Discover more from Friendly Atheist
How did Speaker Mike Johnson, the embodiment of Christian Nationalism, escape scrutiny?
The new leader of House Republicans has always promoted theocratic views, but he was able to remain under the radar
This newsletter is free, but it’s only able to sustain itself due to the support I receive from a small percentage of regular readers. Would you please consider becoming one of those supporters? You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
The new Speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, is one of the most vehemently Christian Nationalist politicians this country has ever seen. He’s the sort of person who would put his hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible. The kind of person Americans feared Sarah Palin would be in 2008 when she dragged down the GOP presidential ticket. He’s now second in line for the presidency.
How the hell did that happen?
His biggest asset may have been his ability to stay under the radar while the sort of cruel, conservative Christian, and anti-democratic beliefs he always supported were endorsed by his more ego-centric colleagues.
Johnson is essentially the Leonard Leo of the legislative branch: A guy who works behind the scenes to unleash chaos upon the country. But by the time most people become familiar with him, it’s too late. The momentum is too strong. His power is too great.
There’s no shortage of right-wing extremists in the GOP. Those of us who follow politics typically know who they are because they seek out the spotlight at every possible opportunity. They’re sloppy in their rhetoric. Their speeches resemble church revival services. They’re the butt of jokes because of how proudly ignorant they are.
But judging by all the articles attempting to explain who Mike Johnson is—Senator Susan Collins even said she would have to Google him—it’s clear he’s not familiar to even the most ardent viewers of cable news. Johnson managed to promote the worst conservative positions for decades without ever really getting attacked in the national press. That’s likely because he’s always played a supporting role in politics. His name would appear in articles, sure, but usually not in the first paragraphs.
Yet he’s spent his adult life pushing incredibly harmful policy positions.
Let’s quickly run through his frightening Christian Nationalist résumé (most of which was compiled by Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State):
Johnson lied about Thomas Jefferson’s support for separation of church and state, arguing “The Founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.”
Johnson falsely claimed the U.S. is the only nation founded on a “religious statement of faith.”
Johnson was the attorney for Creationist Ken Ham when he wanted to use taxpayer funds to build Ark Encounter in Kentucky—they later received massive tax breaks from the state—and he later defended Ham when he sued the state for the ability to discriminate in hiring:
Johnson says Christian pseudo-historian and notorious liar David Barton has had a “profound influence on me and my work and my life and everything I do.”
Johnson filed legislation forcing witnesses in front of House committees to use the religious phrase “so help me God” in their oaths.
Johnson promoted a conservative Christian-sponsored Bible course in public schools that was widely criticized for its evangelical zeal and treating “the Bible as an accurate record of history.” In response to critics who said the course promoted a one-sided (conservative evangelical) version of Christianity, Johnson said the “Supreme Court did not say you have to discuss everybody’s view on the Bible.”
Johnson supported a Louisiana school district that required student athletes to stand during the National Anthem, saying the district was “not going to bend over and bow to the whims of these atheist, radical, secularist groups.”
Johnson wants public high school coaches to be able to lead prayers with students:
Johnson supported high school cheerleaders who held up banners with Bible verses on them at football games so that the players could run through them, arguing that “superintendents should feel empowered to resist the bullying tactics of atheist groups.”
Johnson defended Christian symbols in courthouses, saying that a portrait of Jesus in a Louisiana courthouse was okay because “The ideas expressed in this painting aren’t specific to any one faith, and they certainly don’t establish a single state religion.”
Johnson thinks pastors should be able to endorse political candidates from the pulpit without jeopardizing their tax exempt statuses. During a 2017 forum hosted by the Family Research Council, Johnson called the IRS rule a form of censorship, saying, “We need to unshackle the voice of the church again.” Indeed, he later sponsored a bill to repeal the Johnson Amendment.
Johnson supported Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage and backed an amendment prohibiting the recognition of gay couples married in other states. As a state lawmaker, he introduced a bill permitting faith-based anti-LGBTQ discrimination. As attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a hate-group, he supported a law banning marriage equality and claimed same-sex unions were a slippery slope toward polygamy, pedophilia, and allowing “a person to marry his pet.” He argued that a Supreme Court decision overturning sodomy laws was a blow to “fundamental American values and a millennia of moral teaching,” because he believes gay sex should be criminalized. He also opposes life-saving gender-affirming care for transgender children.
Johnson opposes abortion in every form and has sought to block access to birth control. He even represented a college that didn’t want to follow Obama-era guidelines requiring employers to provide contraception to employees, saying the mandate forced Americans to “either comply and abandon their convictions or resist and be punished.” (That college, for which Johnson served as a dean, never actually opened its doors.) He also represented the state of Louisiana in its attempt to punish doctors who provided abortions unless they first jumped through (purposely onerous) regulations. As a member of Congress, he’s co-sponsored several bills to ban abortion nationwide.
Johnson blamed mass shootings on, among other things, the teaching of evolution:
… 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.
In that same sermon, he blamed shootings on everything from “no-fault divorce laws” and “radical feminism” to Roe v. Wade. Even yesterday, in response to the mass shooting in Maine, he only offered prayer as a solution.
There’s so much more where all that came from, and it’s all terrifying. During an interview that aired last night on Hannity, Johnson explained that anyone curious about his positions could “go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.” Which really doesn’t explain much of anything because any book that large and vague is open to all kinds of interpretations. Johnson’s positions are whatever he wants them to be, and he’ll always be able to point to cherry-picked Bible verses in defense of them.
Bottom line: Johnson has been working to implement the Christian Nationalist agenda his entire career. He did it as an attorney for conservative Christian legal groups, then as a state legislator, then as a member of Congress. Now he’ll have the ability to single-handedly dictate the GOP’s agenda, shifting the entire party even more to the right (as if there was any room in that direction).
So why him when the earlier nominees were just as conservative?
Because Johnson hasn’t sought out attention or created enemies any more than necessary. It would be easy for Democrats to link all Republican candidates to people like Jim Jordan or Marjorie Taylor Greene because they’re so off-putting and comically evil. It’s a hell of a lot harder to link them to a guy most Americans still don’t know, even if his positions are virtually identical to theirs.
Just look at how Jonathan Blitzer of the New Yorker put it:
… I asked a former senior G.O.P. aide how moderate members could justify voting against Jordan but for Johnson. Their politics are nearly indistinguishable; Johnson, who sits on Jordan’s Judiciary Committee, once compared their relationship to being “like Batman and Robin.” The aide replied, “Have you ever heard of Mike Johnson?”
This, to me, is why it’s so important to call out Christian Nationalists at any level. They may be low-profile school board members, circus tent preachers, or fringe-y religious extremists right now, but those are often the stepping stones to more prominent political positions down the road. If we don’t highlight their insane actions early and often, it’s a lot easier for them to escape scrutiny.
Just this week, Gabrielle Hanson, a white supremacist-embracing MAGA mayoral candidate in Franklin, Tennessee lost her race in a landslide. A lot of that opposition may have formed because NewsChannel 5 and reporter Phil Williams (or, as John Oliver described him, “Nashville’s nosiest bitch”) were relentless in covering her extremism. She lost at the local level and that hopefully means she won’t be able to run for even higher office later on.
Mike Johnson wasn’t stopped early.
In 2015, when he first won a special election to the Louisiana House, he ran unopposed. It’s possible he would have risen in the ranks even with more scrutiny, but there’s no doubt his new role as the leader of House Republicans is largely due to the fact that no one paid enough attention to him until it was too late to make it an obstacle for even a handful of supposedly moderate GOP legislators.
Mike Johnson may not call himself a Christian Nationalist. But Christian Nationalists know he’s a Christian Nationalist. That should scare all of us.