"This isn't about race," Ron Johnson insisted in a new op-ed, after saying the massive crowd who marched on the Capitol in January included many who "would never do anything to break the law"

By Virginia Chamlee
March 16, 2021 09:13 PM
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Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson
| Credit: GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty

After facing Democratic backlash in his home state for saying he didn't feel threatened during the deadly U.S. Capitol riot but would have if the protestors had been Black Lives Matter supporters, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is not changing his mind.

Instead, in an op-ed published Monday in The Wall Street Journal, the Republican lawmaker said he "won't be silenced by the Left."

"Only about 800 people illegally entered the Capitol. Still fewer engaged in violent acts. I condemned those lawbreakers at the time and continue to do so," Johnson, 65, wrote. "But I feel compelled to push back as Democrats and their media allies try to equate the two groups by implying that all present were 'armed insurrectionists' determined to overthrow the government."

The op-ed comes after an interview on the conservative talk radio Joe Pags Show in which Johnson said he didn't feel "concerned" by a group of overwhelmingly white Trump supporters who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 and forced lawmakers to evacuate.

Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer.

One of the members of the mob was fatally shot by police.

Johnson said he would have been troubled, however, if the rioters had been supporters of Black Lives Matter or antifa, a left-wing anti-fascist movement.

"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 radio show. "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 continued in that appearance: "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."

Though Johnson confirmed his initial words in the Journal column, he maintained that those on the political left had "thoroughly twist[ed]" them and were playing "the race card."

He went on to cite data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which he said found that "570 leftist protests became riots last year," in which 25 people lost their lives and 700 law enforcement officers were injured. 

But Sam Jones, a spokesperson for ACLED, tells PEOPLE that the senator's citation was "not an accurate portrayal of our findings."

According to Jones, the report cited by Johnson reviewed protest data from May 24, 2020 to Aug. 22, 2020. "During this period, we recorded approximately 570 total violent or destructive demonstrations across the country. Those are not just demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter movement or the 'left' — in fact, they include events that could be considered associated with the 'right' as well," Jones says. 

Though it doesn't identify the protests as "leftist," the report cited by Johnson did find that found that "nearly 95%" of the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in 2020 "involved peaceful protestors."

As for the "25 deaths" figure cited by Johnson, Jones pointed to a Guardian analysis of its database as of October 2020, which found that "nine of the people killed during protests were demonstrators taking part in Black Lives Matter protests. Two were conservatives killed after pro-Trump 'patriot rallies.' All but one were killed by fellow citizens."

According to ACLED, the 25 fatalities also includes cases like the Kyle Rittenhouse shootings and a shooting classified as an act of "'violent far-right' domestic terrorism" by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

"In an attempt to make his point that demonstrations associated with the BLM movement were more violent than right-wing events like the Capitol riot, the senator is actually citing statistics that include people who were killed by right-wing assailants, not unlike those who stormed the Capitol Building," Jones says.

Democrats in Wisconsin, already mobilizing for next year's election when Johnson is on the ballot, have been intensely critical of his remarks.

"For him to say something as racist as that — it's ridiculous," state Sen. LaTonya Johnson 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."

Johnson used his Journal op-ed to criticize his detractors, writing, "It was also sadly predictable that liberals would hurl the accusation of racism. This isn't about race. It's about riots."

He also slammed the news media, writing that, "Instead of conducting interviews with conservatives, they conduct arguments."

PEOPLE's requests for comment to Johnson's office regarding his initial remarks were not returned; nor were follow-up requests regarding the statistics cited in his Journal column.