Speaking on conservative talk radio on Monday he said that the events of 6 January “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me.”
Mr Johnson’s interview on WISN-AM in Milwaukee came after he voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.
On Tuesday’s edition of Morning Joe, host Mika Brzezinski branded his comments as “incredibly stupid” and Joe Scarborough questioned if this was going to be the Republican Party’s strategy going forward, pretending that the violent insurrection — that led to the deaths of seven people — did not happen.
Fellow MSNBC host Brian Williams quipped on his Monday night show: “Unbelievable explanation from Ron Johnson, which we’ve had translated from the original Russian, of course.”
Republican lawmaker Adam Kinzinger tweeted: “Uh What? Must have been in a different insurrection than I was.”
As one of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, Mr Johnson claimed in the interview that Trump’s attorneys “eviscerated” legal arguments made by Democrats seeking to convict him for instigating the insurrection.
Mr Johnson condemned the violence and five deaths during the riot but said what happened was not an armed insurrection.
“When you hear the word ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms?” Mr Johnson said. “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, but I think there was only one. If that was a planned armed insurrection, man, you had really a bunch of idiots.”
Law enforcement officials have said in court filings that guns, bombs, and other weapons were found on people who stormed the Capitol, in their vehicles, and elsewhere.
The insurrectionists also used flag poles, stolen police shields, crutches, fire extinguishers, sticks, and other objects to attack police officers and force entry into the building.
Counterterrorism experts speculate that there were many concealed firearms present on the day the Capitol was stormed.
Fourteen people are facing federal charges related to bringing or using dangerous weapons inside the building and two are facing firearms-related charges, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.
Rating Mr Johnson’s statement as “Pants on Fire”, Politifact called it “ridiculous revisionist history”.
In another interview, the senator claimed he was “literally never afraid” and said: “To call that an armed insurrection, it was the most pitiful armed insurrection anyone could possibly imagine.”
He also claimed that the danger to Vice President Mike Pence was overblown.
The Senate acquitted Trump of a charge of “incitement of insurrection” after House prosecutors laid out a case that he was an “inciter in chief” who unleashed a mob by stoking a monthslong campaign of spreading debunked conspiracy theories and false violent rhetoric that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
“We know who is talking to us and saying how important police officials are when their side is the one that’s been saying defund the police," Mr Johnson said. "So you’re sitting in that trial, you’re listening to all this and you understand it’s just dripping with hypocrisy.”
Up for re-election in 2022, Mr Johnson has not yet said whether he will seek a third term. Wisconsin’s other senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, voted to convict Trump.
With reporting from the Associated Press.
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