WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson claimed Tuesday that left-wing “provocateurs” and “fake” Trump supporters sparked the violence at the Capitol riots.
Johnson made the comments as Capitol Hill security chiefs testified before a Senate committee investigating how rioters were able to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Both Democrat and Republican senators spent their time grilling security heads on the logistics of what went wrong, before Johnson read a lengthy passage from a piece published in the right-wing website the Federalist titled “I Saw Provocateurs at the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6” by J. Michael Waller.
Waller claimed, without evidence, that people “whom I presumed to be Antifa or other leftist agitators” were the ones who attacked police officers and turned “unsuspecting marchers into an invading mob.” He described the Trump-supporting crowd as overwhelmingly peaceful and included a section about how they did not even litter.
BuzzFeed News was on the ground outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and witnessed hundreds of Trump supporters attacking the Capitol, as well as media and police, carrying Trump signs and waving Trump flags. Many of the rioters who have been charged for the insurrection have explicitly said that they are Trump supporters who came to DC prepared for a fight and went into the Capitol because they believed Trump was directing them to. Joseph Padilla, who is charged among other things with joining a group that attacked police with a giant Trump sign with a metal frame, for example, posted on TheDonald after Jan. 6 that he wanted to be clear it was “Patriots” like himself who attacked the Capitol, not “Antifa,” according to charging documents unsealed on Tuesday.
Johnson spent most of his allotted time for questioning witnesses by reading passages from the Federalist piece that painted Trump supporters as overwhelmingly peaceful and made unsubstantiated suggestions that left-wing provocateurs were actually responsible for the attack.
“I’d really recommend everyone on the committee read this account,” Johnson said.
Johnson was one of 13 Republican senators who announced they would vote against certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College win leading up to the Jan. 6 count. Several of them, including Johnson, reversed course after the Capitol siege and voted for certifying the results. The crowd had stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the count after then-president Donald Trump told them to “fight like hell” to stop the election from being stolen.
For weeks after the election, Johnson refused to condemn Trump’s lies about the election. The Republican senator repeatedly called for investigations into purported irregularities, lending credence to Trump’s false claims.
The Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing Tuesday was intended to analyze the security breakdowns of Jan. 6. The committee repeatedly heard that the National Guard, under the control of Trump, was slow to get involved. Acting DC Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III described being “stunned” as the federal government dragged its heels on sending in troops.
But Johnson warned his colleagues against second-guessing decisions made that day. “2020 is hindsight, it’s pretty easy to Monday-morning quarterback and I want to make sure we guard against doing so,” he said.
Zoe Tillman contributed reporting to this story.