Two Republican congressmen met with noted Holocaust denier and white nationalist Chuck Johnson to discuss “DNA sequencing,” less than a day after the House voted to disavow white supremacy and white nationalism in reaction to racist comments by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
HuffPost’s Matt Fuller tweeted an image of Johnson walking alongside Reps. Andy Harris (R-Md.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday, noting that “both waited for him to get through security” at the Capitol without them.
The lawmakers faced immediate backlash. Johnson is widely known as a white nationalist and social-media troll, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
He also questions how many Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust, ran a crowdfunding site for white supremacists and neo-Nazis, said “anti-racist is anti-white,” was kicked off Twitter for threatening to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist and suggested an Amtrak crash was caused by the engineer’s sexuality. He drew scrutiny last week when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) gave him a ticket to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Responding to questions raised about their meeting with Johnson, Harris and Roe said they had no knowledge of his past.
Roe’s office said the lawmaker met with Johnson to discuss “what seemed like legitimate information” about “DNA sequencing.”
“Congressman Roe would not have taken the meeting had he been aware of Mr. Johnson’s previously expressed views ― which he believes are abhorrent ― were not alluded to in the meeting, and were not readily discoverable when Congressman Roe’s staff looked into the name ‘Charles Johnson,’ which is how he was presented,” spokesman Alexander Whitley told HuffPost in an email.
The meeting, in which Johnson “advocated for more publicly-available sequenced genomes,” lasted “less than 10 minutes,” Whitley said.
Harris’ statement was similar ― he told the Daily Beast he was “unaware of [Johnson’s] previous associations.”
“Of course I disavow and condemn white supremacy and anti-semitism,” his statement said.
Some white nationalists have become obsessed with genetics; most recently, prominent alt-right figures began co-opting white milk as a symbol for white supremacy, pointing to misleading and misguided genetic studies implying that people of color are more likely to report lactose intolerance. White supremacists also have been flocking to genetic ancestry tests to prove their white heritage — sometimes with mixed results.
On Tuesday, the House voted almost unanimously to condemn white supremacy after a furor erupted over King ― long known for his bigoted rhetoric ― asked in a New York Times interview how the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” became “offensive.”
Some lawmakers also pushed for the House to consider a measure that would officially censure King. But on Wednesday, Democratic House leaders said such a resolution would not be considered.
UPDATE: Jan. 24, 2020 — A year after publication, Johnson’s lawyers sent HuffPost a letter in which they assert Johnson “believes that there was a systematic campaign to commit atrocities against Jewish people during the Second World War, that he believes that America should not be a nation only for white people, that he does not believe that white people are ‘superior’ to other races of human beings, and that he is not anti-Semitic.”