GOP senator says he may have felt unsafe if BLM, antifa had stormed Capitol

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Wis.) said in an interview this week that he did not feel unsafe during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot but might have if Black Lives Matter protesters or far-left antifa activists had demonstrated there, setting off a new wave of criticism.

"I've also been criticized because I made the comment on Jan. 6 [that] I never felt threatened, because I didn't," Johnson said Thursday on "The Joe Pags Show," referencing the insurrection that unsuccessfully sought to halt the certification of the Electoral College results. 

"Even though those thousands of people were marching on the Capitol were trying to pressure people like me to vote the way they wanted me to vote, I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned," he continued. 

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“Now, had the tables been turned — and Joe, this is going to get me in trouble — had the tables been turned and [former] President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned,” the senator said.

Johnson’s remarks flew in the face of video showing pro-Trump rioters attacking police officers who were guarding the Capitol complex before the mob overran law enforcement and ransacked the building.

At least five people died from the riot, including a police officer. Two other officers who responded to the mob died by suicide in the following days, and about 140 officers were injured.

The statement echoed other comments Republicans had made trying to equate the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 with Black Lives Matter protests that occurred over the summer. While many of the demonstrations against the police killings of Black Americans remained peaceful, some devolved into looting and violence.

Johnson’s latest remarks set off a wave of recriminations, with critics calling his equivalence between the different groups racist.

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"Senator Johnson’s remarks are racist and unacceptable. There is nothing patriotic about storming the Capitol to attempt to overturn an election and murder elected officials. Apparently for Ron Johnson, simply being Black is a bigger offense than launching a violent insurrection. Ron Johnson is an embarrassment to the United States Senate and the state of Wisconsin. He needs to resign immediately," Jessica Floyd, president of Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, said in a statement Friday.

"What, white people love this country and Black people don’t? That’s exactly what he’s saying," Wisconsin state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D), who is Black, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Johnson responded to the criticism by noting the violence that stemmed from some protests last summer.

"Out of 7,750 protests last summer associated with BLM and Antifa, 570 turned into violent riots that killed 25 people and caused $1- $2 billion of property damage. That’s why I would have been more concerned," Johnson said in a statement obtained by The Hill.

The senator appeared to be citing data from a report released by the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project in September. That report, which identified thousands of protests between May and August, found that more than 90 percent of demonstrations were nonviolent.

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"Over 10,100 of these — or nearly 95% — involve peaceful protesters. Fewer than 570 — or approximately 5% — involve demonstrators engaging in violence," the report stated.

The criticism comes as Johnson mulls whether to run for reelection in 2022. He remains undecided, though he said last week that retiring is “probably my preference now.” His seat is expected to be heavily contested after President BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden For families, sending money home to Cuba shouldn't be a political football MORE won Wisconsin narrowly in November.

Updated: 8:55 a.m.