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Wisconsin's Ron Johnson tries, fails to clean up his newest ugly mess

After sparking another controversy with remarks about the Jan. 6 attack, Ron Johnson tried to do some damage control. Instead, he made matters worse.
Image: Senate Homeland Security Committee Holds Hearing On Government's Interagency Response To Coronavirus
Chairman Ron Johnson, R-W.I., speaks at the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the government's response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Washington on March 5, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

It was late last week when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) offered fresh political commentary on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, acknowledging at the time that his comments would get him "in trouble." It was arguably the only thing about the issue that the Wisconsin Republican got right.

To briefly recap, Johnson argued on Friday that the insurrectionist rioters who launched the deadly assault "were people that loved this country," which is why the GOP senator said he didn't fear for his safety during the attack 10 weeks ago. Johnson added, however, that if Donald Trump had been re-elected, "and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned."

The message was hardly subtle: the Republican didn't fear White right-wing extremists committing acts of violence in the hopes of overturning an American election, but Johnson might've feared people of color launching a similar, hypothetical riot.

Yesterday, the senator tried to respond to the latest self-created uproar.

"I completely did not anticipate that anybody could interpret what I said as racist," Johnson said. "It's not. This is about rioters." Johnson also referred to the "innocuous statement that I made, never anticipated [my opponents] would turn it into what they always turn the debate into: racism."

To the extent that reality matters, Johnson publicly said he wasn't afraid of White rioters, whose patriotism he inexplicably praised, but he "might have been a little concerned" about hypothetical Black protesters.

Despite the senator's comments yesterday, it wasn't "they" who "turned it into" a question of racism.

Johnson proceeded yesterday to downplay the seriousness of the attack, claiming he'd "busted" a "narrative" by proving that the attackers weren't carrying guns. The Washington Post recently reported that the pro-Trump mob "battered police with a multitude of weapons: metal flagpoles, baseball bats, wrenches and clubs." The article added, "In court filings, officials have said that guns, bombs, stun guns and other weapons were seized from rioters, the Associated Press reported. Fourteen people face charges related to bringing weapons to the riots, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including an Alabama man who allegedly had an arsenal in his truck and a Maryland man who police say stormed the Capitol with a gun, multiple magazines and a bulletproof vest."

Nevertheless, the Wisconsin Republican appears determined to minimize the seriousness of the deadliest attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries. Johnson wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed, published in today's edition, in which he added, "Thousands of protesters -- no one knows the actual number -- marched to the Capitol. Only about 800 people illegally entered the Capitol. Still fewer engaged in violent acts."

Johnson's effort is obvious: he wants the public to believe that the deadly insurrectionist attack just wasn't a big deal.

His op-ed concluded with anti-media harangue, arguing that "all who value liberty and free speech must push back" -- the senator didn't say how, exactly -- against journalists who are "oblivious to the harm they are doing." Johnson added, "Most reporters today put advocacy above journalism. Instead of conducting interviews with conservatives, they conduct arguments. They push their political viewpoints and are willing to lie, twist, distort, omit, censor and cancel anything or anyone with an opposing view."

In other words, as Ron Johnson continues to embarrass himself, the real problem is those shining a light on his persistent recklessness and irresponsibility.

The headline on the senator's op-ed read, "I Won't Be Silenced by the Left." Ironically, Johnson's critics don't seem to have any interest in silencing him, since the more he speaks, the worse he appears.