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Sen. Ron Johnson plays down Capitol riots: ‘This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me’

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) talks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Friday. Johnson played down the storming of the U.S. Capitol last month. (Susan Walsh/AP)

As a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol last month, rioters battered police with a multitude of weapons: metal flagpoles, baseball bats, wrenches and clubs. Many soaked police in caustic bear spray. One officer died in the Jan. 6 melee along with four civilians.

But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Monday argued that it’s wrong to describe the group as “armed” and accused Democrats of “selectively” editing videos to exaggerate the threat posed by a mob that came within feet of Vice President Mike Pence and other elected officials.

“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson said on WISN. “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?”

Johnson added, “If that was a planned armed insurrection, man, you had really a bunch of idiots.”

In court filings, officials have said that guns, bombs, stun guns and other weapons were seized from rioters, the Associated Press reported. Fourteen people face charges related to bringing weapons to the riots, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including an Alabama man who allegedly had an arsenal in his truck and a Maryland man who police say stormed the Capitol with a gun, multiple magazines and a bulletproof vest. Federal prosecutors have also accused extremist groups of coordinating the deadly attack.

Johnson’s attempts to play down the Capitol riots come as the GOP fractures over its response to the insurrection after its Saturday vote not to convict former president Donald Trump in a Senate impeachment trial that featured hours of graphic video of the attacks.

Many have argued that President Donald Trump's efforts amounted to an attempted coup on Jan. 6. Was it? And why does that matter? (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Trump’s acquittal further polarizes factions within the GOP

As some state parties moved this weekend to censure the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, Johnson went further by also attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted against convicting the former president but also described him as “practically and morally responsible” for the riots.

“I would like to see Leader McConnell zip his lips. This is not helpful,” Johnson said on WTAQ.

Johnson, who has long been one of Trump’s most steadfast backers in the Senate, said in interviews on multiple conservative talk radio shows on Monday that he was shocked by previously unseen videos aired in the Senate last week, which showed the mob getting perilously close to lawmakers and viciously attacking Capitol police officers.

“The racial slurs, the attack on police officers, the injuries and the loss of life — no one condones that. We all condemn that,” he said.

But Johnson accused Democrats of playing up the violence and argued that most of the Trump supporters who came to D.C. on Jan. 6 were peaceful.

“To call that an armed insurrection, it was the most pitiful armed insurrection anyone could possibly imagine,” he said on WTAQ.

Johnson also seemingly ridiculed the idea that rioters might seek to kidnap lawmakers, a concern echoed by investigations into two men seen in the Capitol carrying plastic zip ties, which can be used as hand restraints.

“That one guy in the Senate chamber had plastic wrist ties. What was he supposed to do, go up to Mike Pence and capture him? It’s absurd,” he said.

The senator from Wisconsin also said that he was “literally never afraid” during the riots, and questioned whether lawmakers should have feared the mob.

“An armed insurrection? No,” he said on WTAQ. “This was a breach.”

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.