Senator Ron Johnson Defends Capitol Rioters During Hearing

The Wisconsin Republican spent his time spreading misinformation and downplaying the riot rather than questioning law enforcement about security.

WASHINGTON ― During a Tuesday hearing about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, most senators used their time to question the police’s preparation and response to violent rioters, but not Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Johnson used his time to read a firsthand account of the riot, in which the author ― J. Michael Waller, a right-wing security analyst who was protesting with the crowd ― blamed “provocateurs” and Capitol Police for the attacks on the Capitol.

“Not one appeared angry or incited to riot,” Johnson said Tuesday, reading from Waller’s account of the protesters. “Many of the marchers were families with small children; many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail — traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone.”

Johnson continued reading from the account that “many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police ‘Back the Blue’ flags.”

The piece, which appeared on the far-right website The Federalist on Jan. 14, is largely detached from reality. It incorrectly blames the police for escalating tensions (Reminder: Police largely stood down to the violent mob and allowed them to take the Capitol.) and it falsely points the finger toward antifa demonstrators for much of the violence. (To date, there is no evidence that antifa groups were part of the attack. Videos at every layer of the breach show that it was Trump supporters who instigated the violence, and Trump-loving rioters have taken issue with people claiming it was antifa and not them who stormed the Capitol.)

But none of those facts could deter Johnson from praising the Federalist article and suggesting that senators and witnesses at the hearing read the account. In fact, Johnson spent more than five and a half minutes of his seven and a half minutes of question time reading from or talking about a piece that gets plenty wrong.

By the time Johnson got around to asking the witnesses anything, he had time for only four questions:

  • Whether former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund thought the attack was foreseeable. (Sund said he didn’t.)

  • Whether it wasn’t foreseeable because the vast majority of Trump supporters were pro-law enforcement. (Sund noted that some of the rioters coming into the building were actually police, and they had no reservations about violating the law to get into the Capitol.)

  • Whether the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms had received a letter he sent with questions about the attack. (Both said they hadn’t.)

  • Whether Sund regretted resigning. (Sund said he did.)

Overall, Johnson’s goal during his allotted time seemed to be to downplay the actions of the mob, to blame the police and antifa for the violence of Jan. 6, and to argue that it was just a few bad actors ― not all Trump supporters ― who sought to take the Capitol by force.

The Wisconsin Republican’s performance was a continuation of some of his earlier comments.

Johnson claimed last week that the rioters weren’t armed and that the successful attempt to overtake the Capitol and disrupt government wasn’t therefore an insurrection ― a claim in direct contrast with testimony from the former Capitol Police chief who said the rioters were “prepared for war.”

And Johnson claimed earlier in February that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ― not Donald Trump or Republicans ― was to blame for the Jan. 6 riots.

Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Reilly contributed reporting.

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