It was nearly five months ago when the New York Times profiled Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), noting that the far-right senator "has become the Republican Party's foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation." The article added that Johnson is now "an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy."
On a nearly daily basis, the Wisconsin Republican proves the thesis true.
As we've discussed, when it comes to assessing Johnson's propensity for peddling nonsense, it's generally wise to rely on separate categories. The senator has, for example, repeatedly made ridiculous and potentially dangerous comments about COVID-19, vaccines, and the threats posed by the pandemic. He's also been cavalier about his indifference to an FBI warning that he was "a target of Russian disinformation" during the last election cycle.
He's also denied ever having "talked about the election being stolen," despite ample evidence pointing in the opposite direction. There's also the problem, of course, of the senator relying on ugly rhetoric about immigration when discussing what he sees as efforts to "remake the demographics of America."
But Johnson's ideas about the Jan. 6 attack are especially striking. The Washington Post reported yesterday afternoon:
A Republican senator suggested in a private conversation Saturday, without evidence, that the FBI knew more about the planning before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot than it has revealed so far, according to a video obtained by The Washington Post. The comments from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), made after a political event at a Wauwatosa, Wis., hotel, reflect the spread of an unfounded claim that has traveled from far-right commentators to Tucker Carlson's Fox News show to the highest levels of the GOP.
While discussing the Capitol attack with event attendees, Johnson said, "I don't say this publicly, but are you watching what's happening in Michigan? ... So you think the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan, but they don't know squat about what was happening on January 6th or what was happening with these groups? I'd say there is way more to the story."
The reference to Michigan militias was a likely reference to last year's alleged kidnapping plot targeting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), involving right-wing radicals whose group had been infiltrated by undercover law-enforcement officials.
By Johnson's reasoning, if the FBI knew what the alleged would-be kidnappers in Michigan were up to, then it stands to reason that the FBI must've had secret knowledge of the Jan. 6 attack, too. Why? Just because.
Though this certainly dovetails with assorted Republican conspiracy theories about the assault on the Capitol, with some fringe lawmakers suggesting last month that federal law enforcement may have even been involved with organizing the pro-Trump riot.
As is usually the case, the missing ingredient is evidence. The right certainly likes the idea of shifting blame away from the insurrectionist rioters, but the conservative conspiracy theorists have nothing but their own satisfying hunches to work with.
What's more, with Johnson, it's part of a larger pattern. Circling back to our earlier coverage, it was in May when the Wisconsinite argued that the violent riot was a largely "peaceful protest," which was obviously absurd. Two months earlier, he insisted there "was no violence" on the north side of the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack -- a claim that was quickly discredited.
Two weeks earlier, the senator praised the rioters' patriotism and boasted that he was never concerned for his safety on Jan. 6 -- though he added he would've felt differently if the mob was made up of Black Lives Matter protesters.
That came on the heels of Johnson appearing at a Senate hearing, reading an item from a right-wing blog, and peddling the ridiculous idea that the pro-Trump forces that launched the attack on the Capitol secretly included "fake Trump protesters."
Before that, the Wisconsinite falsely argued that armed insurrectionists may not have actually been armed, reality notwithstanding.
But what's especially interesting about this new reporting is the fact that Johnson apparently didn't know his comments would reach the public. Indeed, he literally told the group, in reference to his FBI ideas, "I don't say this publicly."
Some may wonder at times whether assorted GOP conspiracy theorists actually believe what they say. It's possible they know better, but peddle foolishness because it bolsters fundraising, rallies the base, and helps raise the conspiracy theorists' public profile.
But it appears that Ron Johnson, whom Republicans put in charge of the Senate Homeland Security Committee for six years, genuinely believes his own strange ideas.