MADISON, Wis. - Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin denied Monday that he made racist comments last week when he said he wasn't concerned about pro-Donald Trump insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol in January but would have been worried if they were Black Lives Matters protesters.
The comments drew a firestorm of criticism from Democrats and others who said Johnson was making racist statements. But Johnson, in an interview Monday on WISN-AM, said "there's no racism involved."
"It has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with riots," Johnson said. "I completely did not anticipate that anybody could interpret what I said as racist. It’s not."
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.
Johnson said Monday on the Dan O'Donnell show that because many of the Black Lives Matters protesters were white, his comments were not racist.
"Remember those leftist activists, those protesters, that some of them turned into riots, a lot of them are white," Johnson said. "So there’s no racism involved in this at all."
Johnson said liberals want to push a narrative that everyone who voted for Trump is an insurrectionist or domestic terrorist. But he said the summer protests over racial justice resulted in more damage and people killed than the insurrection at the Capitol, which left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer, and injured 140 other officers. More than 300 Trump supporters have been charged in the storming of the building, including members of far-right extremist groups.
Johnson cited 25 deaths being tied to Black Lives Matter protests. Of the 25 people killed, nine were Black Lives Matter demonstrators and two were conservatives killed after pro-Trump rallies, according to data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
The group determined in September that more than 90% of the summer protests were peaceful.
"I’m not deterred by this," Johnson said of the reaction to his statements. "I think people need to understand that. This just, if anything, fires me up more."
Among those who said Johnson's comments were racists was Democratic state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, who is Black and not related to the senator, and Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in 2022, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin called Johnson’s comment an example of systemic racism.
Johnson has not yet said whether he will seek a third term in 2022.