By Donald Judd, CNN
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson repeated his claim Tuesday that the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was not an “armed insurrection,” adding however, that protesters “did teach us how you can use flagpoles, that kind of stuff, as weapons.”
“There weren’t thousands of armed insurrectionists. I asked the question of the FBI agent at a hearing on this, I said, ‘How many firearms were confiscated either in the Capitol or on Capitol ground?’ I didn’t know the answer. For all I know it was going to be a thousand. No, zero. Zero,” Johnson said at the Rotary Club of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, according to a video posted online by an NBC reporter at the event.
Johnson added that “protesters did teach us how you can use flagpoles, that kind of stuff, as weapons. But to call what happened on January 6 an ‘armed insurrection,’ I just think, is not accurate,” he added.
In a statement to CNN Tuesday, Johnson campaign spokesperson Alexa Henning said the senator was comparing the methods used by racial justice protesters in the summer of 2020 with the January 6 rioters.
“The senator was referring to — and his full quote shows — the actions of the rioters in the summer of 2020,” Henning said. “He acknowledges the left wing rioters know how to use flagpoles and other metals objects and water bottles as weapons. But there is a distinction between that and an armed insurrection. In summer 2020, leftists used bricks, water bottles, flagpoles, fireworks, Molotov cocktails, anything but a gun as a weapon to destroy cities but the media didn’t cover them as ‘violent’ or ‘armed.’ When protesters during January 6 used a flagpole, all of a sudden the types of objects they’d been using all summer were now considered part of an ‘armed’ insurrection. He is in no way condoning this action. He’s commenting on the hypocrisy of the situation.”
Henning also passed along a full transcript of Johnson’s remarks and a link to Twitter videos of protesters using flagpoles during anti-racist protests in 2020. According to the transcript provided by the campaign, Johnson said, “summer protesters did teach us all how we can use flagpoles, that kind of stuff as weapons.”
Johnson has repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of January 6 riot at the Capitol.
In the months following the insurrection, Johnson cast doubt on reports surrounding the riot, telling a conservative radio host last year, “those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law,” and later telling Fox News, “The fact of the matter is even calling it insurrection, it wasn’t.”
In an interview on Monday, Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, his Democratic opponent in the key November Senate race, criticized Johnson for his statements about January 6.
“I won’t be lectured about crime from somebody who supported a violent insurrection that left 140 officers injured — one was stabbed with a metal stake, and another was crushed in a revolving door — it’s very hypocritical for Ron Johnson to want to bring up crime,” Barnes told MSNBC.
US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, in his testimony before the House Select Committee on January 6 in late July, said rioters used flagpoles against Capitol Police as weapons.
“A baseball bat, a hockey stick, a rebar, a flagpole, including the American flag, pepper spray, bear spray. So you name it. You had all these items and things that were thrown at us and used to attack us. Those are weapons,” he said.
Video from the committee also featured rioters beating Capitol Police with flagpoles.
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