Last week, House Republicans elected Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana as Speaker of the House. Johnson brings to the office some of the most extreme hard-right views in Congress on immigration and LGBTQ+ rights.
Johnson now serves in one of the most powerful positions in the federal government and is second in the line of presidential succession. Given his fringe public statements and positions, it is not surprising that hate groups and extremists have rushed to praise the new speaker.
Johnson rode Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wave in 2016, coming into office at the same time as the former president. Known as “MAGA Mike” by fellow Republicans, Johnson aligned with Trump’s hard-right agenda and reportedly was a leader in rallying congressional support for conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election. Trump congratulated Johnson on his new speakership last week.
Hatewatch reached out to Johnson via his communications director Corinne Day over email but did not receive a response.
Anti-immigrant hate group on Johnson: 'No need to guess where he stands on immigration'
In his tenure as a congressman, Johnson has pushed xenophobic rhetoric and policies. His elevation to the speaker’s chair was lauded by anti-immigrant hate groups. Some of Johnson’s statements on immigration mimic “great replacement”-style rhetoric. The “great replacement” is a false and racist conspiracy theory purporting that white people are being intentionally displaced by ‘elites’ and replaced by immigrant people of color.
Johnson has repeatedly accused Democrats of encouraging immigration to secure a supportive voting base. In a July 2021 appearance on Fox News, Johnson accused the Biden administration of allowing migrants into the country to expand the party’s voting base.
“Why in the world would any elected official in this country go along with this terrible policy? This dangerous set of policies that they’re engaging in? You’re always drawn to that ultimate conclusion: They want to turn these people into voters,” Johnson said.
Johnson repeated a similar argument during a July 2022 episode of his podcast “Truth Be Told,” which Johnson hosts with his wife, Kelly. He described the Democrats’ “ultimate objective” as being “to turn illegal aliens into Democrat voters.” In a hearing later that same month with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Johnson said, “We have a literal invasion of lawless masses flooding over our border from more than 160 countries.”
Racial justice and civil rights organizations have been clear in their concern over politicians who spread this false conspiracy. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) wrote in their “From Scarcity to Solidarity” guide that the “great replacement” conspiracy theory takes for granted two racist assumptions based in a scarcity mentality: 1) that the United States should be run by white people and 2) that white people must be in a numerical majority to thrive. The guide states that this assumption “does not hold space for white people – for white Christians – to have shared belonging and democratic participation with people of other races or religions.”
Vanessa Cardenas, the executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, told reporters in August, “When elected officials amplify dangerous rhetoric like the white nationalist invasion and replacement conspiracy theories, they create a climate that fosters political violence.”
Johnson’s comments about immigrants are not limited to repeating the false conspiracy; he has also spoken out against the rollback of the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which was used to deport potential asylum-seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the Biden administration tried to phase out Title 42 in spring 2022, Johnson filed an amicus brief in support of a Republican-led lawsuit blocking the measure. In a statement about the lawsuit, Johnson claimed Biden is “intentionally allowing the destruction of our country.”
In 2021, Johnson spoke at an panel discussion organized by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an SPLC-designated anti-immigrant hate group. CIS is known for producing reports warning of the dangers of mass immigration and making claims of elevated levels of criminality of immigrants that have been debunked elsewhere. The group also considers white nationalist talking points to be part of the immigration debate and has promoted white nationalist websites, such as VDARE.com, in their online newsletter. CIS approved of Johnson’s election as speaker, writing in an Oct. 25 post on their website, “No need to guess where he stands on immigration – he appeared at a Center panel discussion in October 2021.”
During the panel, Johnson thanked CIS’s longtime executive director Mark Krikorian for having him and endorsed the hate group, saying, “It’s just such important work that you all are doing right now.”
Krikorian claims Haiti is “so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough” and that the U.S. needs immigration control and enforcement because one cannot “distinguish between” a “Guatemalan dishwasher” and an “ISIS suicide bomber.”
Hatewatch reached out to Krikorian over email, but he declined to answer questions about Johnson’s involvement in the event.
Johnson engaged in xenophobic rhetoric during the event. Speaking about migrants being relocated to his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, he said:
I get a long list of names that I cannot pronounce from countries all over the world that just, hey, heads up, they’re coming to your town. There’s nothing I can do about it because we’re in the minority party. And this goes on and on and on, and it seems to be intentional. They’re dropping these people off in midsized cities all over the South and all over the country.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Johnson claimed that if immigrants did not fit into his ideas of assimilation, the nation and its alleged identity would face destruction. “Sound immigration policy is you allow us to maintain our identity as a nation-state,” he stated.
He veered into xenophobic territory again, adding, “Our legal system allows for people to come here and assimilate to who we are, not to flood this nation and make it into nothing or all things, because then we’re no longer the United States of America.”
CIS’s sister organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), another SPLC-designated hate group, also lauded Johnson’s election to speaker. The group issued a press release congratulating Johnson and urging him in his new role to demand that a draconian, FAIR-approved immigration resolution be incorporated into any spending or foreign aid package sent to President Biden.
Hatewatch reached out to FAIR via email for comment but did not hear back before publication.
Johnson called ‘courageous leader’ after decades as an anti-LGBTQ+ hate crusader
Prior to being elected to Congress, Johnson worked for two decades as an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group that claims to fight the “homosexual agenda” and identifies as a Christian organization since its founding by Christian right leaders including James Dobson, Bill Bright, D. James Kennedy and Alan Sears.
After Johnson’s elevation to the speakership, CNN reported on a series of little-known anti-LGBTQ+ op-eds Johnson penned in the early-mid 2000s for his local newspaper in Shreveport, Louisiana. Reacting to the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, the decision that declared it unconstitutional for states to criminalize gay sex between consenting adults, Johnson wrote that states have “many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate [sic] sexual intercourse, including public health … safety, morals and the promotion of healthy marriages.”
In another op-ed the following year, Johnson wrote, “Homosexual relationships are inherently unnatural and … are ultimately harmful and costly for everyone.” In the same essay, he wrote that same-sex marriage would “place our entire democratic system in jeopardy by eroding its foundation.” These arguments, which paint LGBTQ+ people as deviant, pestilent and dangerous and try to legislate them back into the closet, are hallmarks of the anti-LGBTQ+ hate ideology.
In 2005, Johnson and ADF (known then as Alliance Defense Fund) organized a protest against an initiative aiming to counter anti-gay bias in schools in which he told reporters, “You can call [homosexuality] sinful or destructive – ultimately it’s both.” In his role at ADF, Johnson also pushed for a federal ban on gay marriage and fought extending benefits to partners of city employees who are in same-sex relationships.
ADF congratulated Johnson on social media, calling him a “courageous leader.”
A spokesperson for ADF confirmed to Hatewatch that Johnson worked for the group from November 2002 to July 2010.
Another hate group celebrated Johnson’s win. Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ+ Family Research Council, appeared on the conservative outlet Newsmax to applaud the new speaker. Newsmax introduced Perkins as a “very close friend” of Johnson. Perkins confirmed their relationship, saying he has known the new speaker for 25 years. “I’m so proud of Mike,” he said. Perkins also said he believed Johnson’s “sense of “confidence and peace and tranquility,” as well as his reputation as “a nice guy” will help him get things done in Congress. “It's going to be a new day,” Perkins said. He said Johnson told him a similar thing the morning of Oct. 25.
“I was talking to him as he was working on his speech,” Perkins said. “He said, ‘It’s a new day.’”
Hatewatch reached out to Perkins via email about his relationship with Johnson but did not receive a reply.
A commitment to Christian nationalism and a ‘biblical’ republic
While Family Research Council is legally organized as an association of churches, it acts as the political activist arm and policy shop for the Christian religious right and infuses Christian dominionist and Christian nationalist ideas into policy materials and event content.
Political Research Associates’ Fredrick Clarkson has described dominionism as the “theocratic idea that Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.” Similarly, Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, describes Christian nationalism as the idea that America is a Christian nation and that its leaders should be Christian.
In op-eds, podcasts and various public appearances, Johnson has repeatedly presented the United States as irrevocably rooted in an ultra-conservative Christian “biblical” worldview. The concept of a biblical world view is foundational to both Christian nationalist and dominionist thinking and movements. During a 2013 appearance at a forum hosted by Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, Johnson called for a revival of “18th-century values.” In footage reviewed and reported on by The Guardian this October, Johnson described Christians as “inherently intolerant” due to their rejection of “postmodern culture.”
Most recently, Johnson echoed some of the ideas of anti-LGBTQ+ and historical revisionist David Barton. When attending an event of Barton’s WallBuilders organization, Johnson shared his long admiration of Barton and later said he had a profound influence on his work. Johnson articulated the idea that infusing Christian religion into government is necessary for ensuring the health of American governance and civil society. During a Sept. 28, 2022, episode of his podcast “Truth Be Told,” Johnson said:
See, the founders understood that all men are fallen and that power corrupts. And they also knew that no amount of institutional checks and balances or decentralization of power and civil authorities would be sufficient to maintain a just government if the men in charge had no fear of eternal judgment by a power higher than their temporal institutions. So a free society and a healthy Republic depend upon religious and moral virtue.
“Without those virtues being indispensably supported by religion and morality, as Washington said, every nation will ultimately fall,” Johnson said, paraphrasing George Washington’s farewell address. Again, Johnson mimics Barton’s tactics of proof texting, a method in Biblical scholarship that uses quotes out of context to make one’s point, to claim the founders of the U.S. did not intend for the separation of church and state. Barton also has a long and serious track record of misusing quotations, statistics and sources to push religious nationalism.
During a taped interview that has circulated widely after his election to the speakership, Johnson described democracy as “two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.” He made a broad overstatement about the founding of the U.S. under a specifically Christian framework, continuing: “It’s not just majority rule. It’s a constitutional republic. And the founders set that up because they followed the biblical admonition on what a civil society is supposed to look like.”
Johnson has presented Christians as simultaneously the rightful inheritors of American constitutional government and a victimized underclass besieged by modern pluralism. In a roughly half-hour video discussing a lawsuit that Johnson filed in 2015 on behalf of Answers in Genesis, a conservative Christian organization that promotes the belief that modern evolutionary science is a lie, Johnson claimed, “If you’re a Christian organization, you get treated like a second-class citizen.”
In another 2015 interview with Answers in Genesis leader Ken Ham, Johnson described Ham’s group as victims of “viewpoint discrimination” after the Christian organization was unable to access public tax dollars to build their religious-themed amusement park until committing to refraining from using religious belief in their hiring processes.
Johnson represents, for many who study religious nationalism and religion’s role in social and political movements, the epitome of politically extreme conservative Christians. Matthew Taylor at the Institute for Islamic-Christian-Jewish Studies notes that there are “principled, conservative Christians with heartfelt moral views on abortion, LGBTQ-rights, and a host of other cultural issues who value democracy and pluralism and recognize their preferred policies won’t always win the day.” Taylor contrasts this with the fact that there are politically extreme conservative Christians who might hold the exact same views on the same issues, “but who are also willing to upend democracy to see their agendas realized.”
In Taylor’s view, these politically extreme conservative Christians use theology to justify their own authoritarianism. Taylor says, “Mike Johnson can be located in this group.”
Politico reported Oct. 25 that on Jan. 5, 2021, Johnson told members of his Republican caucus: “All of us have prayed for God’s discernment. I know I’ve prayed for each of you individually,” before pressing them to oppose the legitimate election results at the now-infamous vote certification of President Biden the next day.
Joseph Wiinikka-Lydon contributed to this reporting.
Photo illustration by SPLC