[Warning: Video has explicit language and sensitive content]
LANSING — Michigan House Republican leaders said Wednesday they are punishing a Detroit Democrat because of a video in which she said “Trumpers” should “pay” after sending her a series of explicit death threats and racist messages over the past week.
Rep. Cynthia Johnson has faced a barrage of right-wing criticism after sparring with Rudy Giuliani last week in the Michigan House Oversight Committee, where President Donald Trump’s personal attorney repeated unproven claims of voter fraud in an election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Johnson, who is Black, on Saturday published a 45-second voicemail from a woman who called her a “big lip“ racial slur, and said she should be “swinging from a f---ing rope.” Johnson told BridgeDetroit she’s received numerous racist threats in the wake of what she called the Giuliani “clown show.”
In a Tuesday night Facebook video, which has since been removed, the first-term lawmaker called on supporters — whom she called “soldiers” — to “make them pay.”
“You don’t have to yell. You don’t have to curse anybody out. You don’t have to call people names,” Johnson said in the roughly 3-minute clip. “Hit their asses in the pocketbook.”
Johnson then told viewers that the FBI and state police “found” a woman from Illinois who left her one of the threatening voicemails.
“So this is just a warning to you Trumpers: Be careful,” she said. “Walk lightly. We ain’t playing with you…. And for those of you who are soldiers, you know how to do it. Do it right. Be in order. Make them pay.”
Those comments amounted to an inappropriate threat, according to House GOP leaders, who announced Wednesday that they are stripping committee assignments from Johnson, including her spot on House Oversight, where she is the only Black legislator.
“We are looking into further disciplinary action as the proper authorities conduct their own investigations,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Speaker-elect Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said in a joint statement.
“Threats to either Democrats or Republicans are unacceptable and un-American. They’re even more unbecoming of an elected official.”
Johnson did not immediately respond to a voicemail or text message seeking comment on the legislative sanctions.
In a subsequent video posted Wednesday, Johnson clarified her “soldier” remarks by calling on “soldiers of Christ, soldiers against racism, soldiers against misogyny, soldiers against domestic violence and domestic terrorism” to rise up.
Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox called Johnson’s initial Facebook video “deranged” and suggested her statements “could incite people to violence.”
“It was distressing to know that Representative Johnson received threats after last week’s hearing, however by issuing threats of violence of her own against the supporters of President Trump she has sunk to the same level as the unhinged individuals who threatened her,” Cox said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, and Minority Leader-elect Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, accused Republicans of “using overheated language” of their own and urged them to condemn violent threats against Johnson.
“It is regrettable that her comments have led to the unintended consequence of adding further tension,” the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement.
But, they added, the quick move to punish Johnson suggests “Republicans prioritize partisan politics and political theater over healing the wounds of division, preserving the well-being of the Legislature as an institution, protecting the safety of Members, and acting on the needs of the people.”
Johnson is the first Michigan lawmaker to lose a committee assignment since March, when Sen. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, lost his chairmanship of the Senate Advice Committee because of sexual harassment. Lucido disputed the allegations but a weeks-long investigation concluded with a determination the claims against him were credible.
Despite unsettling phone calls, text messages and emails that she has received and reported to authorities, Johnson told BridgeDetroit she does not plan to go into hiding. Instead, she plans to continue exposing the threats.
“I’m not changing my phone number, I’m not changing my address, both of which are public,” she said. “So I say keep it on, come on. Let’s show the world who you really are.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said Wednesday that her office has received more than 80 calls about threats made against Johnson and her response to those threats. She reminded the public that anyone who fears for their safety should call local police or 911.
“The threats Rep. Johnson has received are appalling, ugly and deeply disturbing, but her response to those messages is also unacceptable, and I strongly condemn both,” Nessel said in a statement. “It is never acceptable for anyone – especially a public servant – to incite violence or to threaten others with harm. When vigilantes assume justice is theirs to serve, our democracy suffers. It’s time for us to move forward together as a state instead of engaging in – or celebrating – actions of hate and divisiveness.”