People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
People shelter in the House gallery as pro-Trump extremists try to break into the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Evers calls on Republicans to fully condemn the saboteurs. State attorney general calls for Trump to be removed from office.

The majority of elected officials across the country decried Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump, denouncing the action as an unwarranted act of domestic terror by people unwilling to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. But Wisconsin politicians were among those who attempted to excuse the insurrection or make far-fetched comparisons to other events.

Democrats were unanimous in sharply criticizing the takeover of the Capitol building, a violent effort to disrupt or overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election in which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected president and vice president. US Rep. Ron Kind (D-La Crosse) said Republicans who have made repeated false claims of election fraud helped stoke emotions that prompted the takeover.  

“They have unleashed dark forces in our society now who think this is entirely appropriate to attempt a coup d’etat of our government because of what they’ve been led to believe,” Kind said during a press conference from his Capitol office in which he strongly rebuked the attack on the Capitol.  

The man Kind defeated in November, Republican Derrick Van Orden, traveled to Washington, DC for the event and posted several times to social media prior to the storming of the Capitol. Afterward, he posted that he left the scene when conditions turned violent and that he denounced the violence from the crowd he had earlier been part of.

Gov. Tony Evers released a statement calling for “swift, bipartisan condemnation” from “elected officials who’ve failed to unequivocally denounce these efforts, all of which fed into today’s events.”

“This is an attack on democracy. Period,” Evers said.

Some Republican politicians who have been avowed Trump backers and have been unwilling to call out the president for his often-controversial behavior reversed course and lambasted Wednesday’s action, saying such a violent act–on the same day Congress was scheduled to certify election results–never should have happened. 

Kenosha native Reince Priebus, the former White House Chief of Staff and former chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, sharply condemned the rioters.

“Many of these folks are nothing but domestic terrorists,” Priebus tweeted. “And many are criminals and troublemakers all acting in a manner opposite of patriotism.  These violent people have no respect for democracy.  Pure insanity and disgusting.”

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah), speaking from his DC office with WISN-TV said, “It’s a really horrible thing and very embarrassing to our republic that this would go on.” But in the riot’s early hours, Grothman cast doubts on its seriousness in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interview.

“I’m in my office and it looks pretty serene outside my office. So maybe it’s bad but I always think they exaggerate these things, you know,” he said. In the later interview, he said it was the president’s supporters who were being treated badly.

“I saw a couple people behaving outlandishly last night accosting a pedestrian with a Trump flag,” Grothman continued. “And that’s very unfortunate because I’ve attended so many rallies and they’re always such nice people.”

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay criticized a video that Trump posted near the end of the uprising in which he told the rioters, “we love you, you’re very special,” and continued to hawk the false claim that the election was in some way fraudulent.

“The more we traffic in the fiction that the election’s going to change, the more violence we’re going to have,” Gallagher told the Green Bay Press-Gazette. But Gallagher was among those fueling baseless doubts about the integrity of how Wisconsin and the country had voted, even in the Jan. 3 statement he cosigned with colleagues announcing their opposition to challenging the electoral vote count.

“The people cannot trust a system that refuses to guarantee that only legal votes are cast to select its electors,” he said, without providing evidence of any illegally cast votes.

Two subsequent tweets by the president, at least one of which supported those who entered the Capitol and called them “patriots,” were deleted by Twitter. Twitter initially flagged them for a “risk of violence” and disabled the ability to like, retweet, or reply to them, but took the unprecedented step of removing them hours later after Facebook removed one of Trump’s posts.

Twitter subsequently locked Trump’s account for 12 hours, an astonishing course of action against a sitting world leader.

Other Republicans joined the president in appearing to make excuses for the actions of those who overwhelmed Capitol security to force their way into the building. 

Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) told the Associated Press he intended to go forward with his protest of Congress counting the Electoral College votes that reflect the will of American voters in November. He also engaged in both-sides rhetoric, citing past protests over policies or racism or police violence, events that did not involve an attempt to overthrow the government or disrupt an American presidential election. 

Other Republicans were more forceful in their  condemnation of the Capitol takeover, but their tone was more focused on supporting Capitol Police than in criticizing political motives for the rioters’ insurrection. 

Rep. Bryan Steil, the Janesville Republican who represents southeastern Wisconsin, released a statement rebuking “criminals inside the United States Capitol” hours after the rioters first got inside.

“I condemn the reprehensible actions of criminals inside the United States Capitol today and I thank law enforcement for their efforts to maintain public safety,” Steil said. “As I said about protests throughout last year, those wishing to express their First Amendment rights need to follow the law. Anyone not authorized to be in the Capitol needs to leave immediately.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul did not mince words in his reactions to the day’s events, calling it a “fascist riot incited by a lame-duck President desperately and illegitimately trying to cling to power based on absurd lies about the election that amount to voter fraud McCarthyism.”

“Those responsible must be held accountable for what appears to be a seditious conspiracy under federal law,” Kaul stated. “Once Congress has fulfilled its duty of certifying the results of the presidential election, it should immediately begin proceedings to remove the President from office. Every day he remains in office is a threat to the republic.”

But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh), another ringleader in the push to object to the Electoral College tallying, tweeted two comparatively mild responses to the crisis and then denied that he or the president had any fault for Wednesday’s riot.

“Please if you are in or around the Capitol, respect law enforcement and peacefully disperse,” Johnson tweeted. “The Capitol Police have acted with incredible professionalism. I sincerely thank them for their service and condemn all lawless activity.”

As the Senate prepared to resume its consideration of objections from Johnson and other senators, he was asked by NBC News if they bore any responsibility for what happened.

“No, no, absolutely not” Johnson said.

“None?” he was asked again.

“None.”

“Does the president have any responsibility for this,” the reporter asked. “You don’t think the language you guys have been using about a stolen election could have contributed to this violence? Nothing else to say on this at all, Senator?”

“No,” Johnson replied.