The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

GOP Sen. Johnson says Capitol rioters didn’t scare him — but might have had they been Black Lives Matter protesters

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks during a March 3 hearing in the Senate on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Greg Nash/Pool/AP)

Several Democrats have called on Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to step down after he said he didn’t feel threatened in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — but would have been concerned if the mob had been made up of Black Lives Matter or antifa protesters.

In an interview Thursday on “The Joe Pags Show,” a conservative news radio show, Johnson said he “never felt threatened” by the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 hoping to overturn the results of the election.

The siege left five people dead, including a police officer; two other officers who were on duty that day later died by suicide. More than 100 officers were injured and at least 40 rioters have been charged with assaulting law enforcement officers, who were shown being harassed, beaten and sprayed with gas substances by members of the mob.

Some Trump allies have speculated that antifa was responsible for inciting violence and storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. No evidence supports this claim. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Johnson, however, said he saw only law-abiding citizens.

“I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned,” Johnson told “The Joe Pags Show,” according to a clip of the interview posted Friday by American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group, which blasted Johnson for his “blatant racism.”

In the interview clip, Johnson went on to add that he would have been frightened had Black Lives Matter or antifa protesters overrun the Capitol instead.

“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,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s remarks prompted outrage and calls for him to resign from several Democrats and a handful of anti-Trump Republicans.

“For him to say something as racist as that — it’s ridiculous,” Wisconsin state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D) told the Associated Press. “It’s a totally racist comment and the insult to injury is he didn’t mind saying it in the position that he holds because for some reason that’s just deemed as acceptable behavior for people who live in and are elected officials in this state.”

Reporting has shown that the rioters on Jan. 6 were predominantly White and drawn to Washington that day by President Donald Trump and their shared grievances over the election.

“We’ve moved from just plain old fringe, extremist rants to fringe extremist and racist rants. This is seriously embarrassing to our state,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) tweeted.

Alex Lasry, a Democrat and Milwaukee Bucks executive who is running for Johnson’s Senate seat in 2022, called Johnson “unfit to serve the people of Wisconsin.”

“There is no missing context here,” Lasry tweeted. “He knew what he was saying, he knew he shouldn’t say it, but this is who he is.”

Johnson’s office did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

On social media, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an impeachment manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial, told Johnson that the Jan. 6 mob “would have hurt you if they got their hands on you. That’s why Senators hid that day. Remember?”

“He’s not even pretending this isn’t racist,” said Fred Wellman, an executive director of the Lincoln Project, a political group of anti-Trump former Republicans.

“This is ugly. This is wrong. This is racist. Ron Johnson needs to be defeated,” said Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois who announced a primary challenge to Trump in 2019.

Most Republicans, however, have stayed silent on Johnson’s comments. On ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declined to say whether Johnson should apologize.

“Well, he’s going to speak for himself,” Barrasso said. “Every member speaks for themselves.”

Johnson, a Trump loyalist, has for weeks tried to downplay the Capitol riot and sow doubt as to who was responsible for instigating it. At one Capitol Hill hearing about the response to the riot, Johnson read from a piece in the Federalist that had suggested without real evidence that “antifa or other leftist agitators” had been among the riot crowd. Johnson’s interview Thursday on “The Joe Pags Show” indicated that the lack of evidence must not have been a concern for him.

Johnson also has recently waffled on a promise that he would serve only two terms in the Senate, telling reporters last week that he has not decided yet whether to run for a third term.

Johnson said keeping his pledge to limit himself to two terms was “probably my preference now,” but he left open the possibility of running again, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

“I think that pledge was based on the assumption we wouldn’t have Democrats in total control of government and we’re seeing what I would consider the devastating and harmful effects of Democrats’ total control just ramming things through,” Johnson said.

In one of his attempts to delay President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill from Senate passage, Johnson forced clerks to stay up all night to read the 628-page bill in its entirety, which took nearly 11 hours.

Read more:

The Capitol mob: A raging collection of grievances and disillusionment

Analysis: Ron Johnson’s extreme effort to distance Trump supporters from the Capitol Riot

A GOP lawmaker says the ‘quality’ of a vote matters. Critics say that’s ‘straight out of Jim Crow.’