Ron Johnson says Capitol attackers ‘love this country’ but he would have felt unsafe if Black Lives Matter stormed building instead

MADISON – U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is facing accusations of racism after saying the supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January didn’t worry him but that he might have been concerned if they had been supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.   

“I knew those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned,” Johnson said about the predominantly white crowd that marched to the U.S. Capitol to overturn a presidential election and triggered an assault that left five people dead, 140 police officers injured and windows smashed. 

“Now, had the tables been turned, and Joe — this is going to get me in trouble — had the tables been turned and President Trump won the election and tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa, I might have been a little concerned,” Johnson said during an interview with syndicated radio show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo

“What, white people love this country and Black people don’t? That’s exactly what he’s saying,” state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee who is Black, said.

Johnson, who is not related to Ron Johnson, said it wasn’t Black Lives Matter protesters who triggered an insurrection that left five people dead, including a police officer.

“For him to say something as racist as that — it’s ridiculous,” she 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.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin called Johnson’s comment an example of systemic racism, similar to claims made earlier this week by Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman about Black Lives Matter supporters being anti-family. 

“As I said earlier this week, systemic racism is real. Whether it’s on the House floor as we heard from a congressman a couple of days ago, or as we hear it from the mouth of a senator. Their words don’t represent the Wisconsin I know,” she tweeted on Saturday.

Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he made the comment because, out of about 10,000 protests that took place last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, 570 turned violent and caused billions of dollars worth of property damage.

“That’s why I would have been more concerned,” Johnson said in a statement. 

Johnson also cited 25 deaths being tied to the protests. Data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project show of the 25 people whose deaths were tied to protests or political unrest, nine were Black Lives Matter demonstrators and two were conservatives killed after pro-Trump rallies.

In a report the group released in September, a review of the 2020 summer protests showed 93% of the protests remained peaceful and nondestructive.

The group identified 7,750 protests out of 10,100 connected to Black Lives Matter and about 220 locations where the protests became “violent” through physical violence or by damaging property. 

“Over 10,100 of these — or nearly 95% — involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570 — or approximately 5% — involve demonstrators engaging in violence,” the report said. 

Baldwin said violently attacking the U.S. Capitol to block the election of a president “is not showing you ‘love this country’ and when a Capitol police officer is killed and over 140 are injured that is not showing you ‘truly respect law enforcement.'”

“That’s why over 300 rioters have been charged with breaking the law,” she tweeted.

Tom Nelson, Outagamie County executive who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for U.S. Senate in 2022 against Johnson if he seeks a third term, said Johnson was reaching “a new despicable low” with his comments.

“Ron Johnson is a racist and is unfit to serve the people of Wisconsin. There is no missing context here. He knew what he was saying, he knew he shouldn’t say it, but this is who he is,” said Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, who also is seeking to run against Johnson.

Last month, Johnson questioned whether the attack on the Capitol should be considered an armed insurrection, citing a lack of firearms confiscated.

It’s unknown how many firearms were brought inside the Capitol during the attack. Police recovered a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from seven people who were arrested over their involvement in the riot, according to NBC News reporting in January.

Rioters also used a stun gun to incapacitate at least one police officer, causing him to suffer a heart attack. 

Video footage and photos of the attack show participants erecting gallows, deploying pepper spray strong enough to repel bears, carrying zip ties, hurling a fire extinguisher, using baseball bats to smash windows, and throwing flags like spears at police officers. 

Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.