BY: ALLISON PECORIN, ABC NEWS
(WASHINGTON) — GOP Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday denied statements he made last week about Black Lives Matter protesters were racist, claiming there was “nothing racial about my comments, nothing whatsoever.”
The Wisconsin Republican came under fire over the weekend for saying he was not worried for his safety during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack because the rioters were largely “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement,” adding he would have been “concerned” if they had been Black Lives Matter or antifa protesters.
“Had the tables been turned and President Donald Trump won the election and those were thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters I would have been concerned,” Johnson said Thursday in an interview with a local radio host.
Johnson faced backlash from Democrats and outside groups who deemed his comments “racist” and “unacceptable” but on Monday he dug in.
“This isn’t about race, this is about riots,” Johnson told reporters. “I have been attacked and criticized because I pushed back on the narrative that there were thousands of armed insurrectionists, and that’s just a small part of the 74 million Americans that voted for President Trump that also need to be suspect of being potential domestic terrorists or also potentially armed insurrectionists. This is a false narrative, and so the few of us that push back on that we get mercilessly attacked.”
During the radio show appearance on Thursday, Johnson described marchers who headed to the Capitol following the “Save America” rally, at which Trump encouraged supporters to march to Capitol Hill, as people who “would never do anything to break a law.”
Over 300 people have been charged in connection to the Capitol attack, and investigations are ongoing.
Protesters who breached the Capitol injured dozens of police officers, who were met by an often-violent mob, some armed with chemical irritants and flagpoles, attempting to enter the building.
The breach required members of the House and Senate, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence, to be evacuated, and led the House of Representatives to bring an article of impeachment against Trump, who was later acquitted by the Senate.
The Democratic Group American Bridge 21st century called for Johnson’s resignation following his comments last week.
“Apparently for Ron Johnson, simply being Black is a bigger offense than launching a violent insurrection,” the group said in a statement. “Ron Johnson is an embarrassment to the United States Senate and the state of Wisconsin. He needs to resign immediately.”
But on Monday Johnson claimed repeatedly that his statements were not racially motivated and that the reaction was “pretty shocking,” despite prefacing his comments Thursday by telling radio host Joe “Pags” Pagliarulo, that the comments “could get me in trouble.”
“I wasn’t surprised, but it’s still pretty shocking that they would take what I consider a completely innocuous comment and turn it into you know, use the race card on me,” Johnson said Monday.
Johnson claimed his comments were not specific to black protesters because, in Black Lives Matter protests he’s seen, many participants were white.
“If you look at the protesters, the rioters, they’re white. A lot of them are white, especially antifa,” Johnson claimed.
Johnson said he has been consistent in condemning violent protests, whether they are lead by Black Lives Matter protesters or the right-wing groups that stormed the Capitol. He conceded that only a small percentage of those involved in BLM protests were violent.
A study conducted by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a data collection, analysis and crisis mapping project cited by several major universities, found that 93% of BLM protests were non-violent.
“Where I’m consistent is I condemn them all. I condemned the Capitol breach immediately. I don’t like lawlessness,” Johnson said.
Johnson is up for re-election in 2022. On Monday, he was non-committal about whether he’ll run again.
“I haven’t decided. I’ve got plenty of time,” Johnson said. “These elections are way too long. They cost way too much money — I’m doing everybody a favor.”
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