A few months ago we got a dose of racism from the Trump Administration. Not of the anonymously-sourced-and-thinly-uncontested variety that we have come to expect on a daily basis, but of an actual audio clips kind.
The figurehead was the Department of Homeland Security’s former head of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed as by then-Secretary of the DHS John Kelly. In November, CNN posted audio clips from several radio appearances that Johnson had made since 2008. Some of them contained wildly racist comments about how black Americans have “turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.” He also said that Muslim terrorist groups represent the mainstream of the religion, adding that “Islam is not our friend” and that it is “not a religion of peace.”
In the wake of that post, Johnson issued an apology alongside his resignation letter. Then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke accepted it. Some members of Congress weren’t happy. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, wrote a letter to the DHS asking, among other things, about how Johnson was vetted and why he was allowed to come on board in the first place.
A few months back I flung off a Freedom of Information Act request for correspondence relating to the incident. Today I got it back. Here’s a snippet from the response that Duke wrote to Rep. Thompson, which has not yet been reported:
As you may know, Rev. Johnson joined DHS on January 20, 2017. DHS conducted Rev Johnson’s final security clearances once at the department.
Two things about that statement. First, the leading sentence is erroneous. Rev. Johnson was appointed by former-DHS Secretary Kelly in April, not in January. Second, Duke admits that the DHS—an intelligence agency with access to broad swaths of data and background information on virtually all Americans—does not complete background searches on political appointees until those people are already on the job. Duke added that “DHS was first made aware of Rev. Johnson’s prior inappropriate remarks from media reporting.”
I asked the DHS to comment on their backgrounding practices for appointed officials, but haven’t heard anything back.
The office that Rev. Johnson was leading is responsible for helping churches, mosques and synagogues be prepared for natural disasters as well as any acts of violence or terrorism that might be aimed at them. That’s no minor task in an age when hate crimes are rising, largely because hate crimes against religious groups have gone up. It’s almost as if—hear me out on this—the person running it should have been backgrounded before he was tasked with protecting followers of a religion he only recently described as “not our friend.”
Photo: Department of Homeland Security