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Opinion Ron Johnson is a racist

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at the Capitol on March 5.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at the Capitol on March 5. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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It used to be that racists at least tried to hide their identities, lest they bring shame upon their friends, families and communities.

But thanks to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), we’ve now seen what a racist looks like.

Undoubtedly, Johnson would swear he’s nothing of the sort. He seems like a pleasant-enough fellow, if you ignore his Trumpian record of advancing the election-fraud myth, playing down the pandemic and generally embracing whatever crackpot conspiracy burbles up from the far-right’s primordial ooze.

He hardly looks the part, if looks ever told you anything about a person’s heart. Johnson is a central-casting prototype for a senator or CEO with neatly trimmed gray hair and a photogenic smile. In another time and place, he might have gotten away after his appalling “commentary” on conservative radio’s “The Joe Pags Show” with hardly anyone noticing.

But not anymore. Not here. Not now.

During a discussion about the violent storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson said he wasn’t frightened because he knew that the people breaching the barricades “loved this country,” and “truly respect law enforcement.”

Talk about cognitive dissonance.

We all witnessed how much the rioters “loved” the United States. Enough to beat Capitol Police officers with whatever was handy, leaving one dead and wounding more than 100 others. Enough to hurl death threats at the vice president while a hangman’s noose dangled outside. Enough to invade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s offices, menacingly sing-songing, “Nancy, where are you, Nancy? We’re looking for you.”

To each his own when it comes to love of country, but I reject Johnson’s definition. This is not one of those times when a columnist needs to explain what a public official really meant. We all know precisely what Johnson meant by what he said next: “Now, had the tables been turned — now, Joe, this will 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.”

I suppose we can be thankful that Johnson spoke so transparently, because it is one of those rare moments when a White man has testified so conclusively — and so publicly — to his racism. One needn’t cause harm to others unlike themselves to be racist. One need only apply different standards solely on the basis of race or ethnicity, which Johnson plainly did.

Johnson rejects any such interpretation of his remarks. In the wake of criticism, including being called a racist by fellow Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Johnson has explained that he was talking about riots, not race. Yes, by mentioning antifa, a mostly White anarchist group that has never met a protest it couldn’t turn into a riot, Johnson bought himself some cover. But his defense doesn’t ring true.

Black Lives Matter protests, as a Post analysis found, are overwhelmingly peaceful. The protesters and terrorists who disrupted congressional leaders certifying the 2020 electoral college votes — and trying to overturn the election by doing so — came loaded for bear. They came prepared to do violence and, possibly, to execute elected leaders. We all know the casualty figures from that day. And we’ve all seen the pictures. So, basically, Johnson was saying that he’s afraid of Black people but not White people.

There was another tell in Johnson’s words that, unless checked, is a harbinger of bad days ahead. Johnson said he’d “get in trouble” for saying what he was about to say — and then said it, anyway. Why would he do that? Either he’s dotty — or he was intentionally tossing chum to the far right, hoping to buoy his reelection chances next year.

This was a tactic former reality show host Donald Trump employed regularly to animate a dormant right wing in the United States. That tactic worked in 2016 and put Trump in the White House. Given what transpired over the next four years, it is doubly despicable for Johnson to use racism to advance his political position, and it will only invite others to follow suit.

When you single out Black people as a threat while signaling approval to White domestic terrorists who, in fact, committed murder, you are, sir, a racist.

Read more from Kathleen Parker’s archive, follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Robert Menendez called out Ron Johnson’s racism. The full Senate should follow suit.

Eugene Robinson: Ron Johnson’s racism is breathtaking

Ann Telnaes: What is between Sen. Ron Johnson’s ears?

Karen Tumulty: What has gotten into Ron Johnson?

Paul Waldman: What Ron Johnson’s latest stunt tells us about the next four years