I don’t know how RonJohn ended up heading off on this tangent, as the word “armed” doesn’t appear in the House’s article of impeachment. But it’s bugging me because I remembered a news story from a few weeks ago that contradicts him and wanted to flag it.
If you missed it this weekend, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said this about the 1/6 Capitol Insurrection:
"This didn't seem like an armed insurrection to me. I mean, armed — when you think hear armed, don't you think of firearms?" pic.twitter.com/pZuJnpeKzg
— The Recount (@therecount) February 16, 2021
First, “Did they have guns or not?” is a weird nit to pick about a mob that was chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” had built a makeshift gallows outside the Capitol, and was doing this to cops they encountered:
Horrific new video obtained by CNN shows a MAGA rioter (in white hat and backpack) grab a DC Metro officer and pull him down Capitol steps where he is stomped and beaten with an American flag pole.
At one point they sing the Star Spangled Banner pic.twitter.com/XXJMxanGXp
— Bill Weir (@BillWeirCNN) January 10, 2021
“Kill him with his own gun,” some participants shouted. Even if it were true that most dangerous things they were armed with were flagpoles and bear spray — which may have been a lethal weapon in the case of Brian Sicknick — so what? Why the impulse to minimize the threat from a group that tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, generating hundreds of arrests?
But it turns out it’s not true. If Johnson’s going to run interference for a mob, he should at least have his facts straight. He doesn’t, according to this NBC story from January:
Yet the authorities still turned up a wide array of weapons among the tiny slice of protesters who were arrested before and after the Capitol invasion.
The haul included an assault rifle, a crossbow and 11 Molotov cocktails — all found in the car of an Alabama man…
In all, police recovered a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition from seven people who were arrested before and after the Capitol riot, according to a review of court documents. One man, Lonnie Coffman of Alabama, was found with a massive arsenal that included five guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, federal prosecutors say.
“Others had brass knuckles and pocket knives, stun guns and ‘stinger whips,'” NBC went on to note. Some rioters had flex cuffs, leading one to wonder whom they were intended for. If you doubt whether this was an “armed” insurrection, though, read the account of D.C. cop Daniel Hodges, who became famous from the viral video of him being squeezed by protesters against a door as they tried to gain entry to the building. Here’s what he said to the Washington Post in mid-January:
“The zealotry of these people is absolutely unreal,” said Hodges, who suffered from a severe headache but otherwise emerged unhurt. “There were points where I thought it was possible I could either die or become seriously disfigured.”
Still, Hodges said, he did not want to turn to his gun.
“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day,” he said. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”
Go figure that a large group of Second-Amendment-supporting righty populists who had come to D.C. believing they were on a mission to prevent an election from being stolen would include some people who brought guns. It does seem to be true that no one in the mob fired on anyone inside the building, but they were still capable of killing with the weapons they did use — even indirectly:
One of the Capitol Hill police killed himself after being hit in the head with a pole, perhaps suffering brain damage and being in constant pain. The Sicknick details may have been wrong, but doesn't change that the mob was responsible for multiple deaths. https://t.co/CyjJO43ulh pic.twitter.com/tGYSLPRJDc
— Richard Hanania (@RichardHanania) February 12, 2021
So what’s the deal with RonJohn and the riot, then? Most of his colleagues like Mitch McConnell have been content to stick with the process argument that the Constitution doesn’t allow the Senate to try an official who’s already left office, which is wrong but at least doesn’t minimize what happened on January 6 or try to shift blame for it. Johnson’s approach has been different. Last week he tried to deflect attention from the impeachment trial by wondering what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it, which may or may not have been a dark insinuation that Democrats expected the attack to happen and didn’t try to boost security to stop it, perhaps believing that they might profit from it politically in the aftermath. (One problem with that theory is that Pelosi herself just called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the event. Another is the fact that, uh, she was a prime target for the mob and probably wouldn’t have survived the riot if they had found her.) Then he was overheard lambasting Mitt Romney in the Senate chamber during the trial, seemingly over Romney’s support for calling witnesses, which evinced more anger than RonJohn has showed about the attack itself. Today he dropped this:
Johnson also described his altercation with Mitt Romney over witnesses and said this:
“To extend this trial, voting for witnesses — that is incitement.”
— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) February 16, 2021
The real inciters are … the people who wanted to hold Trump accountable? What?
There’s an obvious electoral motive for Johnson in all this, which is that he’s up for reelection in two years and eager to be as Trumpy as possible. But (a) Trump narrowly lost Johnson’s home state in November, (b) he could have been plenty Trumpy enough by simply voting to acquit instead of spinning this way for the mob, and (c) it’s not even clear yet whether he intends to run. So what gives? Why is he hung up on “armed” insurrection, particularly when he’s wrong on the merits?