A GOP senator suggests pandemic unemployment benefits may be funding violent protests in Kenosha and across the US

Ron Johnson

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Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin suggested in a radio interview last week that federal unemployment insurance may be funding violent protests sparked in the wake of police shootings of unarmed Black men.

In a Thursday interview on “The Vicki McKenna Show,” a conservative talk program, the senator said it was possible that boosted unemployment benefits — through an economic aid package which Congress approved in March — was helping finance violent demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin and elsewhere across the country. 

“You can’t continue to riot for 100 days without having some sort of financial support,” said Johnson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “Possibly, some of our unemployment insurance in the CARES Act might be funding some of these people.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the remarks. Sen. Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There is no evidence to indicate that unemployed people are responsible for sparking violent protests in Kenosha after a white police officer shot and wounded Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, or other fierce unrest in the US.

Johnson labeled the wave of demonstrations there as “an outside insurgency” in the interview and claimed they formed part of a broader coordinated effort.

“These are anarchists that are just looking for an event that they can exploit to bring their insurgency, bring their anarchy, bring their chaos into another city,” he said.

There is also no evidence to suggest large numbers of protesters had traveled into Kenosha. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a recent review of bookings into the Kenosha County Jail showed most people arrested were from the city or the immediate area around it.

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Those arrested for violent acts since the police shooting of Blake on August 23 were also mostly from Kenosha, the newspaper reported.

Some Kenosha businesses were destroyed in the outbreak of unrest. Local prosecutors have also charged 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse with the shooting deaths of two protesters that occurred during the turmoil.

Protests have leveled off in Kenosha recently. But demonstrations demanding racial justice have overwhelmingly been nondestructive across the country.

Around 93% of protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement since the death of George Floyd in May have been peaceful, according to a new report released by the US Crisis Project at Princeton University.

Under the CARES Act in March, Congress and President Donald Trump approved a $600 supplement to state unemployment benefits. That expired at the end of July.

Democrats sought to extend the bulked-up payments through January. But Republicans such as Johnson opposed it, arguing the benefit disincentivized people from taking a job. Several studies have challenged that argument.

Negotiations between top congressional Democrats and the White House on another relief package stalled in early August over the amount of federal spending needed to keep the economy afloat. Johnson opposed another stimulus package and cited the growing national debt, saying last month, “I hope the talks remain broken down.”

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Source:: Business Insider


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