Ron Johnson, Conspiracy-Driven Wisconsin Republicans Bear Responsibility For the Pro-Trump Insurrection at the Capitol

With their words and actions, Ron Johnson, Tom Tiffany, and Scott Fitzgerald have proven themselves unfit to lead. They should all resign.

The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.

Wisconsin senior Senator Ron Johnson gave election conspiracy theories a forum in his Senate committee. Less than a month later, insurrectionists would occupy the very same building. Photo screenshot via Ron Johnson on YouTube.

Senator Ron Johnson and the Wisconsin Republicans who have baselessly cast doubt on the results of our free and fair election bear responsibility for the insurrection at the Capitol. 

Legitimizing these conspiracy theories has always been dangerous, and we saw exactly why on full display yesterday when when hundreds of pro-Trump domestic terrorists, fueled by the president and leaders from his party in a pre-riot rally, stormed the halls of the House and Senate. They attacked at the very moment when Congress met to confirm Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. They attacked the very bedrock of American democracy. 

Congress eventually moved to affirm Biden’s victory, but the damage was done. And after everything that occurred at the Capitol on this dark day for the nation, 147 Republicans still voted to overturn the election results, siding with the insurrectionists that had occupied their chambers. 

Two of those votes came from Republican representatives from Wisconsin. The state’s two newest congressmen, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany, sided with the insurrectionists.

After their disgraceful objections to legitimate votes, Scott Fitzgerald and Tom Tiffany have proved themselves unfit to hold office. They should both resign.

With these votes, these men have cemented themselves in history as the worst elected offenders at this disgraceful moment. 

Ron Johnson is right there with them. He supported the conspiracy-driven effort to dispute the election results, sided with Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz who pushed this baseless opposition to object to the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, and even went on Meet The Press to make evidence-free allegations of widespread voter fraud just three days prior to the insurrectionist coup attempt. Johnson is on a short list of those in elected office who are most responsible for what happened at the Capitol.

After the riot, he told reporters, “I want to find out who these people are. They are not your typical Trump supporters or conservatives," not seeming to recognize the monster he helped create. Though he’s clearly been pouring gasoline on the months of conspiracy theories about the election, giving them legitimacy in the halls of the Senate in a widely panned Dec. 16 hearing of the Homeland Security Committee, he said he has no responsibility for the violence at the Capitol. 

In the end, he backed away, choosing not to cast a vote to object to the election, telling the Washington Post that “in light of events, there’s a bit of a different attitude” about the opposition effort. 

That didn’t stop him from releasing a copy of the speech he was going to give, one riddled with conspiracy theories and outrageous accusations that call into question the fairness and legitimacy of an election that has been proven over and over and over again to be fair and legitimate. 

Johnson's actions in the weeks and months following Election Day fueled the fire that led to the coup attempt. Using his Senate committee to give legitimacy to conspiracy theories about the election certainly played a part in cementing the insurrectionist belief that the election was stolen and that Trump was the rightful winner. He may think he is not responsible for what happened, but he couldn’t be more wrong in that belief. In an editorial, the Kansas City Star condemned Sen. Hawley for fueling the coup attempt, saying “Hawley’s actions in the last week had such impact that he deserves an impressive share of the blame for the blood that’s been shed.” The same can be said of Ron Johnson.

Like Fitzgerald and Tiffany, Ron Johnson, is unfit to hold office. Wisconsin’s senior Senator should resign. 

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Though, like Johnson, they ultimately voted against the objection, Republican congressmen Bryan Steil, Glenn Grothman, and Mike Gallagher spent the days leading up to the election casting doubt on Wisconsin’s elections, despite there being no legitimate reason not to trust the state’s elections. 

Gallagher has been among the Republican congressmen most vocally opposed to the effort to overturn the election, but he’s still dealing in conspiracy theories. The morning before the insurrection, Gallagher wrote in the National Review that "Many people I love, trust, and represent in Wisconsin believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. This is a serious claim that deserves serious consideration.” This is a blatant lie. Any claim that the election was stolen is a conspiracy theory, and should be treated as such. It warrants no serious consideration whatsoever.

Gallagher may have spoken out in the moment, calling for the president to “call this off”, but he, along with Steil and Grothman, need to go much, much further in condemning the actions of the president and those within their party who seek to attack the basic principles of American democracy. 

Gallagher, Steil and Grothman must reverse course and immediately halt these efforts that lead people to question the legitimacy of free and fair elections, and condemn those within their own party who peddle these falsehoods. 

Republicans at the state level, too, bear responsibility for fanning the flames of conspiracy and sowing distrust in our election. 

Without evidence, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos launched an effort to order the Committee on Campaigns and Elections to investigate the legitimacy of the election. Committee chair Ron Tusler further advanced unfounded claims of fraud, and on Dec. 11, an invite-only hearing was held at the State Capitol, further legitimizing these conspiracy-driven claims of election fraud. 

On that committee sits state representative Janel Brandtjen, who baselessly said in a Dec. 8 statement that there was “no doubt...Donald Trump won this election Wisconsin and several methods of fraud were used to change the outcome.” Instead of condemning these outrageous claims and removing her from the committee, party leadership instead made her the new Chair of the Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee. 

Also on that committee is state representative Joe Sanfelippo, who on Nov. 9 in an official release said he didn’t trust the election results, and suggested that the election could be declared “null and void.”

The Dec. 11 committee hearing opened the floodgates for a host of official press releases from GOP legislators raising concern about these illegitimate accusations of fraud, including one joint release from five Republicans on the committee saying, “We contest the decision to have electors from Wisconsin participate in the national Electoral College until all legal actions and matters outlined below have been resolved.” 

It doesn’t matter how many times these claims have been proven as lies or how many court cases have failed to produce evidence of widespread fraud, there has been seemingly no end to the false, conspiracy-driven allegations of a stolen election from members of the Republican party, from state representatives to the president himself. 

Every elected Republican who has failed to stand up to the menace of conspiracy-driven lies about an election held freely and fairly has played a part in escalating a situation that has turned toward violence and left at least four people dead.

Shame on Ron Johnson. Shame on Tom Tiffany. Shame on Scott Fitzgerald. And shame on every Republican who has refused to acknowledge the reality of the results of our democratic election, and allowed the transfer of power to be less than peaceful. 

This is the very foundation upon which our democracy stands, and fueling an attack on that foundation should never be forgiven or forgotten.

Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.

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