When it was his turn to question police officials during Tuesday’s hotly anticipated Senate hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said he had a “long list of questions” about the event. He did not, however, consider the hearing—traditionally a forum in which senators ask questions and witnesses answer them—a “format that really lends itself to asking” any of those questions. What the hearing did lend itself to, in his estimation, was reading aloud passages from a conspiratorial article suggesting that antifa, “fake Trump protesters,” and assorted other “agents-provocateurs” were the true violent instigators.
The Jan. 14 first-person essay, by J. Michael Waller, describes the protesters as mostly wholesome folk, representing a “diverse cross-section of America.” There were “families with small children; many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail—traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone. Some said they were police officers from around the country. Many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police ‘Back the Blue’ flags.” How great were these protesters? This was how great they were: They picked up trash, whereas “large leftist crowds tend to be angry and leave trash in the streets and urine in the shrubs.”
Among those who didn’t fit in, in Waller’s account, were “a few young men wearing Trump or MAGA hats backwards and who did not fit in with the rest of the crowd in terms of their actions and demeanor, whom I presumed to be Antifa or other leftist agitators.” He also charged Capitol Police—in a section Johnson read aloud in the hearing—with turning the otherwise charming crowd into a mob when they fired a tear gas canister.
Johnson encouraged everyone to read the rest of the article and entered it into the record. He observed that the riot was not predictable and asked ex–Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund if he agreed that “the vast majority of Trump supporters are pro–law enforcement, and the last thing they would do is violate the law?”
Johnson is still making up his mind on whether to run for reelection in 2022. But he’s already decided whose support matters if he does run. And so he’s making more and more sure to promote the impression that the Capitol riot—which left five people dead and forced Congress to cut off the certification of Electoral College votes and flee its chambers—wasn’t a big deal. Last week, in a radio interview, he said that it “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” asking “how many firearms were confiscated?” (Here’s a good overview of the array of confiscated weapons. Also, because this incident somehow keeps being buried, we’d reiterate that two valid pipe bombs were planted outside both the Republican and Democratic party headquarters within a couple blocks of the Capitol complex.)
The rest of the hearing, a joint venture between two committees, was otherwise within the bounds of professionalism. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, hoped that would be the takeaway.
“I do want to make it clear that there are some items of agreement between most of us on this committee,” Klobuchar said, “and I don’t think we should let the words of a few become the story here.”