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Last month, following an embarrassing 22-day stalemate, House Republicans finally found a guy they can all tolerate as Speaker: Mike Johnson. If you’d never heard of the Louisiana representative, you’re not alone. Multiple Senate Republicans said they had no idea who he was: John Cornyn described him as “pretty anonymous,” and Susan Collins admitted she needed to Google him. Hours before his election on October 25, learning more about Johnson required some serious digging. At the time, Googling “Mike Johnson” brought up hits for a Bachelorette contestant, a retired NHL star, and the owner of a North Carolina Toyota dealership before the congressman appeared in the search, as the Washington Post reported.
Since then, journalists have been scrambling to learn more about who Speaker Johnson is and where he stands on key issues. The conclusion: Despite his Ned Flanders persona, he’s a pretty troubling dude! Unless, of course, you think the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, would love to see abortion outlawed nationwide, and don’t think same-sex marriage should be legal.
Here are some not very fun facts we’ve learned about the guy Republicans barely know, but decided to make leader of the House and second in line to the presidency.
If you’ve learned one unsavory fact about Johnson in recent days, it’s probably that he was a key architect of Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election. As New York’s Jonathan Chait explained, Johnson’s work on this front is actually the “primary source of his leadership claim and the central reason he has managed to unify the party.” After publicly flirting with Trump’s voting-machine conspiracy theories, Johnson honed in on the idea that the widespread use of mail ballots during the pandemic gave the House GOP an opportunity to make Trump president. Chait wrote:
Leaning on his background as a constitutional lawyer, he crafted an argument that several states had improperly changed their voting rules in response to the pandemic, thus nullifying their results and allowing the Republican House to select the winner.
His case, stringing together a series of implausible legal claims, brought together many Republicans who were queasy at Trump’s wild lies with Trump’s strongest supporters. Johnson circulated his case to the party and reminded them that Trump “anxiously awaited” their support. As the New York Times explained in a deeply reported story last year, Johnson’s arguments had a singular influence. About three-quarters of Republicans supporting Trump’s election challenge, the Times noted, “relied on the arguments of a low-profile Louisiana congressman, Representative Mike Johnson, the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.”
But all this went down three years ago, so apparently we’re not allowed to talk about it anymore.
After a short stint in the Louisiana state legislature, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House in 2016. He is in only his fourth term and has never served in a senior leadership position or even as a full committee chair prior to his election as Speaker, according to Politico. That makes him the least-experienced person elected to the top position since John G. Carlisle in 1883.
Before entering elected office, Johnson spent eight years working as a senior attorney and national spokesperson for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group described by the New York Times as the “largest legal force of the religious right.” It is dedicated to outlawing abortion and curtailing the rights of LGBTQ+ people, among other causes. The ADF was behind the case that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and has scored many other victories for the religious right in recent years, as The New Yorker reported:
In the past dozen years, its lawyers had won fourteen Supreme Court victories, including overturning Roe v. Wade; allowing employer-sponsored health insurance to exclude birth control; rolling back limits on government support for religious organizations; protecting the anonymity of donors to advocacy groups; blocking pandemic-related public-health rules; and establishing the right of a baker to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.
While working with the ADF, Johnson fought to shut down abortion clinics and defended Louisiana laws restricting abortion.
Johnson has an A+ rating from the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. He has voted for a federal abortion ban and pushed legislation that would outlaw abortion nationwide. The New Republic reports:
Johnson has also co-sponsored at least three bills hoping to ban abortion at a nationwide level, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children From Late-Term Abortions Act, and the Heartbeat Protection Act of 2021, all of which carry criminal penalties of up to five years in prison for physicians who perform abortions.
Johnson made this bizarre argument during an interview with New York’s Irin Carmon in 2015 when he was still working for the ADF.
“Many women use abortion as a form of birth control, you know, in certain segments of society, and it’s just shocking and sad, but this is where we are,” he said. “When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.”
While serving as chair of the Republican Study Committee from 2019 to 2021, Johnson proposed trillions of dollars in cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He said these cuts wouldn’t be necessary if forced birth were the law of the land.
“Roe v. Wade gave constitutional cover to the elective killing of unborn children in America,” Johnson said. “You think about the implications of that on the economy; we’re all struggling here to cover the bases of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all the rest. If we had all those able-bodied workers in the economy, we wouldn’t be going upside down and toppling over like this.”
Of course, abortion doesn’t cause mass shootings alone; the process of evolution is also a culprit. In a sermon he delivered at Christian Center of Shreveport in 2016, Johnson claimed the United States was founded as a Christian nation but had gotten off track in recent years with the introduction of things like “no-fault divorce laws,” “legalized abortion,” and the teaching of evolution, per the MeidasTouch Network.
Johnson then explained why he thinks this led to mass shootings:
“And people say, ‘How can a young person go into their schoolhouse and open fire on their classmates?’ Because we’ve taught a whole generation, a couple generations now of Americans, that there’s no right or wrong, that it’s about survival of the fittest, and you evolve from the primordial slime. Why is that life of any sacred value? Because there’s nobody sacred to whom it’s owed. None of this should surprise us.”
Johnson has close ties to the Evangelical “young-Earth creationist” movement, which holds that Earth is only about 6,000 years old and that early humans coexisted with dinosaurs.
In 2015, Johnson represented the Ark Encounter creationist theme park, which features dinosaurs riding on a life-size Noah’s Ark, in its successful legal battle to secure $18 million in tax subsidies from the state of Kentucky. According to HuffPost, Johnson has described himself as a “dear friend” of Ken Ham, founder of the group Answers in Genesis, which is behind both the Noah’s Ark theme park and the Creation Museum.
“The Ark Encounter is one way to bring people to this recognition of the truth, that what we read in the Bible are actual historical events,” Johnson said in a 2021 interview with Ham.
Johnson has yet to be questioned about his personal views regarding the origins of human life and the age of the planet.
While serving as senior counsel for the ADF, Johnson went before the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2004 and 2014 to defend a statewide ban on gay marriage. ABC News reports that around the same time, Johnson also “filed suit against a New Orleans law that provided benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.” A state appellate court upheld the benefits.
While advocating against the New Orleans law, Johnson argued that the path from supporting gay rights to allowing pedophilia is a slippery slope.
“When you tear down the taboos, the doors open up for everything. That’s the danger,” Johnson said. “We are not trying to tie homosexuality to pedophilia, but when you tear down one barrier, others fall … Let’s stop here and draw the line here because then it leads to sexual anarchy.”
In the early aughts, far-right Christian groups responded to nationwide Day of Silence protests, in which students on college campuses remained silent all day to highlight anti-gay discrimination, by organizing “Day of Truth” counterprotests. This effort, which involved conservatives handing out pamphlets on the evils of homosexuality, was spearheaded by Johnson and the ADF.
“If the other side is going to advance their point of view,” Johnson told the Harvard Crimson in 2005, “it’s only fair for the Christian perspective to present their view, too.”
Throughout his time working with the ADF, Johnson wrote multiple editorials that have been unearthed by CNN. In these op-eds, he argued for the criminalization of gay sex and said legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to America’s doom.
In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated laws against sodomy, Johnson wrote an editorial in his local Shreveport, Louisiana, paper arguing that “States have many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate sexual intercourse.” He also said constitutional bans on discrimination don’t apply to gay people as “all are capable of changing their abnormal lifestyles.”
In other pieces that ran in the same Louisiana paper, Johnson called homosexuality an “inherently unnatural” and “dangerous lifestyle.” He also wrote, “Your race, creed, and sex are what you are, while homosexuality and cross-dressing are things you do. This is a free country, but we don’t give special protections for every person’s bizarre choices.”
Americans’ attitudes toward gay marriage have evolved rapidly in the past few decades, and plenty of politicians have made remarks about homosexuality that they now regret. But Johnson didn’t leave his anti-gay stances in the early aughts.
Late last year, Johnson voted against a bill codifying same-sex and interracial marriages (he was joined by all but 39 Republicans).
Around the same time, Johnson introduced a bill that critics described as a federal version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which never got a floor vote. The Stop the Sexualization of Children Act would have blocked the use of federal money to “develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually oriented program, event, or literature” for kids under 10. Sexually oriented was loosely defined: As NPR noted, “The language in the proposed legislation lumps together topics of sexual orientation and gender identity, with sexual content such as pornography and stripping.”
Johnson got his first media exposure in the late ’90s as the face of Louisiana’s marriage-covenant law. While a law student, Johnson helped draft the 1997 Family Research Council–backed law creating an option for couples to sign a “covenant” that requires counseling and several years of separation prior to a divorce. Johnson and his wife, Kelly, opted for a covenant marriage when they wed in 1999.
“My wife and I both come from traditional Christian households,” he told ABC News in 2005. “My own parents are divorced. As anyone who goes through that knows, that was a traumatic thing for our whole family. I’m a big proponent of marriage and fidelity and all the things that go with it, and I’ve seen firsthand the devastation [divorce] can cause.”
The Johnsons are still together and host a podcast called Truth Be Told, in which they “present thoughtful analysis of hot topics and current events from a Christian perspective.”
After Hurricane Katrina, Johnson took a break from railing against the evils of homosexuality in his local paper and wrote an op-ed blaming the looting that happened after Hurricane Katrina on atheists, legalized gambling, and then–Lousiana governor Kathleen Blanco’s being “a nurturer rather than a firm, decisive leader.”
“The Bible teaches that man has an inherently sinful nature, capable of all kinds of evil,” Johnson wrote. “What we are seeing is the natural by-product of a culture that increasingly denies God’s existence, makes excuses for immorality, and fosters a sense of entitlement and victim mentality amongst the poor.”
This shouldn’t come as a shock considering everything we’ve just learned. ABC News reports that during a podcast recorded in September 2022, Johnson referred to the “so-called separation of church and state” and said, “The founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.”
“If anybody tries to convince you that your biblical beliefs or your religious viewpoint needs to be separated from public affairs, you should politely remind them to review their history and you should not back down,” he added.
Before entering politics, Johnson provided legal advice to a group called Exodus International, which held counseling sessions designed to help young people “convert” from gay to straight. According to CNN, Johnson advised the group between 2005 and 2010 and promoted its anti-gay stances in interviews. “I mean, our race, the size of our feet, the color of our eyes, these are things we’re born with and we cannot change,” he told a radio host in 2008. “Homosexual behavior is something you do; it’s not something that you are.”
In 2013, Exodus International closed and its founder apologized for the “pain and hurt” caused by the group.
CNN reports that during his time advising Exodus International, Johnson offered an unorthodox theory for Rome’s collapse. “Some credit to the fall of Rome to not only the deprivation of the society and the loss of morals but also to the rampant homosexual behavior that was condoned by the society,” he told a radio host in 2008.
Before Kelly Johnson took down her website last week, she billed herself as a therapist with a specialty in temperament counseling. Her firm, Onward Christian Counseling Services, states that homosexuality is equivalent to bestiality and incest. As Insider explains, the company takes a very old-school view of psychology:
The temperament-based approach breaks people down into five types: Melancholy, Choleric, Sanguine, Supine, and Phlegmatic. Richard and Phyllis Arno, who established a test to identify people’s temperament, founded the National Christian Counselors Association in the early 1980s. They and their advocates prefer the term temperament over personalities as the term personality is characterized as a “mask” while temperaments are “inborn” and thus inherent to each individual regardless of outside influences such as parenting. Their work is largely based on Hippocrates’ view that there were four temperaments.
In 2010, Johnson was hired to be the first dean of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law at Louisiana Christian University. “From a pure feasibility standpoint,” Johnson said, according to comments uncovered by the Associated Press. “I’m not sure how this can fail.”
It failed. The law school did not bring in enough money to get off the ground and the funding that it did pull in was allegedly misappropriated by the Louisiana Christian University president. In hindsight, all this may have been a blessing: In 2018, six men accused Paul Pressler, the school’s namesake, of sexual misconduct while several of the accusers were underage.
Look, the 51-year-old Speaker of the House probably has a bank account. But he’s not telling us about it. As the Daily Beast reports, Johnson’s financial disclosure forms dating back to 2017 state that he does not have a savings or a checking account in his name, despite his $200,000 salary. Nor, according to the forms, does he have any investments or assets. Perhaps he’s just living as Jesus intended — though probably not, given the leeway he wants to give wealthy tax cheats.
During a conversation on the “War on Technology” at Benton, Louisiana’s Cypress Baptist Church last year, Johnson advocated for the use of Covenant Eyes, a popular brand of “accountability software” marketed to parents and religious organizations to police online activities deemed inappropriate.
“It scans all the activity on your phone, or your devices, your laptop, what have you; we do all of it,” Johnson said, per Rolling Stone.
“It sends a report to your accountability partner. My accountability partner right now is Jack, my son. He’s 17. So he and I get a report about all the things that are on our phones, all of our devices, once a week. If anything objectionable comes up, your accountability partner gets an immediate notice. I’m proud to tell ya, my son has got a clean slate.”
Regardless of your opinion on how closely teens’ online activities should be monitored, this raises some obvious security concerns. When Wired tested Covenant Eyes and a similar service, Accountable2You, it found that in addition to scanning for pornography, the services take advantage of accessibility permissions to “either capture screenshots of everything actively being viewed on the device or detect the name of apps as they’re being used and record every website visited in the device’s browser.” So if he’s still using the service, the new Speaker is letting a third party tech company see and possibly record everything he’s doing on his devices.
Most examples of Johnson’s homophobic statements are pretty old, so maybe he’s changed his tune? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In a prayer call with Christian-nationalist MAGA pastor Jim Garlow this fall, Johnson described America as almost irredeemably “depraved.” Why? Because more kids are openly queer and Americans aren’t attending church as much. Per Rolling Stone:
The segment was filmed Oct. 3, just weeks before Johnson’s unexpected rise to become speaker of the House. Garlow pressed the clean-cut Louisiana congressman to say “more about this ‘time of judgment’ for America.” Johnson replied: “The culture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irredeemable.” He cited, as supposed evidence, the decline of national church attendance and the rise of LGBTQ youth — the fact, Johnson lamented, that “one-in-four high school students identifies as something other than straight.”
Johnson went on to invoke Sodom, the city destroyed by God for its wickedness in the Bible. Then he tearfully prayed “that You not give us the judgment that we clearly deserve.”