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‘Mindless garbage’: Top Democrat pans pro-Trump senator’s conspiracy theory about Capitol rioters

Griffin Connolly
·4-min read
Supporters of US President Donald Trump fight with riot police outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of US President Donald Trump fight with riot police outside the Capitol building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (AFP via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday blasted a Republican senator who is still espousing conspiracy theories about the nature and origins of the attack on the US Capitol last month by a pro-Trump mob.

The Senate Rules and Homeland Security Committees held a joint hearing on Tuesday with four law enforcement leaders who were in charge of securing the Capitol on the day of the riot.

While the hearing was a mostly bipartisan effort to ascertain facts about how and why authorities failed to stop the pro-Trump mob from overrunning the legislature that day, GOP Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin used his five minutes to suggest “fake Trump supporters” and other possibly left-wing “provocateurs” turned an otherwise “festive” and “positive” protest into a full-blown, bloody insurrection.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, the day after that hearing, Mr Schumer lit into Mr Johnson.

“The hearing revealed several security and communication failures that must be addressed going forward and followed up on in future investigations. Regrettably, the hearing also revealed that there are still members of the Senate Republican minority who are willing to continue the campaign of misinformation, deception, and conspiracy that helped fuel the attack on January 6 in the first place,” Mr Schumer said.

He continued: “So let me be very clear: blaming the January 6 attack on provocateurs and fake Trump protesters is mindless garbage. It has no basis in fact. Perpetuating and giving a platform to those lies is a preposterous contribution to a Senate hearing devoted to Capitol security. Everyone, everyone, needs to move forward by sticking to the facts and engaging in a very serious discussion about the security of the Capitol Complex.”

Mr Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who chaired the Homeland Security Committee when the attack on the Capitol was perpetrated, 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 so far.

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 by firing a canister of tear gas into the crowd.

“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.

Federal authorities 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.

Other GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have acknowledged for weeks that the president bears at least some responsibility for fomenting the false narrative of rampant election fraud that boiled over into violence and bloodshed at the Capitol last month.

Seven Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing Independents in voting that Mr Trump was guilty on the impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection.”

That 57-43 vote was not enough to convict the former president in the Senate, where an impeachment conviction requires a two-thirds majority.

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