In the six weeks since Mike Johnson was elected Speaker of the House, we’ve learned a large amount of what can only be described as “deeply f–ked-up s–t” concerning the GOP lawmaker’s views on everything from gay marriage to abortion to the cause of mass shootings to why America is apparently going to hell. And unfortunately, there’s a lot more f–ked-up s–t where that came from.
The Daily Beast reports that before he got into politics, the man who is two heartbeats away from the presidency did legal work for clients “affiliated with some of the nation’s most extreme antiabortion and anti-LGBTQ groups in the country—including agitators connected to militant movements with a penchant for violent expression.”
One of those clients was Jason Storms, whom Johnson, in his capacity as an attorney for the Christian activist group Alliance Defending Freedom, represented in a 2009 Milwaukee lawsuit, arguing that Storms and a bunch of other antiabortion extremists had had their right to free speech violated by a court injunction against protests at abortion clinics. Who is Storms? Among other things, he’s the leader of Operation Save America—formerly know as Operation Rescue—which, as the Daily Beast notes, “has been called the nation’s largest militant antiabortion group,” and it’s not hard to see why. Per the outlet:
…the year of [the free speech] lawsuit, Operation Rescue was tied to the murder of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. The killer had been in touch with a group official about Tiller’s whereabouts, and claimed to be a member. While the group denounced the slaying and the attacker’s claims to membership, Tiller was a top target of Operation Rescue’s ire for years—in 2002, they relocated their headquarters to Wichita specifically to pressure his clinic—and its leader at the time had previously called the murder of abortion providers a “justifiable defensive action.”
Today, OSA and its militant allies still believe women who get abortions should be charged with murder—a step up from more mainstream antiabortionists who would only place that burden on the doctor…. Earlier this year, a member of OSA was charged in connection with a bomb scare at a Milwaukee-area Pride event, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. In October, the Sixth Circuit of Federal Appeals upheld a 2022 restraining order against the group, after unruly demonstrations in Tennessee.
In addition to Storms—who incidentally took part in January 6—the group of extremists Johnson represented in the 2009 suit included Robert Breaud and Jim Soderna. Here’s a little background info on those two, per the Daily Beast:
In 1999, Soderna entered his name in the public record as opposing a Milwaukee city council resolution “against domestic terrorism in the form of violence against health-care providers, especially those providing family planning services.” Meanwhile, Breaud—a self-described former “homosexual”—ran a 1999 failed campaign for the Louisiana state House as a Republican. Per an article from The Times-Picayune, which is not publicly available online but accessible through the Lexis Nexis publication database, Breaud said the government “should be a terror to the evildoer”—quoting the apostle Paul in the Bible—further specifying, as Paul did not, that the evildoers were gay men, lesbians, and abortion providers.
And the disturbing cast of characters doesn’t stop there. As the Daily Beast notes, Johnson’s 2009 suit “was bolstered by affidavits from Jason Storms’s father-in-law, militant antiabortionist Rev. Matthew Trewhella…[who] previously defended the murder of abortion doctors as ‘justifiable homicide.’” Trewhella also encouraged religious congregations to form militias, according to The New York Times, and spent 14 months in prison for obstructing abortion clinics. Later, per the Daily Beast, he “ran an Operation Rescue splinter group, called Missionaries to the Pre-Born, which also featured Jason Storms”; the offshoot has been called “one of the most dangerous and violent of the direct action antiabortion groups active in the United States.”
By the way: Johnson also did legal work for Jason Storms’s father, Grant Storms, who was once in the news for seemingly endorsing the mass murder of gay people. Regarding his comments, he initially told the Daily Beast that he obviously never meant gay people should be killed en masse, but then he acknowledged that he could see why people might have “misinterpreted” his words to mean as much. (Johnson represented the elder Storms both before and after these comments.) Grant Storms told the Daily Beast that Johnson performed all of his legal work for him for free, noting that they “were brothers on the path.” He added: “He always had our back.”
In response to a request for comment, Johnson’s office told the outlet: “As a practicing attorney for over 20 years, Johnson defended the First Amendment rights of countless clients. As the Daily Beast surely knows, an attorney representing a client in a First Amendment dispute does not equate to an endorsement of everything that client has ever said or done prior to or after a case.”
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From the Archive: Intimations of Murder (2000)