Chicago (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – Disguised as a mild-mannered Clark Kent, Mike Johnson is a raging theocrat under his tailored suit, who believes his ascension to the speakership was ordained by God. The formerly invisible but now made manifest Christian Nationalist from Louisiana was elevated to power unanimously, following three weeks of vindictive, internecine warfare in the GOP-controlled House. The vote shows that all Republicans are the same — MAGA extremists and craven capitulators who all voted to be led by an abortion-banning, xenophobic, Trump-blessed Christian bigot who wants to foist his extreme religious beliefs on everyone.
Staunchly against bodily autonomy for women, Johnson supports a nationwide ban on abortion which he considers, “a holocaust.” This inexperienced, soft-spoken Ned Flanders suggested that abortion activists want to kill babies that are “half way out of the birth-canal,” and voted against Americans having access to purchase legal contraception. The most powerful Republican in Washington insisted that, if only women would bear more “able-bodied workers,” he wouldn’t be forced to cut trillions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.
Hostile towards gay and transgender people, Johnson called them “dangerous” and “deviant” threats to the American way of life and defended laws that criminalized homosexual relations between consenting adults that he called “inherently unnatural.” He warned that same-sex marriage was a “dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.”
Last year, Johnson introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of federal funds for providing education to children under 10 that included LGBTQ topics — a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. He also is working to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.
Johnson is a virulent Christian Nationalist, an ideology modeled on Hungarian president Victor Orbán’s program of “illiberal democracy,” and defense of Christendom against Muslims, progressives, and the “LGBTQ lobby.” Johnson “pushed all kinds of hateful anti-LGBTQ bigotry while at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian Nationalist legal outfit that wants to drag this country back to the 5th century,” warns Andrew L. Seidel, civil rights attorney and author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American. For nearly twenty years, Johnson served as senior legal counsel and spokesman for the ADF.
Designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ADF is a legal advocacy organization that not only supported “re-criminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults,” but has also defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people and contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia. Johnson and the ADF claim that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society.
The ADF, according to the New York Times, is the “largest legal force of the religious right.” They would go on to successive Supreme Court victories, most notably rolling back abortion rights in the Dobbs decision, undermining LGBTQ rights in the (purported) same-sex wedding website case 303 Creative, allowing employer-sponsored health insurance to exclude birth control, and twelve other cases related to curtailing the civil rights of women and LGBTQ people.
Johnson’s rise to the speakership is best understood in terms of the ongoing white Christian nationalist takeover of the American government through MAGA rather than, as the mainstream press suggested, the quirky, exhausted and embarrassed result of a bickering caucus. Since the rise of the Tea Party, the primary driver for both the GOP’s dysfunction and its incipient fascism is the political might of organized right-wing Christianity, successfully redeployed especially in primaries, to wrest control from establishment “Republicans in Name Only” (“RINOs”).
As the former political director of the AFL-CIO Michael Podhorzer wrote, “the political muscle provided by white Christian nationalism’s extensive church-based infrastructure in congressional districts, and its national reach through Christian broadcasting and national organizations, has turned MAGA into a ruthlessly successful RINO-hunting machine.”
Still, Johnson’s loathsome ideology and religious zealotry were not the main reasons for his elevation to the speakership — most Republicans share his repulsive worldview. Rather, the MAGA cult embraced his tireless advocacy on behalf of despotic Donald’s seditious attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election. Most House Republicans voted to back the Fabricator’s lies about the election; but few had worked as diligently as Johnson to foist fraudulent conspiracy theories, such as “rigged Dominion voting machines,” on Americans. A constitutional lawyer who uses the law to subvert democracy, Johnson enlisted dozens of fellow-members to support a sham Texas court case seeking to cancel the election results in battleground states.
Johnson’s role, neglected at the time, was such that the Times later called him “the most important architect” of the campaign to block congressional certification of the Electoral College results and thus overturn Trump’s defeat. Circulating his hollow rationale to the party, Johnson reminded them that Trump “anxiously awaited” their support. Proudly exhibiting a bizarre religious devotion to the Un-Christian Trump, Johnson helped plot the Jan. 6 attempted coup while calling the insurrection a “peaceful protest” and defending the Seditionist at both of his impeachment hearings.
At a time when Trump’s co-conspirators, probably including his Chief of Staff, admitted they lied about the election being stolen, House Republicans handed the reins of power to someone who showed no hesitation to help overturn American democracy. Johnson was given a powerful government position by people in the government who don’t believe in government — and installed an unrepentant election-denier leader two heartbeats away from the presidency.
In his first major initiative as House speaker, Johnson pushed through a bill to provide $14 billion in military assistance to Israel. Before the vote, he declared, “Israel doesn’t need a cease-fire.” However, Palestinians do. Israel’s aerial and ground offensive, ostensibly targeting Hamas infrastructure, has killed over 11,000 people while those who managed to flee Israel’s attack in northern Gaza now encounter a scarcity of food and medicine in the south. “Residents wait hours for a gallon of brackish water that makes them sick,” reported the Times of Israel. Scabies, diarrhea and respiratory infections rip through overcrowded shelters.”
In addition, Johnson engineered the House censure of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian serving in Congress. The censure resolution is “rife with propaganda, fake history, and racism,” said Juan Cole on Informed Comment.
In his first public appearance, the newly-elected Christian Zionist told a crowd of Jewish Republicans in Las Vegas: “We are going to stand like a rock with our friend and ally, Israel.” He boasted that his first act as speaker was passing the pro-Israel resolution in spite of “no” votes from several democrats, including Rashida Tlaib, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan Omar. Their opposition was due to the bill’s failure to recognize Palestinian victims and call for a cease-fire. Johnson maliciously and deceitfully blamed their defiance on an “alarming trend of antisemitism” enabled by “academia and the mainstream media, and fringe government figures.”
The evangelical Christian’s rise to power is the biggest political victory for the evangelical movement to date and his connections to Israel reflect the movement’s deep ties to the Israeli far right. “God is not done with Israel,” said Johnson cryptically. He gushed that his 2020 visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount was the “fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.”
This remark references the Christian Zionist end-times belief, derived from a literal reading of the Bible, that Israel is God’s chosen nation and that its 1948 creation will lead to the Second Coming of Christ. In the real world, they rabidly support the state of Israel and its policies, especially regarding the expansion of settlements, the annexation of territories in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
In the biblical narrative, Christ will defeat Evil, or the Antichrist, in an apocalyptic battle that will take place in Israel at Har Megiddo, or Armageddon. Along with Christian believers and converts who have ascended to heaven in the Rapture, Christ will rule from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for a thousand years. Fueled by these fantasies of a cataclysmic war in the Middle East, Christian Zionists maintain that literal war is not something to be avoided, but inevitable, desired by God, and celebrated. These zealots condemn those that oppose Israeli occupation as being evil, aligned with the “Antichrist.”
The Bible becomes a script for those millennial Christians in power, like Mike Johnson — a self-fulfilling prophesy of violence and destruction that portends an apocalyptic foreign policy. In some warped minds, the current battle in Israel may be hastening the coveted dooms-day of reckoning. In a bizarre twist to the end-times prophecy, those Christian Zionists who are the most passionately pro-Israel also believe that those Jews who do not convert to Christianity will not be raptured, and if they don’t convert during the horrific cataclysm at Har Megiddo, they will be condemned to suffer eternally in the “lake of fire.”
Eager to visit the Christian holy land, Johnson traveled to Israel with his pal Gym Jordan. Jordan, who was considered an aggressive and confrontational jerk, was rejected by his party for the speakership. Yet Jordan apparently served as a spiritual mentor to Johnson, who has guest-hosted Jordan’s national radio show Washington Watch, and praised Jordan as a “great friend and leader” and “a guiding light” on his podcast Truth be Told with Mike and Kelly Johnson.
Along with their wives, Jordan and Johnson’s week-long pilgrimage was sponsored by the New York-based 12Tribes Film Foundation, a small outfit that that describes itself as “online warriors for truth about Israel and the Jewish people.” The organization’s CEO Avi Abelow — an arch-Zionist — lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
Johnson’s first stop on his Abelow-organized visit was to receive a briefing from the Kohelet Policy Forum, a far-right Israeli think tank that would later help cultivate the Netanyahu administration’s despised plan to weaken the country’s judiciary. The itinerary included meetings with Israeli military officials, business owners, and political leaders including Netanyahu, current Israeli U.N. envoy Gilad Erdan, and other members of the far right Likud Party.
At the Golan Heights, the pair posed and smiled in front of a sign for “Trump Heights,” the name of an Israeli settlement honoring Trump for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Located in occupied territory claimed by Israel, it is widely considered to violate international law.
Johnson also visited the Temple Mount compound — the Palestinian Aqsa Mosque complex — alongside Abelov, a Temple Mount activist, and Yehudah Glick — an Orthodox rabbi and former Likud lawmaker, who has led the fight to change the legal status quo and permit Jewish prayer at this Palestinian national symbol, the third holiest shrine in the Muslim world, and one of the most sensitive flashpoints in the world. In 2023 during Ramadan, Israeli forces repeatedly invaded the sacred al-Aqsa Mosque, in an act of “state terrorism,” where they beat and expelled Palestinian worshipers on behalf of Jewish extremists.
This visit to Israel, led by right-wing extremists, influenced the future speaker’s views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a video made of the trip, Johnson declares — without traveling to Gaza or meeting with Palestinian leaders or activists — that the Palestinian and Israeli people were “working well together” and that there was a “great cohesion of the people” in the West Bank. He blamed “activists and the leftist groups” for “pushing” the narrative that there was conflict, implying that Palestinians enjoyed life under Israeli occupation.
Johnson called Netanyahu, in his first talk with a foreign leader, during which he echoed the premier’s comments that Israel’s war is one of good vs. evil and light vs. darkness. “I assured the prime minister of our own unwavering support of Israel and the people in our Congress and under my leadership, we will be there until the end, we will be there until the end of this conflict.” He opposes basic human rights for Palestinians as well as many Americans.
In an appearance with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Johnson described himself as “a Bible-believing Christian” and said that to understand his politics, one only need to “pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.” This is cultish nonsense that threatens democracy.
Democracy means that the candidate ordained by God, in Johnson’s view, lost an election, so he forsook his oath to the Constitution to keep a corrupt, seditious demagogue in power. Democracy also leads to abortions and gay marriage. Under democracy, Johnson also believes that white Christians are being “replaced”— by immigrants, by Muslims, by trans kids, by drag queens, and by a whole litany of scapegoats. So, perhaps, the only way to save the U.S. and white Christians is to end democracy.
In a potentially horrifying scenario, suppose Trump loses the 2024 election but again claims he won and the GOP demands his “victory” to be certified, House speaker Johnson is positioned to do so. A devout apostle to the Pagan Coup Plotter, MAGA Mike is prepared to subvert democracy in deranged obedience to Trump and his biblical fanaticism.