While violent Donald Trump supporters shoved their way past police lines on January 6 in order to breach the Capitol building, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) says he wasn’t afraid. But if those people had been Black Lives Matter protesters, then he might have feared them, he said on a conservative talk show last week.
“Even though those thousands of people that were marching to the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote, I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned,” Johnson said.
Though many lawmakers including then-Vice President Mike Pence himself were under threat from the far right Trump militants that day, Johnson evidently felt fine, according to him. He then went on to say that progressive protesters fighting for racial justice, such as the Black Lives Matter protesters from last summer, are worse than the Capitol mob.
“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,” Johnson said.
Johnson is parroting a right-wing talking point that left-wing racial justice protesters are either just as bad or worse than the Trump mob, which included documented violent white supremacists and caused multiple deaths in just one day. He also implies that progressive protesters would have stormed the Capitol in the same way that Trump militants did if Trump had won and Joe Biden lost the election.
Johnson’s statements represent a litany of lies and mistruths. First, it’s exceedingly clear that the Trump mob, some of whom came in full tactical gear, did not, contrary to Johnson’s claims, “respect law enforcement” on January 6 as videos from that day clearly show Trump supporters saying “fuck you police” and attacking Capitol police officers.
Moreover, no evidence has been found regarding the other egregious claim about antifa and left-wing protesters posing as Trump supporters to attack the Capitol that day, refuting Johnson’s implication that the left would have done the same if the election had gone the other way. While there were Trump rallies and many, many documented instances of Trump supporters organizing the storming of D.C. online, including inciting remarks from Johnson himself, there is no evidence of the same from the other side.
Johnson’s remarks earned a swift backlash, with many pointing out their obviously racist nature. While the Trump supporters at the Capitol breach were largely white, last summer’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protesters represented a wide range of races. “What, white people love this country and Black people don’t? That’s exactly what he’s saying,” state Sen. LaTonya Johnson from Wisconsin said.
“We’ve moved from just plain old fringe, extremist rants to fringe extremist and racist rants, tweeted Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin). “This is seriously embarrassing to our state.” Johnson is facing renewed calls to resign as a result of his comments.
Johnson’s comments equivocating left-wing protesters as a particular threat are also reflective of the fact that U.S. law enforcement is three times more likely to use force on left-wing than right-wing protesters, even when the former are completely peaceful. This line of thinking has led to laws like the one recently proposed in Kentucky by state legislators outlawing insulting police during a protest as legislators seek harsh penalties against left-wing protesters.
In the past months, Johnson has also been responsible for spreading various flagrant lies and conspiracy theories about the Capitol attack. He has simultaneously said that “fake Trump supporters” were responsible for the attack, which has been refuted by the FBI, and that the attackers weren’t armed, even though multiple reports have found that some of them were, despite harsh gun regulation in D.C.