Christian Right Activist and Kentucky State Rep. Commits Suicide after Investigative Exposé

Self-Styled “bishop” had long-standing links with Larry Klayman and Gordon Klingenschmitt

Johnson at 2013 rally with Larry Klayman

Kentucky-based WDRB reports:

Kentucky State Rep. Dan Johnson, who was under investigation for alleged sexual molestation, died of a “probable suicide,” the Bullitt County coroner said.

…On Tuesday, Johnson held a press conference at his church on Bardstown Road, where he denied the molestation allegations. According to court documents obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the alleged molestation took place on New Year’s Eve in 2012. The alleged victim, who was 17 at the time, told authorities that she was staying in a living area of the Heart of Fire City Church where Johnson was pastor, when Johnson, who had been drinking a lot, approached her, kissed her and fondled her under her clothes.

Johnson left a semi-coherent post on Facebook in which he stated that “the accusations from NPR are false GOD and only GOD knows the truth”, and referred to “NYC/WTC, PTSD 24/7 16 years”. Johnson was previously in the news in 2016, after it came to light that he had posted images to Facebook mocking Barack Obama as a chimpanzee – a revelation that was apparently not so offensive as to prevent his election.

The link in the paragraph quoted above clicks through to a long-read by R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan which documents Johnson’s history. The researchers found evidence of “bounced checks and credit card debts”, insurance-related arson, and illegal sales of alcohol at his church. The alleged molestation included digital penetration, and Johnson apparently afterwards said that he had been “drugged” by someone on the night it was alleged to have occurred and that he had no memory of the incident. The article also explains that a police complaint at the time was “botched”, but that it had now been re-opened.

The most credible explanation for Johnson’s suicide is that this was the final attempt of an inveterate liar to re-assert control over his destiny as his past caught up with him. Even the World Trade Center reference in his suicide note is spin; as the article notes:

To hear him tell it, Johnson has been on stage nearly his whole life. Like Forrest Gump, he just so happens to be in the front row, playing a pivotal role in America’s biggest moments. Time after time. Decade after decade.

He claims he served as White House chaplain to three presidents. A United Nations ambassador. He says he set up the morgue after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was the pastor who gave last rites for all of those pulled from the towers.


…But Storm Swain, a Philadelphia theology professor who wrote a book about chaplains at Ground Zero, has never heard of Johnson. She said it’s highly unlikely that any civilian, let alone an out-of-town clergyman, would have been asked to — or would have been able to — set up a morgue in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

And a spokeswoman for New York City’s medical examiner’s office said she checked with several colleagues who were at the scene. No one remembers Danny Ray Johnson.

Despite this, Johnson was apparently drawing an income from benefits payable to workers who were injured or became ill as a result of 9/11.

At first glance, Johnson might seem to be a marginal figure, a big name in his own small pond but not of wider significance. However, the article also notes that in 2013 he was a speaker at a Freedom Watch rally in Washington, DC, organised by Larry Klayman. Klayman is a lawyer notorious for grandiose and absurd lawsuits (I blogged one here), and his rally called for the creation of a “shadow government” should Obama resfuse to resign. US News & World Report noted at the time:

Approximately 100 conservative activists gathered in front of the White House on Tuesday for a kickoff of what organizers call “the second American revolution.”

…Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman, who emceed the event, told attendees if President Barack Obama does not resign by Nov. 29, conservative activists will meet in Philadelphia to elect a shadow government.

“We’ve got God on our side,” Klayman said. “He’s going to make sure we win this revolution.”

Bishop Dan Johnson of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville, Ky., prayed with ralliers, asking God to “cause [elected officials] to get on their knees, not to Allah, but to God almighty.” In his prayer, Johnson denounced homosexuality, permissive parenting, pornography and welfare.

A long video of the event has been uploaded  to YouTube; the various speakers and the timings of their appearances are posted underneath. The first speaker, following Johnson’s introduction and opening prayer (recorded on a different video) and a turn by a George Washington impersonator, was none other than Joseph Farah, who advised Donald Trump during Trump’s “birther” period and who has often promoted Klayman on his WND website. The line-up over the following five hours included Bob Barr and Michael Peroutka, and a recorded statement from Pat Boone.

Two years before the rally, Johnson was part of an attempt by Klayman to force New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to give clergy an official role at the Ground Zero ceremony on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Bob Unruh wrote it up for WND:

Klayman said his clients who would be plaintiffs in a legal action include Bishop Dan Johnson, a member of the “World Bishops Council” who on the early morning hours of 9/11 had arrived in Manhattan.

According to his story, he was resting when his wife called concerned about an airplane accident. He immediately responded to offer his help, and was asked by the New York Police Department to set up the first morgue in the financial district.

He kept records of victims brought in, performed last rites on the dead and prayed for them, and has participated in every 9/11 ceremony at Ground Zero since.

“Originally I was invited to attend this year’s 9/11 ceremony as a first responder, just like I was every year since 2001,” Bishop Johnson told former U.S. Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt, who also is involved in the case.

“But then I heard Mayor Bloomberg banned clergy, so it took five phone calls to his office before [a Bloomberg senior staffer] asked me if I was going to wear my clerical collar. I said I planned to dress just like I did the previous nine years, so she replied ‘they’ prefer you not attend. And that was it. I was disinvited.”

Bloomberg’s decision of course related to having clergy-led prayer; there was no dress rule that banned attendees from wearing clerical collars. However, according to Klingenschmitt:

“Disinvited because of his religion, his clergyman status, and his faith in Jesus Christ. Bishop Dan Johnson is a hero who faces arbitrary and illegal persecution and discrimination for religion by the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.”

A short post on Free Republic has further details:

In a sad display of anti-Christian censorship, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has banned clergy from participating or praying at the 10th anniversary 9/11 memorial ceremony honoring the victims of terrorist attacks from September 11th, 2001.  

Today I spoke with Bishop Dan Johnson, a 9/11 first-responder clergyman who ministered to the dead and dying in New York City on Sept 11th, 2001.  For the last nine years, Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg invited Bishop Johnson to the annual ceremony, but this year he was told by Mayor Bloomberg’s staff that he cannot attend “in his capacity as clergyman,” but only in his capacity as first-responder.  And he dare not pray aloud.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Southern Baptist leader Richard Land.  “We live in a country where the overwhelming majority of people identify as Christian or have a religion, and clergy were some of the first people to respond on 9/11 to minister to victims.  Why aren’t they welcome today?”

“I’m stunned,” said Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association.  “This event affected the whole psyche and soul of the country, and you are going to have no prayer? What’s a memorial service if you are going to leave God out of it completely? It seems kind of hollow.”

The original source for the post is not given, although it presumably derives from something written by Klingenschmitt that is no longer live. The quotes from Land and Wildmon in fact relate to Bloomberg’s decision in general, although they are here misleadingly presented as if made in specific response to Johnson’s complaint.

Of course, this was all before Johnson became known for his chimpanzee joke about Obama, and before his troubled history was fatally exposed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. But it doesn’t look like the prominent conservatives who put him on a platform more than once did much due diligence – and neither did local Republicans, who accepted him as a candidate.

UPDATE (15 December): Although Johnson’s death has received widespread media coverage, his past allies seem to have forgotten him: Larry Klayman hasn’t said anything on social media, while WND only has a brief excerpt from the WDRB article and a link.