UPDATE: In a statement, Rep. Higgins said assertions he made an apology are “false,” adding that Johnson’s surreptitious recording of their conversation “violated the basic tenet of diplomatic trust.” We have updated this story to reflect his comments.
Weeks ago, rumors that a Black militia was headed to Lafayette drew a threat of violence posted to Facebook by a sitting congressman. Now, the militia is coming for real in response to those threats. And just ahead of the Not F**king Around Coalition’s arrival, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins and John “Grandmaster Jay” Johnson, the militia’s leader, had a moment of reconciliation.
The congressman called Johnson and apologized for the Facebook post, which he had not previously renounced. In a 20-minute YouTube clip shared Tuesday night by Johnson, the two men, both vets, talk in high-minded and spiritual terms about finding common ground and agree to meet this weekend.
“Power speaks to power, and I recognize that there’s a greater power above both of us,” Johnson says into his phone on the video, accepting an invitation to meet at Higgins’ home. “I would be honored to set foot inside your castle. I look forward to speaking to you.”
In a statement released the day after media reports began to circulate, Higgins clarified that he did not apologize to Johnson and rebuked him for secretly recording what was intended to be a private overture.
“Nowhere in that conversation did I apologize, nor do I have any intention to do so. I have nothing to apologize for,” Higgins said in the statement. “Mr. Johnson burned the olive branch. There will be no meeting.” Read the full statement at the end of this story.
In September, Higgins took to Facebook unprovoked to threaten Johnson and his militia, saying Lafayette would be where the NFAC’s “journey will end.” His threat tilted at a rumor that the militia was headed for Lafayette during an apex in racial justice tension sparked by the police killing of Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man.
Lafayette was not on NFAC’s radar at the time Higgins’ post went viral, Johnson said Wednesday during a press call coordinated by Lafayette’s NAACP. But an unaffiliated activist, Gerry Monroe, sparked rumors NFAC was on its way in a widely shared video post shortly after Pellerin’s death, a move Johnson called disrespectful.
Higgins’ admission that he had “the wrong person,” Johnson said on the press call, “spoke volumes” of the congressman’s sincerity.
“I can only take him at his word and hold him to it,” Johnson said today. “What I heard on that call was a man that wanted to be clear. That wanted to clarify … and a man that wanted to reconcile.”
With Johnson on the other line, Higgins softens from the tone of his incendiary post, and presents himself as a man armed only with scripture and spiritual weapons. Higgins’ penitence contrasts with his soaring bravado of the post itself and statements that followed. Facebook took it down almost immediately, drawing outrage from the congressman at the time, who claimed it was further evidence of the social media giant’s bias toward conservatives.
“Your organization was originally portrayed as violent. I readily admit that I didn’t get it. I wasn’t tuned in to the level that some Americans were about what NFAC was and the type of gentleman you are,” Higgins confesses in the video, adding that people around him helped him understand the “nature” of Johnson’s “character.”
NFAC promotes itself as a guardian of the Black community and its constitutional rights, in the tradition of Black militias organized in the 1960s. NFAC works with local authorities to clear its marches, its formations often marshaling a few hundred heavily armed personnel in black fatigues.
In July, the militia was in Louisville, accompanying protests of the police killing of Breonna Taylor. Three militia members were injured by gunfire there, which Johnson said were accidental discharges. No one was charged for firing the weapons.
Johnson has also worked to collaborate with local activists. He appeared on a call with former Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux earlier this week. And the NFAC’s march will be accompanied by a voter registration drive and speeches coordinated by local activists and nonprofits.
Johnson said on the NAACP call that he had “nothing but praise” for Lafayette’s authorities in their efforts to accommodate NFAC’s visit, reserving the highest praise for the NAACP itself.
“That’s what we have had in every city,” Johnson said Wednesday of the group’s coordination with locals on the ground in the communities they visit. “We initiate the process and carry the process through to completion.”
On Higgins’ account, however, members of the mayor-president’s administration were hesitant to grant the permit. The congressman tells Johnson in the Tuesday call he prevailed on the administration that the militia was within its rights to march and to bear arms while doing so. Reached for comment, LCG spokesman Jamie Angelle could not confirm Higgins’ role in granting the permit.
“As a Constitutionalist, I recognize Mr. Johnson’s group’s right to peaceably assemble. I have been unwavering in my support for 1st Amendment rights, and my record for support of 2nd Amendment freedoms is known nationwide. I do not believe Mr. Johnson’s assembly carries any violent intent,” Higgins said in his statement.
Ultimately, Johnson notched the congressman’s outreach as a sign of a change in a long battle for racial justice. Today he called their conversation “unprecedented.”
“We’re in new territory, people,” he says to the camera after hanging up with Higgins. “A sitting congressman has had to apologize to Black power.”
Higgins full statement on the call with Johnson:
“Media reports that I’ve issued an apology are false. In what was intended as a private communication, I extended a diplomatic gesture to Mr. Johnson and offered to meet with him in person. I was respectful and kind, humble, and unassuming. I offered a table of discussion. That’s what leaders do. Nowhere in that conversation did I apologize, nor do I have any intention to do so. I have nothing to apologize for. When Mr. Johnson published our conversation and mischaracterized its content, he violated a basic tenet of diplomatic trust. Mr. Johnson burned the olive branch. There will be no meeting. There will be no apology. It’s disappointing that media outlets would ignore my clearly established stance by repeating and headlining a summary lie. Secretly recording a private diplomatic outreach and publishing same, accompanied by a blatantly false summary, are not the actions of a man actually interested in advancing the cause of We, the People. That’s what Mr. Johnson did. I reached out in the interest of peace and reason. I offered a bridge of man to man communication. He burned that bridge.”
“As a Constitutionalist, I recognize Mr. Johnson’s group’s right to peaceably assemble. I have been unwavering in my support for 1st Amendment rights, and my record for support of 2nd Amendment freedoms is known nationwide. I do not believe Mr. Johnson’s assembly carries any violent intent. However, our stance remains clear. Lima Charlie. Lafayette is solid. Peaceful assembly will be allowed, as it should be. Violence, on the other hand, will not be tolerated.”