Is it just us or does something seem off about this relationship?
Few people knew much about new Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson before his ascension to the second-in-line to the presidency position last month. In fact, until he took control of the gavel, the Louisiana congressman had largely kept his far-right politics, extreme evangelical Christian beliefs and “adopted” Black son out of the limelight.
He’s getting somewhat of a pass on his politics and religion—something we may come to regret in the coming weeks—but he’s facing increased scrutiny about this son. On the day he was voted House Speaker, several right-wing social media accounts on X (formerly known as Twitter) began circulating clips of a 2020 PBS interview about racial tensions and policing following George Floyd’s murder. In the interview, Johnson said he had learned about racism in this country through the experience of raising a Black son, Michael.
Johnson said his Black son had a more difficult life than his white son “simply because of the color of his skin. Michael being a Black American, and Jack being white Caucasian. They have different challenges,” he said. “My son Jack has an easier path. He just does.”
The comments didn’t sit well with the folks on X:
Daily Wire podcaster Matt Walsh said Johnson’s comments were a “full-fledged endorsement of the Left’s racial narrative.”
Far-right anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer called the new Speaker an “undercover Democrat.”
Pro-DeSantis conservative influencer Pedro Gonzalez wrote that Johnson had “completely internalized left-wing racial libel about white supremacy and privilege.”
But it’s Michael’s absence on Johnson’s official House website that’s most glaring to Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. There’s no sign of a Black son in family photos or his bio, which reads, in part: “Mike and his wife Kelly, a former school teacher from Webster Parish and now a Licensed Pastoral Counselor, have been married since 1999 and have four children, Hannah, Abigail, Jack and Will.”
This erasure has led some to question Michael’s existence, drawing clarification from his office. “When Speaker Johnson first ran for Congress in 2016, he and his wife, Kelly, spoke to their son Michael—who they took in as newlyweds when Michael was 14 years old,” Corinne Day, his communications director, told Newsweek. “At the time of the Speaker’s election to Congress, Michael was an adult with a family of his own. He asked not to be involved in their new public life. The Speaker has respected that sentiment throughout his career and maintains a close relationship with Michael to this day.”
Day also told Newsweek the Johnsons did not formally adopt Michael because of the “lengthy … process.” Instead, according to the Daily Mail, the couple met Michael Tirrell James while they were doing charitable work and took the teen into their home after he became homeless.
Without any formal paperwork or legal guardianship proceedings. Talk about head scratching. And we’re not the only ones who think so.
“Isn’t that kidnapping?” asked lovegalore33 in a TikTok that has garnered more than 20k views.
The Daily Mail exclusive also reports that James went on to have a string of run-ins with law enforcement, beginning after his informal adoption and continuing to the present day. His rap sheet dates back to 2003 and includes drug possession, retail theft, violating a restraining order and other petty crimes, some of which landed him in jail. The father of four was in a Los Angeles court earlier this week on charges of running an illegal cannabis business and possessing brass knuckles, which may be why he surfaced after nearly a decade of silence. Now that James’ dad—er, play parent—has a new, more high-profile job, James knew his invisibility cloak is no longer a match for journalists and motivated social media warriors.
Despite his legal troubles, James, now 40, praised his “adoptive” family. “I always felt loved like I was a part of their family,” he told the Daily Mail. “If the Johnsons hadn’t taken me in as a teenager, my life would look very different today. I would probably be in prison or I might not have made it at all.”
Blink. Color us confused—and suspicious.
Kendra Lee is a writer based outside Washington, D.C.