MADISON, Wis. – Two days after members of the U.S. Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Wisconsin’s senior senator questioned whether an armed insurrection even occurred.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson toured the state’s airwaves on Monday making the claim, despite video footage and photos of the attack showing participants erecting gallows on the Capitol grounds, deploying pepper spray strong enough to injure bears, carrying zip ties, hurling a fire extinguisher, using baseball bats to smash windows, and throwing flags like spears at police officers.
“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” the Republican said in an interview on WISN-AM with conservative talk radio show host Jay Weber after condemning the events at the U.S. Capitol that day.
“I mean ‘armed,’ when you hear ‘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, OK? But I think there was only one.”
While it’s unknown how many firearms were brought inside the Capitol during the attack, police recovered a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from seven people who were arrested over their involvement in the Jan. 6 riot that left five people dead, according to NBC News reporting in January.
Rioters also used a stun gun to incapacitate at least one police officer, causing him to suffer a heart attack.
A spokesman for Johnson did not respond to questions about what Johnson was basing his comments on.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate in 2022, said Johnson’s comments were “unreal.”
“They chanted ‘Hang Mike Pence!’ Five people died, Ron,” Nelson tweeted. “Are you that craven & loyal to Donald Trump that you can’t recognize that?”
Johnson, who voted not guilty in Trump’s impeachment trial, is up for re-election in 2022 but has not yet said whether he will seek a third term.
More than a dozen face weapons charges in Capitol riots
Fourteen people tied to the Jan. 6 attack are facing federal charges related to bringing or using dangerous weapons inside the building and two are facing firearms-related charges, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Among those arrested after the riot was Lonnie Coffman, an Alabama man accused of bringing with him to Washington multiple firearms, 11 Molotov cocktails, a crossbow, smoke bombs and a stun gun — all found in his truck near the Capitol. He brought two firearms to the Capitol area, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“The amount of weapons suggests an intent to provide them to others, as no one person could reasonably use so many at once,” federal prosecutors said.
Samuel Fisher, a New York man who is facing federal charges, is accused of traveling to Washington with multiple firearms and a bulletproof vest. On Jan. 6, he allegedly posted an image of two guns, saying he would take the pistol inside with him and leave the rifle and vest in his vehicle in the parking garage, “and if it kicks off I got a Vest and My Rifle,” according to the FBI.
Christopher Alberts of Maryland faces gun charges after police escorting him away from the Capitol found on him two separate holsters, one with a 9mm weapon with a single round in the chamber and a fully loaded 12-round magazine and the other with a second fully loaded 12-round magazine. Alberts also was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a backpack with a gas mask, pocket knife and an MRE.
William Watson of Alabama told the FBI he went into the building through a broken window and that he was part of a crowd that had police shields and batons when they encountered more officers in the hallway of the Capitol. Watson also admitted to carrying mace and a pocket knife.
Rachel Powell of Pennsylvania is charged with entering a restricted building or grounds with a dangerous weapon after she was seen using a large pipe as a ramming device to break windows of the U.S. Capitol.
Cleveland Grover Meredith of Colorado missed the riot but allegedly brought an assault-style Tavor X95 rifle with a telescopic sight, a Glock 9mm with high-capacity magazines and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, including at least 320 rounds of armor-piercing bullets, according to NBC News.
What Johnson said during his radio interviews
“To call that an armed insurrection, it was the most pitiful armed insurrection anybody could ever possibly imagine,” Johnson said in an appearance on WTAQ, one of at least three interviews Monday with conservative radio hosts.
“The one guy in the Senate chambers there, he had plastic wrist ties. What was he expecting to do? Literally go up to Mike Pence and capture him? It’s absurd.”
Eric Munchel of Nashville is allegedly the man Johnson is referring to who has been photographed carrying zip ties fashioned into handcuffs inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. He is accused of stashing weapons in a tactical bag outside the Capitol during the attack, according to Nashville’s WTVF.
Footage of the Capitol attack shows participants chanting “Hang Mike Pence” while others erected a noose and gallows.
In his interview on WISN, Johnson criticized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for saying Trump provoked the crowd and was morally responsible for the attack. McConnell made his floor speech after voting against conviction because he said he didn’t think the Senate could convict a president who had already left office.
Johnson said he didn’t appreciate McConnell making his remarks because he didn’t believe most Senate Republicans felt the way McConnell does.
“You’ve got our leader out there really representing himself, and that’s his right to do, but at the same time, he has to realize as our leader, what he says reflects on us,” Johnson said. “I didn’t particularly like it.”
The USA TODAY Network and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.