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Sen. Ron Johnson: 'This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me'

From the Top 10 Wisconsin political stories of 2021 (based on what you, the readers, read) series
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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, said Trump’s attorneys “eviscerated” the House impeachment effort and that the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”

Johnson’s comments on a conservative 1130 WISN radio talk show Monday downplaying the events at the Capitol come after he slammed the impeachment over the weekend as “vindictive and divisive,” and possibly a “diversionary operation” by Democrats to distract from security lapses at the U.S. Capitol.

Johnson, who has long been an avid supporter of Trump, said Republicans moving forward need to embrace the people who voted for Trump and that the party must unify in order to win back lawmaking power in the 2022 midterms.

“The group of people that supported Trump, the hundreds of thousands of people who attended those Trump rallies, those are the people that love this country,” Johnson said in the interview. “They never would have done what happened on Jan. 6. That is a group of people that love freedom; that’s a group of people we need to unify and keep on our side.”

Johnson is up for re-election in 2022 but hasn’t yet said if he’ll run for that office, for governor or leave politics entirely. Along with supporting Trump, Johnson during his time in the Senate has increasingly found himself in the role of a contrarian, using his former role as a committee chairman to air unproven and potentially harmful claims about COVID-19 and the presidential election.

During the interview, Johnson condemned the violence and loss of life that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but simultaneously downplayed those events and called Democrats hypocritical for not being forceful enough in condemning civil rights protests over the summer that caused significant property damage in Wisconsin and across the nation.

As for the trial itself, Johnson claimed the videos presented during the Senate trial were “highly selectively edited” and that the trial lacked due process. House impeachment managers presented a graphic video to members of the Senate that included violence and obscenities shouted by the pro-Trump mob.

The video, which included raw documentary footage edited into a narrative, showed Capitol police being overrun by the mob, people using flag staffs to break the building’s windows and assault police, a police officer screaming as he was crushed in a revolving door and the gunshot that killed Ashli Babbitt, one of the five people who died during the violence.

Experts have said the video wasn’t deceptively edited, but the footage did leave out Trump telling his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically protest,” something Republicans have repeatedly underscored.

Johnson said he learned from the footage, but that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the events on Jan. 6. Johnson said he sent inquiries to the two former and two acting sergeants at arms and House and Senate leadership asking what they knew and when, as well as why there wasn’t beefed up security.

Either way, Johnson said that even after the impeachment trial footage gave him some additional clarity, he questioned whether the events on Jan. 6 truly represented an armed insurrection.

“When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask — how many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one, and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot, it was a tragedy, but I think there was only one,” Johnson said. “If that was a planned armed insurrection, man, you had really a bunch of idiots.”

In court filings, law enforcement officials said they found some insurrectionists with guns and bombs either on their person, left outside or in their vehicles.

Johnson also lamented the fact that initial reports said U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick was killed after being struck with a fire extinguisher. Officials are investigating whether Sicknick may have died after having a fatal reaction to bear spray deployed by rioters.

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"If that was a planned armed insurrection, man, you had really a bunch of idiots."

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh

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