* Democratic Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
* Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus
* Views America as a nation awash in racism
Hank Johnson Jr. was born on October 2, 1954 in Washington, DC. He earned a BS at Clark College in 1976 and a JD at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1979. Johnson subsequently worked for twelve years as an associate judge in the DeKalb County (Georgia) Magistrate Court; five years as DeKalb County commissioner; three years as chair of the DeKalb County budget committee; and a number of years as a criminal and civil litigator for the Johnson and Johnson Law Group. In 2008 he served as co-chair of the Barack Obama Presidental Campaign in Georgia.
After defeating incumbent Cynthia McKinney in the 2006 Democratic primary race for Georgia’s 4th Congressional District seat, Johnson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He has held that post ever since, and is a member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
A strong opponent of America’s involvement in the Iraq War, Johnson in 2007 was one of 90 Members of Congress who formed a Peace Pledge Coalition that stated, in an open letter to President Bush: “We will only support appropriating funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during Fiscal Year 2008 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of all our troops out of Iraq before you leave office.” The letter was initiated by such notables as Medea Benjamin, Kevin Zeese, and representatives of AfterDowningStreet.org, the Backbone Campaign, the Center for Labor Renewal, Democracy Rising, Democrats.com, the Progressive Democrats of America, Velvet Revolution, and Voters for Peace.
In January 2008, Johnson was one of nine Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee who called for impeachment hearings against Vice President Dick Cheney, charging that Cheney had manipulated and fabricated intelligence regarding the threat that Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq posed to the United States. Other Judiciary Committee members who favored Cheney’s impeachment included Tammy Baldwin, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Luis Gutierrez, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Maxine Waters, Anthony Weiner, and Robert Wexler.
In September 2009, Johnson demanded that Republican Representative Joe Wilson be censured for having shouted “You lie!” during the portion of Barack Obama’s healthcare-related speech to Congress where the President pledged that his proposed reforms would not extend health insurance to illegal immigrants. Charging that Wilson’s outburst had racial undertones, Johnson argued that if the congressman was not formally rebuked, “we will have people with white hoods running through the countryside again.”
On December 22, 2009, Johnson was one of 33 U.S. Representatives who signed a letter to Hillary Clinton, calling on the Secretary of State to pressure the Israeli government to end its ban on Palestinian student travel from Gaza to the West Bank. “We applaud your efforts to support educational opportunities for Palestinian youth, including your initiative to increase U.S. funding for Palestinian universities and educational programs in Gaza and the West Bank,” added the letter.
During a House Armed Services Committee meeting on March 25, 2010, Johnson questioned Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, about a proposal to deploy an additional 8,000 Marines to the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam. In the course of that questioning, the congressman said that if so many people were to be suddenly placed onto that small island, “my fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
In March 2012, not long after a white neighborhood-watch captain named George Zimmerman had shot and killed a black teenager named Trayvon Martin in an altercation that mushroomed into a national media obsession, Johnson claimed that Martin had been “executed for WWB in a GC—Walking While Black in a Gated Community.”
In November 2012, Johnson—angered by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling which held that corporations have a right to freedom of political speech—condemned American corporations for seeking to “control” people’s “patterns of thinking” via media “messages” that teach them to “hate [their] government.” To remedy this problem, Johnson called for “a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to control the so-called free speech rights of corporations.”
In January 2013, Johnson charged that racism lay at the heart of the National Rifle Association’s opposition to the gun-control legislation which President Obama was advocating. “First of all, he is a black,” said Johnson. “And as a black person being the president of the United States, that is something they [the NRA] still cannot get over.”
In June 2013, Johnson condemned black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for voting to strike from the 1965 Voting Rights Act a provision that designated which parts of the country needed to have any proposed changes to their election laws pre-cleared by the federal government or a federal court. By Johnson’s reckoning, Thomas’s “offense” was “worse” than that of the infamous National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who revealed thousands of classified NSA documents to the media. Moreover, Johnson called it a “deep tragedy” that Thomas, a conservative, had repeatedly issued decisions that were “to the detriment of the African-American community.”
In December 2014 Johnson told a radio interviewer, “Barack Obama has been one of the greatest presidents that we have had in the history of this nation. It’s unfortunate that since he raised his hand and took the oath in his first inauguration, that he’s been met with nothing but opposition, and confrontation, and actual, personal dehumanization.” Further, the congressman condemned the popular black conservative and Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson for: (a) “trying to tap into the ignorance of people who have been whipped into a frenzy, like a lynch mob,” and (b) appealing “to the lowest common denominator” of the human spirit.
In a 2014 Washingtonian poll of congressional aides, Johnson and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Corrine Brown tied for first place in two categories: “Worst Speaker in the House” and “Most Clueless in the House.”
In January 2015, Johnson went to the House floor to argue against the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill aiming to require federal agencies to give advance notice of proposed regulations that were likely to have a substantial impact on the U.S. economy. Characterizing the 85,000+ pages of regulations that are added to the Federal Register each year as “the things that help make America a great country,” the congressman declared: “Don’t think that regulations are hurting you. Regulations are causing what benefits you are taking advantage of now.”
That same month, Johnson objected vehemently when Republican House Speaker John Boehner—without first asking President Obama for his approval—invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress about the gravity of the growing Iranian nuclear threat and his (Netanyahu’s) strong opposition to the negotiated deal that the Obama Administration was pursuing with Iran. Specifically, Johnson took exception to “President Barack Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader.”
At a Congressional Progressive Caucus forum in March 2015, Johnson spoke about the recent rise of ISIL, the barbaric Islamic terrorist group that had overrun vast swaths of Iraq since President Obama—against the recommendations of his military advisors—withdrew all remaining U.S. troops from that country in December 2011. “A lot of people want to blame ISIL on the President, but its not truly his fault,” said Johnson. “He did exactly what needed to be done.”
In April 2015, after a white South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after fatally shooting a fleeing black man in the back during a traffic stop, Johnson said: “It feels like open season on black men in America and I’m outraged. In fact, all Americans are at risk when bad actors in law enforcement use their guns instead of their heads.” Johnson revisited this theme in June 2015, when he said: “I believe it’s a culture that enables or says it’s okay for law-enforcement officers to shoot to kill blacks, be they male or female, Hispanics—to use excessive force. Yes, I do think it’s a cultural issue within certain departments.”
In January 2016, Johnson went to the House floor to speak against the Sunshine For Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act. “There has been a movement over the last 30, 40 years to turn people against the government,” he said. “This mantra is that government is too big, we don’t need any rules to govern human conduct, let everything work itself out and the free market system will make it rain for everybody. Well, we’ve seen after 30, 40 years of practicing that free market way of thinking, that it doesn’t work.” Added Johnson: “This is what this legislation is about—is gutting the rule-making process. This is one of many attempts—incessant attempts—by my friends on the other side to try and cut government and so that their friends in big business on Wall Street can make it rain for the rest of us. But they don’t make it rain for anybody but themselves.”
During a six-day tour to East Jerusalem and Ramallah sponsored by the Palestinian group MIFTAH in the spring of 2016, Johnson was one of five U.S. congressmen who met with Shawan Jabarin, a longtime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operative who had since served as: the general director of Al-Haq, a vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights, a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Board, and a commissioner for the International Commission of Jurists. The other congressmen who met with Jabarin included Democrats Luis Gutierrez, Mark Pocan, Matt Cartwright, and Dan Kildee.
At a July 2016 event sponsored by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Johnson compared Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank to “termites” that destroy homes. Said the congressman:
“There has been a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement activity that has marched forward with impunity and at an ever increasing rate, to the point where it has become alarming. It has come to the point that occupation, with highways that cut through Palestinian land, with walls that go up, with the inability or the restriction, with the illegality of Palestinians being able to travel on those roads and those roads cutting off Palestinian neighborhoods from each other. And then with the building of walls and the building of check points that restrict movement of Palestinians. We’ve gotten to the point where the thought of a Palestinian homeland gets further and further removed from reality.”
Referring to claims that Israeli settlers routinely plotted to seize Palestinian land, Johnson added: “You see one home after another being appropriated by Jewish people who come in to claim that land just because somebody did not spend the night there. The home their [Palestinian] ancestors lived in for generations becomes an Israeli home and a flag goes up, [but] the Palestinians are barred from flying flags in their own neighborhoods.”
In November 2016, The Daily Caller asked Johnson to comment on the fact that Rep. Keith Ellison, who was seeking to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had once advocated the creation of a geographically self-contained “homeland” for black people. “I don’t see anything really objectionable,” Johnson replied. “What he [Ellison] apparently proposed was a partitioning of the United States into a southeastern section.” When asked if Ellison’s proposal constituted black nationalism, Johnson said: “I don’t know what to call it. It seems to have been born out of academia, a thoughtful discussion on possibilities.” “These are not ideas that have not been discussed by black folks throughout history,” Johnson added, noting that he himself would have supported such a plan during his college days.
In a January 1, 2019 speech at a Baptist church in Atlanta, Johnson likened President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. Among his remarks were the following:
During a January 4, 2021 appearance on Sirius XM’s The Dean Obeidallah Show, Johnson said the following about President Trump and anyone who followed his path:
“We have got to make sure that those who come after Donald Trump know that they will not be allowed to get away with what Donald Trump did, that they will be held accountable. They will be treated, yes, like Negroes. They will be perp-walked to the jail, hands handcuffed not in front of them but behind them. And they will be booked, fingerprinted, have to make bond, and have to hire a lawyer just like everyone else and go through the system. The system feasts on Black folks, but for once, it needs to turn its attention to, you know, what this man has done to turn our country into something that we just don’t need to let it get to. He is affecting everyone. And he can’t be allowed to get away with it because if we allow him to get away with it, there will be others who try to do the same thing, and we don’t even what them to think about trying to do what Trump has done.”
Johnson did not specify what crime(s) he thought Trump had committed.
On January 6, 2021 in the District of Columbia, President Trump delivered a speech to a massive crowd of his supporters and noted, toward the end of his talk, that many of the onlookers would soon be “marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” regarding what they viewed as election fraud that had cost Trump his re-election. Unfortunately, several hundred of those people swarmed the Capitol building and made their way inside, creating an atmosphere of crisis for several hours. Johnson, in turn, blamed Trump personally for the actions of that mob. Thus, he supported the Democrat call to impeach Trump for a second time, even though his term in office was in its final days. Without evidence, Johnson said:
“There is abundant evidence floating around on social media on the right wing social media sites where President Trump is inciting massive crowds to converge on Washington, D.C., on January 20th [inauguration day] to finish what they started on January 26th [sic]. The president is calling for his supporters to continue the uprising and continue the insurrection. What we’re seeing is the outlines of a armed rebellion of suicidal maniacs coming to Washington, D.C.”
In a March 18, 2021 appearance on MSNBC, Johnson claimed that Republican Rep. Chip Roy had “endorsed” lynching during a Capitol Hill hearing on anti-Asian discrimination, and that former President Trump had made it socially acceptable to do so. The source of Johnson’s ire was Roy’s assertion, while stating that the families of the six Asian women whom a gunman had recently killed in Atlanta deserved justice, that: “There are old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. We take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that.” In reaction to Roy’s remarks, Johnson said:
“To have this hearing at an opportunity to show solidarity and compassion for the AAPI community, Chip Roy, my colleague, could not help himself but to express those old racists, xenophobic ideas about the Chicoms, and anything else you want to call them is I think, what he said. He even went back to the old-fashioned institution of lynching and sanctioned it in this country…. There’s a vein running through our Congress, people expressing those attitudes. Donald Trump is the one that gave the signal to open the floodgates, and it’s OK to speak like that and say whatever is on your mind.”
When the interviewer asked Johnson to clarify whether he actually believed that Rep. Roy endorsed lynching, Johnson doubled down and said: “I absolutely meant to say that he [Rep. Roy] endorsed the old-fashioned institution of racism, I mean of lynching. He talked about we need to get out back and find the tallest tree and get our rope and bring folks to justice. That’s old-fashion lynching. No way to cut that piece of cake other than that way.”
On July 22, 2021, Johnson joined such notables as fellow Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Emanuel Cleaver, Troy Carter, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Al Green in speaking at a demonstration in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building. They were demanding the elimination of the Senate filibuster so that Democrats in that chamber of Congress would be able to pass the radical For The People Act, which sought to ban Voter ID laws and other election safeguards, with just a simple majority. They also chanted: “Whose street? Our street. Whose house? Our house.” After the speeches were done, Johnson then led a group of fellow protestors in a march to the entrance of the Hart Senate Office Building where they chanted: “This is what democracy looks like”; “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The filibuster has got to go!”; and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Capitol Police eventually arrested Johnson and 8 other individuals for “unlawfully demonstrating outside of the Hart Senate Office Building.” Johnson subsequently tweeted a video of himself in handcuffs, along with the caption: “In the spirit of my dear friend and mentor – the late Congressman John Lewis – I was getting in #goodtrouble.” Moreover, Johnson’s office released a statement saying that the congressman had been arrested with a “group of Black male voting rights activists protesting against Senate inaction on voting rights legislation and filibuster reform.” “It was also in response to voter suppression bills and laws throughout the county, including Georgia, that target students, the elderly, and people of color,” the office added.
During a July 23, 2021 appearance on MSNBC, Johnson — still advocating for the elimination of the Senate filibuster and the passage of the For The People Act — stated:
“I remain hopeful that this administration, Joe Biden, President, will come to his senses, get away from the sentimentalism of the past of how the Senate used to work and how the members used to consort with each other and work things out over a drink and a cigar. Those days are long over. You know, these folks [Republicans] are trying to kill us right now as far as our right to vote. They’re trying to kill our democracy, and no amount of organizing can overcome the wrongfulness of suppressing votes in a democracy. We either have a democracy or we don’t, and if everyone can’t vote in this country, if some can’t vote because of their race, then this is not a true democracy. So, we’re actually in a fight … for democracy. It’s being attacked by those who would take away our vote and it’s wrong, and we can’t stand for it.”
Later in the interview, Johnson added:
“I don’t know if enough people understand the danger that we are in. […] Any time only people who are light-skinned, white, are able to vote in this country, I mean, these are — these subjects are the immediate threats to us, I mean, to everyone. […] This is our country. We built this country. And so, nobody has a claim to it bigger and better than us. And so, it’s up to us now to save this country, if not just for ourselves, but for our fellow man.”
On September 23, 2021, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly – by a 420 to 9 margin — to pass legislation providing $1 billion in supplemental military assistance to help fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. Johnson and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted “Present.” The 9 opposing votes included fellow Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Raúl Grijalva, Marie Newman, Jesus Garcia, and Andre Carson. Only one Republican voted against the bill, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
For an overview of Congressman Johnson’s voting record on an array of key issues, click here.
Among Johnson’s most noteworthy political supporters is the organization J Street.
Further Reading: “Hank Johnson Jr.” (Votesmart.org, Keywiki.org).