MILWAUKEE – Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is being called racist for an interview in which the white Republican said he wasn't worried about the predominantly white supporters of President Donald Trump during the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, but that he might have been if they had been Black Lives Matter protesters.
In an interview Thursday with syndicated radio host Joe Pagliarulo, Johnson said of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's electoral victory: “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."
“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, referring to far-left-leaning protesters known as anti-fascists who resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events.
Five people died during the assault on the Capitol, including a police officer, and 140 officers were injured. The insurrection also caused widespread damage and led to National Guard troops being called in to restore order. More than 300 Trump supporters have been charged in the storming of the building, including members of far-right extremist groups.
Johnson's comments sparked outrage among Wisconsin Democrats, including state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, of Milwaukee.
“For him to say something as racist as that — it’s ridiculous,” said the state senator, who is Black. “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.”
Ron Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he made the comment because many of the protests last summer over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned violent and caused widespread property damage. The unrest in the days after the handcuffed Black man's May 25 death while in police custody caused extensive damage in cities across the country — an estimated $500 million in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area alone.
“That’s why I would have been more concerned,” Johnson said in a statement.
Democrats seeking the two-term senator's seat next year were quick to call him out.
“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.
Tom Nelson, the Outagamie County executive who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, said Johnson has reached “a new despicable low” with his comments.