony Evers and Barnes.

“This is crazy,” Barnes said. “Walker and Kleefisch) want to tap into the energy that delivered us the president we have. They cannot run on their ideas, they cannot run on their record.”

Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg declined further comment.



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