Ron Johnson labeled a racist by his colleagues in Congress

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is now complaining that the left is trying to "silence" him

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published March 19, 2021 5:04AM (EDT)

Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. (ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. (ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is now complaining that the left is trying to "silence" him after he claimed that while he has not afraid of the violent mob of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol while all of Congress was inside, he would have been frightened by a Black Lives Matter protest. 

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, Johnson, R-Wis., doubled down on his comments about the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, insisting that the left is attempting to "silence" him. Last week, during an interview with conservative radio host Joe Pags, Johnson admitted that he didn't feel threatened by the pro-Trump rioters who staged an armed insurrection at the Capitol but might have if the rioters had been Black Lives Matter protestors or Antifa. 

"Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this could get me in trouble — had the tables been turned," Johnson said, "and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned."

Amid heated accusations of racism from both the media and members of Congress, Johnson denied that his statements had any racial animus.

"It has nothing to do with race," he told WISN-AM on Monday, "It has everything to do with riots. I completely did not anticipate that anybody could interpret what I said as racist. It's not."  

That same day, Johnson penned an op-ed in the Journal to further his case. "I told Joe Pags the truth," he wrote, "I honestly never felt threatened on Jan. 6. But, I added, I might have been worried if Donald Trump had won and the violent leftists who burned Kenosha, Wis., and Minneapolis last summer had come to Washington."

He continued, "Leftists who want to memory hole last summer's political violence immediately started lecturing me that the 2020 protests were mostly peaceful. Apparently they've forgotten that, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 570 leftist protests became riots last year. Twenty-five people lost their lives and 700 law enforcement officers were injured."

Johnson's citation, however, does not entirely reflect the findings of the report, which detail that "570 [protests]...involved demonstrators engaging in violence." And video documentation shows that much of the violence which erupted during the protests was both initiated and escalated by law enforcement. "The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent," the report concluded, "In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity."

Johnson went on to demur the supposed leftist narrative of portraying all Trump supporters as violent. Those "braying about 'peaceful protests," he said, are "the same people" that "fail to see the damage they do by pushing a narrative designed to portray the 74 million Americans who voted for Mr. Trump as potential domestic terrorists or armed insurrectionists." He included the media in his critique. "Most reporters today put advocacy above journalism," he wrote in The Wall Street Journal. "Instead of conducting interviews with conservatives, they conduct arguments. They push their political viewpoints and are willing to lie, twist, distort, omit, censor and cancel anything or anyone with an opposing view."

Asked to respond to Johnson's comments, House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a CNN interview late Tuesday, "The guy is racist, this is not the first time he has indicated such," Clyburn said. "I would hope that the people of Wisconsin would take note of this and do what they can to help make this country a better place."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that Johnson issued "a racist statement — a statement that ought to be deeply troubling to the Republican Party to have a member of the United States Senate, a Republican, reflect such prejudice, such simplification, which mirrored Donald Trump's dealing with immigrants." 

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Antifa Black Lives Matter Blm Capitol Riot Congress Democrats Ron Johnson Trump's Coup