MADISON, Wis. – Sen. Ron Johnson is facing accusations of racism after saying the supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January didn’t worry him but that he might have been concerned if they had been supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“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,” Johnson said about the predominantly white crowd that marched to the U.S. Capitol to overturn a presidential election and triggered an assault that left five people dead, 140 police officers injured and windows smashed.
“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 during an interview with syndicated radio show host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo.
“What, white people love this country and Black people don’t? That’s exactly what he’s saying,” said Wisconsin Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a Democrat from Milwaukee who is Black.
Johnson, who is not related to Ron Johnson, said it wasn’t Black Lives Matter protesters who triggered an insurrection that left five people dead, including a police officer.
“For him to say something as racist as that – it’s ridiculous,” she said. “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.”
Tom Nelson, Outagamie County executive who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022 against Johnson if he seeks a third term, said the Republican senator was reaching “a new despicable low.”
Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he made the comment because, out of about 10,000 protests that took place last summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, 570 turned violent and caused billions of dollars worth of property damage.
“That’s why I would have been more concerned,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson also cited 25 deaths being tied to the protests. Data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project show of the 25 people whose deaths were tied to protests or political unrest, nine were Black Lives Matter demonstrators and two were conservatives killed after pro-Trump rallies.
In a report the group released in September, a review of the 2020 summer protests showed 93% of the protests remained peaceful and nondestructive.
The group identified 7,750 protests out of 10,100 connected to Black Lives Matter and about 220 locations where the protests became “violent” through physical violence or by damaging property.
“Over 10,100 of these – or nearly 95% – involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570 – or approximately 5% – involve demonstrators engaging in violence,” the report said.
Follow Molly Beck on Twitter at @MollyBeck.