Menendez calls out Sen. Johnson’s BLM remarks: ‘Is that not racism?’

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Bob Menendez described his colleague's recent assertions as 'like rubbing salt in an open wound.'

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Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey bluntly called out Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson for racist remarks the Republican made last week on a conservative talk show about the U.S. Capitol riots.

Johnson said he never felt threatened on January 6 because the people who participated in the insurrection, which left five people dead, “truly respect law enforcement” and “loved this country.”

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (above) of New Jersey took to the Senate floor Tuesday to decry recent racist assertions from his Republican colleague, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

Among the dead that day was Brian Sicknick, a Capitol police officer.

“Now, had the tables been turned — now, Joe, this will get me in trouble,” Johnson said Friday on The Joe Pags Show, “had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Menendez spoke just as plainly.

“Look, I get no one likes to be called racist,” said the Democrat, “but sometimes there’s just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations have threatened Black lives by stoking white fear of African Americans — and Black men in particular.”

After quoting Johnson’s remarks vertabim, he asked: “Is that not racism, Mister President?”

“I don’t think the senator is ignorant of the fact that for centuries in this country, white supremacy has thrived on using fear to justify oppression, discrimination and violence against people of color,” Menendez continued. “I do, however, think my colleague may be ignorant of the pain caused by his comments and unaware of how they compound the trauma that so many still feel in the wake of the events of January 6.”

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He acknowledged that his direct language broke with traditional Senate decorum, adding that senators “often twist ourselves into pretzels to avoid saying anything that might be interpreted as a criticism of another senator.”

Menendez said Johnson’s remarks were “like rubbing salt in an open wound” before reading a letter written to him by a Black congressional aide.

“The bottom line is that these lies casting Black Lives Matter as violent have already done real damage,” the letter read. “They have convinced millions of Americans that they should fear those who march under the banner of this movement for justice … When really it is the resurgence of violent white supremacy that should be Americans’ real cause for alarm.”

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Since making his remarks, Johnson has defended them. “This isn’t about race,” he claimed Tuesday. “It’s about riots.”

During Congressional hearings, Johnson put forth a conspiracy theory that the violence on January 6 was caused by Antifa and not supporters of Donald Trump. Yet, every person who has been arrested has been discovered to be Republican, and many have links to far right-wing organizations.

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Menendez said he knows “many people don’t care about facts these days, but it’s the truth.”

“The violent picture they paint” of Black Lives Matters protesters and the overall movement “could not be more divorced from reality,” he said on the Senate floor. “At this point, several reputable studies have confirmed that the protests launched in the wake of George Floyd’s chilling murder were overwhelmingly peaceful. I repeat, the Black Lives Matter movement is overwhelming peaceful.”

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