Feb 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Sen. Ron Johnson: Capitol riot "didn't seem like an armed insurrection to me"

Sen. Ron Johnson speaks during a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing for Neera Tanden
Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a local radio interview Monday that the Jan. 6 Capitol riots "didn't seem like an armed insurrection to me," despite the Justice Department charging at least 14 people with bringing deadly weapons onto Capitol grounds.

Why it matters: Johnson, who voted to acquit former President Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection, appeared to downplay the severity of the Jan. 6 attack, calling it "the most pitiful armed insurrection anybody could ever possibly imagine" in one interview.

  • It is unknown how many firearms were brought into the Capitol, but police recovered a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to an NBC News report. Five people were killed.

What he's saying: "This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me," the Republican said in an interview on WISN-AM with conservative talk radio show host Jay Weber, after condemning the riots.

  • "I mean 'armed,' when you hear 'armed,' don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask," he continued.
  • "How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one, and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot. It was a tragedy, OK? But I think there was only one."

The big picture: Johnson, who is up for re-election in 2022, frequently defended Trump throughout his presidency and led a Senate investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. The Wisconsin senator has not yet announced whether he will run again.

  • Johnson promoted false claims of widespread election fraud and planned to object to the certification of Biden's victory in Arizona on Jan. 6, but decided to reverse course in the wake of the riot.
  • In response to a request for comment, Johnson's office sent Axios the following quote from the radio interview: “We all condemn the breach and we mourn the loss of life. The videos we saw … were still reprehensible. The racial slurs, the attack on police officers, the injuries, the loss of life. Nobody condones it. We all condemn it.”

The bottom line: Days after the Senate voted to acquit Trump for his alleged role for inciting a deadly event, lawmakers are picking sides in what's sure to evolve into a dueling GOP between pro-Trump allies and those seeking to distance themselves from the former president.

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