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New House Speaker Mike Johnson Used to Be Top Counsel for Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group

Johnson was a leader for Alliance Defending Freedom, which wrote the abortion ban that led to the downfall of “Roe.”

Rep. Mike Johnson smiles during the fourth round of voting for House Speaker at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on October 25, 2023.

On Wednesday, Republicans unanimously elected Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana for House speaker — a man with a history of vehement anti-LGBTQ advocacy, including as a former leader of an organization that has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The vote was split down party lines, with all 220 Republicans present voting for Johnson and 209 Democrats voting for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). Johnson won after over three weeks of pure chaos in the House after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) was ousted from the position and a parade of racist and antisemitic Republicans — notably, Representatives Steve Scalise (Louisiana) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) — tried and failed to take his place.

Johnson, who has been relatively unknown to the public up until this point, only won the nomination within the caucus on Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours before he was elected and just hours after Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota) dropped out the same day he was nominated. But advocates are already warning that Johnson’s hateful opinions — and the dangers he poses to U.S. democracy — rival those of the speaker hopefuls before him.

Johnson was the former senior spokesperson for the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an influential group among the Christian right that has been pushing its extremist right-wing agenda across the U.S. through the courts.

ADF has been involved in a number of landmark court decisions aimed at taking away peoples’ rights and is well-connected among the right. The group wrote the abortion ban in Mississippi that was ultimately responsible for the downfall of Roe v. Wade. It represented a client in a case parallel to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which set a precedent allowing corporations to reject employees’ insurance coverage for contraception. And it handpicked the plaintiff in this year’s 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, in which the Supreme Court held that it is a constitutionally protected right to discriminate against LGBTQ people in private businesses.

In his time at ADF, Johnson wrote a letter trying to force health officials to shutter a reproductive care clinic in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Government watchdog groups have also raised alarm about Johnson’s election. “Alliance Defending Freedom will stop at nothing to strip Americans of their critical rights and freedoms. Now, one of their own is poised to lead the House,” said Accountable.US President Caroline Ciccone. “A Speaker Johnson would only mean more extreme attempts to force a far right agenda on everyday Americans.”

ADF’s anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion sentiments have pervaded Johnson’s work in the House, where he has served since 2017. He was a lead sponsor of a federal “Don’t Say Gay” bill, introduced in the House last year, aimed at suppressing discussion of gender or sexuality during events for children, and was one of the 169 Republicans who voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, which contains federal protections for gay and interracial couples. His voting record on abortion has been ranked an “A+” by dark money anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, with a “perfect” voting record, according to the group.

Johnson is also a leading election denier. He led the Texas amicus brief, signed by 126 Republicans, to have the results of the 2020 presidential election overturned in key swing states, and was a key architect of Republicans’ strategy to object to the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, presenting a plan to fellow Republicans to claim that state changes to voting procedures during the pandemic invalidated results.

Advocates have raised other red flags concerning Johnson, including his proposal to cut trillions of dollars from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as his history of climate denial and his acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars of oil and gas campaign contributions.

Democrats have pushed back against Johnson, with House Minority Leader Jeffries labeling him as an “extreme right-wing ideologue.”“Mike Johnson wants to criminalize abortion care and impose a nationwide ban. Mike Johnson was one of the chief architects of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Mike Johnson also wants to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it. Those are extreme views,” said Jeffries. “And House Democrats will push back aggressively against that.”

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