Mar 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Menendez calls Ron Johnson's remarks about BLM and Jan. 6 "racist" on Senate floor

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called comments by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) "racist" on the Senate floor Tuesday evening, after Johnson told a radio show that he would have been more afraid of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters if they had been Black Lives Matter protestors or antifa.

Why it matters: Menendez himself acknowledged that the speech broke with Senate decorum, noting that "we often twist ourselves into pretzels to avoid saying anything that might be interpreted as a criticism of another senator."

Catch up quick: Johnson said on a radio talk show last week that he was not afraid during the Jan. 6 pro-Trump Capitol insurrection because he felt the rioters were people who "truly respect law enforcement."

  • “Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this could get me in trouble — had the tables been turned, 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," Johnson said.
  • Five people died as a result of the Capitol attacks, including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after being assaulted by rioters.

What they're saying: "Look, I get no one likes to be called racist, but sometimes there's just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations have threatened Black lives by stoking white fear of African Americans and Black men in particular," Menendez said.

  • "I don't think the senator is ignorant of the fact that for centuries in this country white supremacy has thrived on using fear to justify oppression, discrimination and violence against people of color," he continued.
  • "I do, however, think my colleague may be ignorant of the pain caused by his comments and unaware of how they compound the trauma that so many still feel in the wake of the events of Jan. 6."

Between the lines: Many comparisons have been drawn between how law enforcement responded to 2020's Black Lives Matter protests vs. how they responded to the Capitol riots.

  • William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, told the Senate earlier this month that he received "immediate approval" to deploy forces during Black Lives Matter protests last summer, but faced delays in getting approval on Jan. 6.

Johnson has continued to defend his remarks, per NBC News, stating, "This isn't about race. It's about riots."

Go deeper