Republican senator defends pro-Trump protesters who stormed Capitol, falsely blaming insurrection on ‘fake supporters’

Of the 250 people who have been arrested for their roles in the riot, dozens have been connected to right-wing groups that support former president

Griffin Connolly
Tuesday 23 February 2021 18:31 GMT
Ted Cruz seen on phone during opening testimony into Capitol riot
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At a high-profile hearing on the insurrection at the US Capitol, Senator Ron Johnson on Tuesday claimed the mood of pro-Trump protesters who eventually stormed the Capitol had been “festive” before police fired a tear gas canister at them.

The Wisconsin Republican has been one of the chief promoters in Congress of discredited conspiracy theories that it was not supporters of the former president who perpetrated the attack on the legislature, but rather a small set of imposters.

Mr Johnson’s theories have been widely debunked and disproven by federal records on those who have been arrested for their roles in the riots.

On Tuesday Mr Johnson, citing the first-hand account of right-wing think tank scholar J Michael Waller published in the far-right publication The Federalist, blamed a cadre of “fake Trump supporters” for provoking police at the Capitol, who then provoked the larger crowd into riotous behaviour when they responded in kind.

“He said that the mood of the crowd was ‘positive’ and ‘festive,’” Mr Johnson said, reading Mr Waller’s account of the riot into the official congressional record.

“Of the thousands of people I passed or who passed me along Constitution Avenue, some were indignant and contemptuous of Congress, but not one appeared angry or incited to riot. Many of the marchers were families with small children. Many were elderly, overweight or just plain tired or frail, traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone,” Mr Johnson said, quoting Mr Waller’s story.

Mr Johnson’s theories about the nature of the bloody riot, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, have not been borne out by subsequent arrests and investigations.

The feds have indicted more than 250 people for their roles in the riot, many of whom have said they believed they were following Donald Trump’s orders when they stormed the legislature — a fact that contradicts Mr Johnson’s narrative that the “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanour of the great majority” was sabotaged by left-wing anarchists disguised as right-wingers.

At least 14 of those arrested have professed to be supporters of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory that believed the former president was elected to wage a shadow war against a cannibalistic cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles consisting of Democratic politicians, Hollywood elites, and other prominent liberals.

Another 16 have links to the so-called Proud Boys, a fringe right-wing militia group that strongly backs Mr Trump.

Scores of news outlets have published investigative reports with details about the open planning happening on right-wing message boards in the days and weeks leading up to the storming of the Capitol.

Several men who wore combat gear and radio equipment as they breached the Capitol — including one who carried zip ties into the Senate chamber — have been arrested and subsequently found to be hardcore supporters of the former president who was impeached a second time for inciting the attack.

Former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund confirmed his belief to senators on Tuesday that the most violent elements of the attack on the legislature had been premeditated and carefully planned out.

“The fact that the group that attacked our west front, attacked our west front ... approximately 20 minute before the event over at the Ellipse ended, which means they were planning on our agency not being at what they call full strength,” Mr Sund said, referring to Mr Trump’s speech at the National Mall exhorting his supporters to the Capitol.

“And then also the fact that we’re dealing with two pipe bombs that were specifically, you know, set off the edge of our perimeter to, what I suspect, draw resources away. I think there was a significant coordination with this attack,” the former police chief said.

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