During a hearing on Tuesday examining the attack on the Capitol building that took place early last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) read into the record a widely debunked conspiracy theory, falsely alleging that the attacks themselves were incited not by former President Donald Trump, but by members of the crowd who were there to instigate other Trump followers to behave badly.
Johnson, who is the GOP’s ranking member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (which is responsible for examining “all aspects of crime and lawlessness within the United States,” among other duties), cited a purported first-hand account, published by the far right publication The Federalist. Within that article, the author, J. Michael Waller, suggested that the “mood of the crowd was positive and festive” before the events at the Capitol happened.
In fact, a widely-viewed compilation video of Trump loyalists that has been shared across the internet shows much of the crowd was raucous and ready to engage in violent actions, even during the speech that Trump was giving prior to the breach of the Capitol.
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Despite these glaring inaccuracies, Johnson continued reading Waller’s account of the day, quoting him directly by suggesting “not one” of the revelers he was with “appeared angry or incited to riot.”
The violent members of the crowd, Johnson alleged by reading Waller’s words, were actually “fake Trump supporters.”
Ron Johnson is using his questioning time during the Capitol security hearing to promote a conspiracy theory that the January 6 insurrectionists weren't actually Trump supporters, but were "provocateurs" and "fake Trump protesters" pic.twitter.com/t72QkHDbaG
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 23, 2021
“Many of the marchers were families with small children,” Johnson said, reading from Waller’s article while implying Trump’s real backers couldn’t possibly be involved in the attack. “Many were elderly, overweight or just plain tired or frail, traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone.”
This is also wrong — hundreds of those who have been arrested or charged for their actions in attacking the Capitol have already been identified as ardent Trump backers. There is also no evidence, none whatsoever, that instigators opposed to Trump riled up the crowd that day in order to create a violent event.
A number of lawmakers were quick to criticize Johnson’s false and discredited suggestions in Congress on Tuesday.
“@SenRonJohnson using his Senate pulpit today to spread blatant lies about the Capitol insurrection & defending a violent mob as ‘jovial,'” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) tweeted. “Because he doesn’t believe the people holding Trump flags, chanting ‘Fight for Trump,’ were actually Trump supporters.”
“Disinformation doesn’t belong on social media, and it doesn’t belong in a Congressional hearing. Do better @SenRonJohnson,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) was also critical of Johnson’s unfounded claims during the hearing itself.
“Ron Johnson has again engaged in a conspiracy theory — that’s what he does,” Klobuchar said.
There is clear agreement that this was a planned insurrection. It’s important for the public to know that. This was planned, we now know, this was a planned insurrection. It involved white supremacists. It involved extremist groups.
This appears to be a pattern for the senior senator of Wisconsin — Johnson has made other error-filled allegations about the breach of the Capitol building last month, often in defense of Trump loyalists and questioning actual substantiated facts from that day.
Last week, for instance, Johnson faced harsh criticism after stating he didn’t believe the breach of the Capitol was even an “armed” attack to begin with.
“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson said on a Wisconsin radio station. “When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask: How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired?”
Numerous weapons, including guns, were indeed found inside the Capitol after the Trump loyalists were cleared out of the building. An armed standoff also occurred on the floor of the House of Representatives.