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As Republicans normalize political violence, the Jan. 6 insurrection goes on

For now, odious legislation has replaced lead pipes as the GOP’s weapon of choice in dismantling democracy.

Senator Ron Johnson's most recent malicious comments managed to vault from stupid and laughable to unapologetically racist and dangerous.Anna Moneymaker/Associated Press

Federal authorities charged two men Monday with assaulting three Capitol Police officers including Brian Sicknick, who later died, during the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Julian Elie Khater of Pennsylvania and George Pierre Tanios of West Virginia are suspects. Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin calls those like Khater and Tanios “people who love this country.”

QAnon Ron is at it again. From perpetuating the Big Lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election to his ludicrous claims of “fake Trump protesters” storming the Capitol, Johnson never met a fringe conspiracy he wouldn’t spew in public. Yet his most recent malicious comments managed to vault from stupid and laughable to unapologetically racist and dangerous.


On a conservative radio show last week, Johnson said he wasn’t worried about his safety at the Capitol when a white supremacist mob breached the seat of this nation’s democracy in an attempt to overthrow that democracy.

“I knew those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned,” said Johnson about insurrectionists who broke numerous laws and injured at least 138 law enforcement officers, some of them pummeled with poles bearing “Blue Lives Matter” flags.

“Now, had the tables been turned . . . and President Trump won the election and tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa” violently invaded the Capitol, Johnson said, “I might have been a little concerned.”

Later, Johnson claimed his racist comments weren’t racist because white people also participated in last summer’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

While it’s tempting to dismiss Johnson’s nasty screed as more on-brand lunacy, it’s deeply alarming that a sitting senator not only defends violent white supremacists as patriots but also damns BLM activists for protesting while Black. This, too, is an assault on the Constitution, and a sobering reminder that the racist GOP-endorsed insurrection didn’t end on Jan. 6.


For now, legislation has replaced lead pipes as the Republican weapon of choice in attacking democracy. Battles have moved from the Capitol rotunda to such states as Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, where Republicans are pushing “election integrity” bills specifically designed to codify voter suppression. Since Election Day, at least 250 bills in more than 40 states have been introduced to curtail mail-in and early voting, enact voter ID laws, shorten voting hours, and make it as difficult as possible for millions to vote.

That’s not the only constitutional right under assault.

In Oklahoma, Republicans passed a bill that grants immunity to motorists who plow their cars into protesters. This is potentially a “stand your ground” law for drivers. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida wants new felonies for injuries or property damage that occur during protests attended by at least seven people.

Restricting voting and the right to protest constricts democracy. That’s the point.

Still, the primary goal here is to silence and stifle Black people, and their accomplices and allies in the fight against white supremacy. Millions watched as rage over the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others transformed into political action. We didn’t just get mad, we got even at the polls and flipped the White House and the Senate.


Republican intentions are no less clear. Fearing they cannot win fair elections, they are trying to kneecap voter access. Concerned that protests against systemic and racist police violence could alter policies that endanger the public, they are criminalizing the constitutional right to assemble.

Unless, that is, they’re counted among those who Johnson falsely claims “love this country.” That would be white supremacists, extremists, and seditionists. Calling the GOP response to the Jan. 6 insurrection muted is a gross underselling of a harsh truth. That response has been enabling and sanctioning, and it’s a warning that Republicans will do nothing to prevent an insurrection from happening again. They haven’t even bothered to rebuke Johnson for his racist comments, and their silence reveals their complicity.

Throughout its history, America has battled foreign tyranny, communism, and terrorism. Yet it has waged no longer or more destructive war than the one against its own democracy. And its latest campaign, an ongoing GOP-endorsed coup unfolding in this nation’s state houses, has only just begun.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.