Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

By D.L. Davis May 31, 2022

Some Democrats did and some did not weigh in on Madison pro-life office arson

If Your Time is short

  • Numerous Democrats did condemn the incident, including Gov. Tony Evers, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Attorney General Josh Kaul, and the Madison mayor.

  • The White House also condemned the incident.

  • However, not every prominent Democrat did so. Among the missing were three House members from Wisconsin

When a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the headquarters of an anti-abortion group in Madison, and its building vandalized,  U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., at 11:46 a.m. on May 8, 2022, tweeted: "This attack is abhorrent and should be condemned by all."

The incident, which occurred in the wake of a leaked draft opinion that suggested the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, was at the offices of Wisconsin Family Action.

Police said the Molotov cocktail didn’t explode, but a fire broke out and this message was spray-painted on the building: "If abortions aren't safe then you aren't either."  

Many politicians — including prominent state Democrats — quickly condemned the attack.

Yet, three days later, in a May 11, 2022, news release, Johnson had this to say:

"Unfortunately, members of the radical left have firebombed a pro-life office in Wisconsin and are threatening the safety of Supreme Court Justices and their families in an effort to intimidate them to impact their vote. Democrats have yet to condemn activists who are engaging in this repugnant illegal activity."

We were interested in the claim included at the end: Is it true that, at the time the statement was issued, Democrats had not spoken out against the violence?

Johnson lists a bunch of Democrats who had not. But he ignores those who did.

The aftermath of the incident

When asked to back up the claim, Johnson’s office sent a list of a host of Democrats — some from Wisconsin, many national figures — whom they said had not condemned the May 8 incident, including:  

The Democratic National Committee, Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, and Mark Pocan, Ron Kind and Gwen Moore, all of Wisconsin.

But that measure sets up a standard that goes against what Johnson actually said. It suggests Johnson would be correct if there are any prominent Democrats who had not issued statements, ignoring the ones who did. 

And there are many — especially among party leaders in Wisconsin — who did speak out against the incident.

For instance, Gov. Tony Evers, in a 12:13 p.m. May 8, 2022, statement on Twitter, said: "We reject violence against any person for disagreeing with another’s view. Violence is not the way forward. Hurting others is never the answer. We will work against overturning Roe and attacks on reproductive rights by leading with empathy and compassion."

Featured Fact-check

The following day, May 9, 2022, according to The Associated Press, Evers was asked about the incident while at a groundbreaking event in a Madison suburb. 

"It was a horrible, horrible incident," Evers said, and remarked that the responsible party "should be arrested and put on trial. This is unacceptable."

On May 8, the day of the attack, at 1:34 p.m., Attorney General Josh Kaul, tweeted: "This is disgraceful and unacceptable. This incident must be fully investigated and whoever is responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." 

In a Cap Times article posted that day, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said, "I understand that people are afraid and angry, but violence is not an acceptable response. Madison believes strongly in the right to free speech, but it must be exercised nonviolently by all sides in this increasingly contentious debate."

In an ABC News report that day, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tom Nelson, now Outagamie County executive, said: "I am committed to protecting women’s rights — but we must do it the right way. Violence and destruction are not the answer. I’m glad no one was hurt."

The following day, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., tweeted: "I fully reject this act of violence and vandalism, and I support the investigation by law enforcement to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable." 

We could go on, but we are focusing on reactions from Wisconsin officials, who would be most expected to react to an incident that happened here.

To be sure, not every prominent Democrat in the state spoke out. And we could not find statements, via news releases, on individual websites or Twitter,  from the three Wisconsin House Democrats cited by Johnson — Moore, Kind and Pocan, who represents Madison. 

But there is also some hair-splitting going on by Johnson.

In an email, Johnson’s spokesperson, Alexa Henning, noted that in a May 13, 2022, letter sent to various high-level Biden administration officials, Johnson noted that "To date, President Biden has made no public remarks, and neither DOJ, FBI, nor DHS have issued a statement condemning this attack."

But according to The Hill, there was this statement from a White House official released the day after the attack: "President Biden strongly condemns this attack and political violence of any stripe. The President has made clear throughout his time in public life that Americans have the fundamental right to express themselves under the Constitution, whatever their point of view." 

Our ruling

Johnson claimed that in the immediate wake of a fire and vandalism at the Madison headquarters of an anti-abortion group, Democrats had not condemned "activists who are engaging in this repugnant illegal activity."

But at the time of the claim, Evers, Kaul and Baldwin, plus the Madison mayor and others had already done so. In addition, the White House issued a statement saying Biden condemned the incident. 

To be sure, we could not find statements from several key elected Democrats in Wisconsin, including the congressman who represents Madison. And, clearly, not every Democratic leader in the nation had issued such a statement. But that wasn’t the nature of Johnson’s claim.

For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, our rating is Mostly False. 


Our Sources

Sen. Ron Johnson news release "Sen. Johnson votes against Democrats’ radical abortion legislation," May 11, 2022.

Sen. Ron Johnson news release "Sen. Johnson asks Biden administration why attack on pro-life office hasn’t been labeled domestic terrorism," May 13, 2022.

Email, Alexa Henning, Sen. Ron Johnson staff, May 23, 2022.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Madison police investigating arson, threat at office of prominent anti-abortion group," May 8, 2022

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "No suspects yet in the arson of the Madison headquarters of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action", May 9, 202

ABC News "Fire at Wisconsin anti-abortion office investigated as arson," May 8, 2022

Gov. Tony Evers, Twitter, May 8, 2022

Sen. Ron Johnson, Twitter, May 8, 2022

Cap Times "Police investigating arson, vandalism at Wisconsin Family Action," May 8, 2022.

Associated Press "Wisconsin anti-abortion office fire investigation ongoing," May 10, 2022

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Twitter, May 9, 2022

Attorney General Josh Kaul, Twitter, May 8, 2022

Attorney General Josh Kaul, Twitter, May 10, 2022

The Hill "White House condemns attack at Wisconsin anti-abortion office," May 9, 2022. 


Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by D.L. Davis

Some Democrats did and some did not weigh in on Madison pro-life office arson

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up