While it wasn’t the first time Ron Johnson downplayed the U.S. Capitol attack, the Republican senator from Wisconsin drew criticism for saying during an interview that he would have been more afraid of Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors than Trump-supporting insurrectionists.
Conservative talk radio host Joe Pags took to social media to defend the senator, claiming media outlets had taken the comments out of context. But listening to the full 15-minute interview reveals a more disturbing conversation and a potential preview of Johnson’s 2022 re-election strategy:
Pags: I mean, there’s no way people you’re going to work with every day really think that you and I are white supremacists, because we believe in conservative values right?
Johnson: But no, I mean, let’s face it. I’m also criticized because I’ve made the comment that on January 6, I never felt threatened. Because I didn’t. And mainly because I knew that even though thousands of people were marching the Capitol, were trying to pressure people like me to vote, they wanted me to vote. I knew those are people that love this country. That truly respect law enforcement and would never do anything to break the law. So I wasn’t concerned. Now had the tables been turned, Joe this could get me in trouble. Had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.
Context matters and the additional nuance for the conversation is disturbing for a sitting elected official in a so-called democracy.
The exchange continued with Johnson saying, “well, let’s face it, you know, people didn’t board up their storefronts in metropolitan areas in case Joe Biden won.” He and Pags shift to talking about the Derek Chauvin murder trial and complained of “bad journalism” in the media coverage.
During the interview, Johnson also defended his attempt to introduce an uncorroborated account into the impeachment record. He tried to read sections of an article from The Federalist – a conservative publication – alleging provocateurs and agitators were really to blame.
“This is truly bizarre, because the Monday after the impeachment trial, I was just on Wisconsin talk radio, and the President’s defense team and made the point that, you know, the armed instruction really is not an accurate description of what happened. I basically agreed, and then all of a sudden, that news went national,” explained Johnson.
Johnson continued to repeat debunked theories about January 6, disrespecting his congressional colleagues and the fragile condition of American democracy.
Testimony and accounts from members of Congress and Capitol staff paint a very different picture than described by Johnson.
Johnson’s affinity for people who responded to a call to action to stop the conclusion of a valid election is telling. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in a single day, insurrectionists motivated in part by lies about a valid election caused chaos that led to the death of at least five people and injuries to at least 140 officers.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who is also from Wisconsin, directly challenged Johnson’s comments in two tweets saying that violent insurrection against democracy isn’t a good way to show one loves the country.
Baldwin then tweeted that systemic racism is real in sharing an article about Johnson’s latest shenanigans.
Just days before the January 6 attack, Johnson advocated for a commission to investigate the 2020 election despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. A Wisconsin Public Radio segment reported that the Senator expressed concern for Trump supporters who did not trust election results. But election mistrust is a problem of the Trump campaign and the Republican party’s own creation.
Besides downplaying the Capitol attack, Johnson suggested state lawmakers sue if H.R.1 – the bill expanding voting rights – is signed into law. Defaulting to a familiar argument – state’s rights – Pags claims the law would be unconstitutional. He then asked Johnson if it would be on state legislators to sue, a question to which Johnson replied in the affirmative.
“Yes, the state legislators should sue. And hope the Democrats don’t pack the court before it ever reached the Supreme Court,” Johnson answered.
The wide-ranging legislation has been seen as increasingly important to protect voting rights as state-level Republicans work overtime to suppress future turnout.