The Republican said he didn't feel threatened during the U.S. Capitol riot, but would have if the protestors had been Black Lives Matter supporters

Advertisement
Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson
| Credit: GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty

Sen. Ron Johnson is receiving criticism after he said he didn't feel threatened during the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, by a group of overwhelmingly white Trump supporters, but that he would have if the rioters had been supporters of Black Lives Matter or Antifa.

"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," Johnson said on the conservative talk radio Joe Pags Show last weekend, "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, 65, continued: "Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this could get me in trouble — had the tables been turned, and President [Donald] Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned."

Almost immediately, Wisconsin Democrats began criticizing Johnson, a longtime Trump ally, for the remarks.

Wisconsin state Sen. LaTonya Johnson told The Associated Press that Johnson's comments were "racist" and "ridiculous."

"For him to say something as racist as that — it's ridiculous," the state lawmaker said. "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."

Alex Lasry, an executive with the Milwaukee Bucks who recently announced a 2022 run for Johnson's seat in the Senate, said the Republican is "a racist and is unfit to serve the people of Wisconsin."

"There is no missing context here," Lasry added in a tweet. "He knew what he was saying, he knew he shouldn't say it, but this is who he is."

A spokesperson for Johnson did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Rep. Priya Jayapal said she was "stunned" when she heard Johnson's comments, which she said were illustrative of Republicans now being "emboldened" to embrace "racist ideologies."

"This is where the Republican party has gone," Jayapal told CNN. "They are clearly embracing racist ideologies, white supremacist groups, and not afraid — completely emboldened — to say that out loud, in public."

Asked if she thought Johnson himself was racist, Jayapal said, "certainly from that statement, he appears to be."

Members of Johnson's own party were less condemning of his comments, with Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso saying his colleague was "going to speak for himself" in an interview on ABC's This Week.

The events of Jan. 6 unfolded after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the federal building during a joint session of Congress, after the former president's directed them to head to the Capitol building and "fight like hell" to overturn his election loss.

Lawmakers — including Republicans — were forced to evacuate the building during the riots and five people died.

Amid the chaos, which caused the building to go into a lockdown, numerous politicians such as former Vice President Mike Pence condemned the riotous act and urged Trump to speak out against the mounting violence.

Trump initially held off on condemning the violence, tweeting, "These are the things and events that happen. ... Remember this day forever!" He later tweeted a video to the rioters in which he called them "very special" and told them to go home.

Trump was charged days after the riot with inciting an insurrection, and impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, but ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Trump has since said his actions that day were "totally appropriate" and, like Johnson, attempted to compare the events to the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in response to a slew of widely-reported police-involved shootings of unarmed Black people.

Though conservative critics have pointed to some Black Lives Matter demonstrations becoming violent last summer, a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that more than 93% of the protests were peaceful.