MADISON – U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday pushed back against accusations of racism from Black lawmakers and Democrats after Johnson said the crowd that attacked the U.S. Capitol didn’t worry him, but if the mob had been supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement he may have been concerned for his safety.
“There’s nothing racial in my comments whatsoever,” Johnson told conservative radio show host Dan O’Donnell on WISN-AM radio. “They’re just using the race card as they always do.”
Johnson last week told syndicated radio show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo that he wasn’t concerned about the massive crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump that attacked police officers in a melee that left five people dead, saying they “were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.”
“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,” he said in the interview.
The comments about a group that was created to protest racial discrimination sparked outrage over the weekend among Black lawmakers and Democrats who said Johnson was essentially saying white people love America and Black people do not.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first Black Wisconsinite to hold the position and a potential contender in the 2022 race for the U.S. Senate seat Johnson holds, said Johnson’s comments “invite more chaos and violence.”
On Monday, Johnson said the situation “has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with riots.”
“I completely did not anticipate that anybody could interpret what I said as racist,” he said, noting many Black Lives Matter supporters are white.
“Remember those leftist activists, those protesters, that some of them turned into riots, a lot of them are white,” he said.
Johnson also last week referred to data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project about the 10,000 protests that took place last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which showed most were peaceful but 570 turned violent.
Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee who is Black and not related to Johnson, said Johnson’s defense of his comments shows he’s running for re-election in 2022 and trying to appeal to a base of supporters who backed President Donald Trump.
“He just wants to play dumb,” she said on Monday. “He’s trying to imitate the Trump card — say outlandish things to get yourself in the paper.”
She said by prefacing his comments with an acknowledgment that they could result in “trouble,” Johnson knew how they would be hurtful.
“He is a sitting U.S. Senator and he doesn’t understand how ignorant and insulting and hurtful his comments are — he feels there is no need to apologize,” she said. “He knew those comments were bad and he chose to say them anyway, so that shows what he truly is at his core.”
Last month, Johnson questioned whether the attack on the Capitol should be considered an armed insurrection, citing a lack of firearms confiscated.
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.