Senator Ron Johnson claims January 6 wasn’t ‘armed insurrection’ but did ‘teach us how you can use a flag pole’

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

During a Tuesday talk before the Milwaukee Rotary Club, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin downplayed the extent of armed threats during the January 6 riots at the US Capitol, despite the numerous protesters who were found with guns and other weapons.

“First of all, there weren’t thousands of armed insurrectionists,” he told an emcee, who had asked the Republican whether he would’ve reacted to the Capitol riots the same way if they were conducted by Black Lives Matter protests.

Mr Johnson pointed to congressional testimony from an FBI official who said the agency itself didn’t arrest anyone with weapons that day, though the FBI was one of numerous law enforcement agencies on scene responding to the armed riot.

“Some of the protesters did teach us all how you can use flog poles, that kind of stuff, as weapons,” he continued, though he offered a caveat: “To call what happened on January 6 an armed insurrection, I just think is not accurate. You saw the pictures inside the capitol I saw that day.”

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin senator later argued to NBC News that Mr Johnson’s comments had been taken out of context, and that he was trying to argue the January 6 rioters were given special scrutiny even when some of the 2020 racial justice protests after the killing of George Floyd involved rioting. None of these demonstrations, however, involved armed men storming a legislature in the process of certifying a national election.

"When protesters during January 6 used a flag pole, all of a sudden the types of objects they’d been using all summer were now considered part of an ‘armed’ insurrection,” the spokesperson said. “He is in no way condoning this action. He’s commenting on the hypocrisy of the situation."

The comments from the senator, who the January 6 committee found knowingly attempted to pass a document with fake 2020 electors to the vice-president’s office, ignore the high volume of weapons—guns and otherwise—found during the January 6 riots.

In addition to stun guns, pepper spray cans, baseball bats, and flag poles used like spears, numerous rioters were spotted and arrested with firearms ranging from pistols to AR-15s.

Though it’s become a talking point on the right that rioters weren’t armed, public safety officials compared January 6 to a warzone.

"I’ve talked to officers who have done two tours in Iraq who said this was scarier to them than their time in combat," Robert J Contee III, chief of Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, said in January shortly after the riots.

An NPR review of January 6 court cases found that at least three dozen people who’ve been charged so far were armed with some kind of weapon.

Lorenzo Boyd, former director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven, told the outlet that right-wing claims that January 6 protestors were unarmed is a "false narrative."

"There were a lot of weapons that could be lethal weapons as applied," he said.

Six people were arrested on January 6 for having guns near the US Capitol, while four were arrested for taking guns onto Capitol grounds.

Guy Reffit, a Texas man prosecuted for his role in the attacks, said he spotted at least eight guns among demonstrators pushing towards the Capitol.

There were likely even more firearms in the crowd, but police were overmatched by the thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators attempting to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results.

Donald Trump was reportedly aware that his fans who were massing at the Capitol were heavily armed, according to January 6 testimony from former aides.

The Secret Service allegedly warned Mr Trump that supporters standing outside security magnetometers were armed.

“I don’t f***ing care that they have weapons, they’re not here to hurt me,” he allegedly said. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f***ing [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here, let the people in and take the mags away.”

The former president has called this testimony “phony.”