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Ron Johnson uses Senate hearing on January 6 insurrection to push absurd conspiracy theory

Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, Johnson suggests Trump supporters were framed.

Ron Johnson speaks on Tuesday.
Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

One of the Republicans who pushed “the big lie” about the 2020 election — namely, that President Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate — used the first congressional hearing about the violent January 6 attempt to overthrow Donald Trump’s loss to amplify a fantastical conspiracy theory aimed at exonerating Trump and his supporters from any responsibility.

That senator — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — used his questioning time during Tuesday’s Senate hearing to read excerpts from a January 14 article published by the Federalist that argues “agents-provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” were behind the assault on the Capitol, rather than actual Trump supporters, as was the case.

“I think these were the people that probably planned this,” said Johnson, after reading from the article, invoking a conspiracy theory Tucker Carlson pushed on the Monday edition of his Fox News show.

But as anybody who has watched videos of the January 6 insurrection can attest, the mob that breached the Capitol in a riot that left five dead waved Trump flags and chanted things like, “We want Trump!”

And the rioters were in Washington, DC, in the first place to attend a “Stop the Steal” rally Trump promoted heavily, before being riled up by Trump in a speech in which he invoked “fighting” more than 20 times just before the events at the Capitol began.

Furthermore, as observers of right-wing internet forums took note of in the weeks before January 6, the insurrection was clearly organized online by Trump supporters who weren’t trying to hide what they hoped to achieve.

Finally, many insurrectionists arrested in connection with the riot have cited their support for Trump as the reason they were in Washington, DC, on January 6, saying things like, “I’m here to see what my President called me to DC for.”

Despite all this evidence, hardcore Trump supporters in Congress have repeatedly tried to shift blame for the insurrection onto others, impugning everyone from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to antifa.

Johnson has been one of the worst offenders in this regard. During a Fox News appearance earlier this month, he suggested Pelosi was somehow responsible for the insurrection because as speaker of the House she didn’t do more to make sure Capitol security was adequate.

Then just two days ago, Johnson was back on Fox News lamenting enhanced security measures at the Capitol, falsely claiming the idea that some Trump supporters are “armed insurrectionists” couldn’t be “further from the truth.” That comment received no pushback from host Maria Bartiromo, but it ignores the reality that the reason the Capitol is militarized in the first place is the January 6 attack by Trump supporters on the legislative branch, which at the time was in the process of certifying Biden’s Electoral College win.

There was lots of buck-passing during Tuesday’s hearing

Johnson wasn’t the only person who tried to shift blame during Tuesday’s hearing. Under questioning from Johnson, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said he didn’t believe the attack on the Capitol was foreseeable.

“A breach of the Capitol was not something anybody anticipated,” Sund said.

But Sund is wrong. Chatter on right-wing internet forums in the weeks leading up to January 6 made clear that Trump supporters were not only planning to gather in DC but hoped to “storm government buildings” and “kill cops.” (Officer Brian Sicknick died after rioters breached the Capitol.)

While Johnson indulged in elaborate conspiracy theories in an attempt to not only exonerate Trump but also mitigate his own responsibility for pushing incendiary lies about election fraud, other Republicans who pushed the “big lie” — such as Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — used their questioning time on Tuesday to ask law enforcement officials detailed questions about what they knew and when ahead of January 6.

To be clear, those are legitimate questions. But coming from Hawley, they’re quite cynical, since they conveniently overlook the broader context: If he and other MAGA-aligned Republicans didn’t promote the lie that the election was stolen from Trump in the first place, there might not have been an insurrection on January 6.

During her closing remarks, the co-chair of Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), pushed back on Johnson’s conspiracy theory.

“There is clear agreement that this was a planned insurrection, and I think most members here very firmly agree with that,” she said.

“It’s important for the public to know that,” Klobuchar continued. “This was planned, we now know, this was a planned insurrection. It involved white supremacists. It involved extremist groups.”

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