Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, incited widespread outrage when he said recently that he would have been more afraid of the rioters who rampaged the Capitol on Jan. 6 had they been members of Black Lives Matter and antifa.
But his revealing and incendiary comment, which quickly prompted accusations of racism, came as no surprise to those who have followed Mr. Johnson’s career in Washington or back home in Wisconsin. He has become the Republican Party’s foremost amplifier of conspiracy theories and disinformation now that Donald Trump himself is banned from social media and largely avoiding appearances on cable television.
Mr. Johnson — who earned his fortune through a family business that manufactures synthetic materials — is an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.
In recent months, Mr. Johnson has sown doubts about President Biden’s victory, argued that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was not an armed insurrection, promoted discredited Covid-19 treatments, and said he saw no need to get the coronavirus vaccine himself.
On Saturday, he told a conference of conservative political organizers in Wisconsin that “there was no violence on the Senate side, in terms of the chamber,” during the riot. In fact, Trump supporters stormed the chamber shortly after senators were evacuated.
On Sunday, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, denounced Mr. Johnson’s distortion of the events of Jan. 6. “We don’t need to try and explain away or come up with alternative versions,” he said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.” “We all saw what happened.”
For Democrats, regaining his Senate seat in 2022, in a state Mr. Biden won, is a top priority. Though he has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term, Mr. Johnson recently said that the fury Democrats had directed his way made him want to fight.
In an interview with The Times, Mr. Johnson rejected comparisons made by his critics to Joseph McCarthy, the disgraced far-right senator from Wisconsin. And he insisted he had no racist intent in making his argument about the Capitol attack.
“It’s a true statement,” he said. “And then people said, ‘Well, why?’ Well, because I’ve been to a lot of Trump rallies. I spend three hours with thousands of Trump supporters. And I think I know them pretty well. I don’t know any Trump supporter who would have done what the rioters did.”
During his first campaign, in 2010, Mr. Johnson’s declared that climate change was not man-made but instead caused by “sun spots” — and offered a false history of Greenland to make his case.
“You know, there’s a reason Greenland was called Greenland,” Mr. Johnson told WKOW-TV in Madison back then. “It was actually green at one point in time. And it’s been, you know, since, it’s a whole lot whiter now, so we’ve experienced climate change throughout geologic time.”
In the interview on Thursday, Mr. Johnson was still misinformed about the etymology of Greenland, which got its name from the explorer Erik the Red’s attempt to lure settlers to the ice-covered island.
“I could be wrong there, but that’s always been my assumption that, at some point in time, those early explorers saw green,” Mr. Johnson said. “I have no idea.”