"Sexual anarchy": New House Speaker Mike Johnson showcases the incel-ization of the modern GOP

The Louisiana congressman's career has been centered around his bitter obsession with other people's sex lives

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 30, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ahead of his sudden ascension to House speaker late last week, the media had little time to vet Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., thoroughly. And because he sucks in so many ways, it's been hard for his critics to settle on one of his many evil inclinations to focus on. He's a Christian nationalist. He's an election denier. He wants to destroy Medicare and Social Security. He's a fan of neo-Nazi conspiracy theories. As Brian Beutler of Off Message writes, "typecasting an opposition leader" may be tedious, but it's politically necessary. Democrats have benefited from the fact that the most famous Republican villains have one standout trait that defines their personality: Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is a pugnacious bully. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia is a loudmouthed Karen. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California is a spineless suck-up.

But so far, no single narrative about Johnson has emerged. Which of the many flavors of "right-wing radical" is best to focus on?  As I offered my newsletter Friday, what stands out to me about Johnson — and I suspect will be compelling to most people — is what a sinister little creep he is. The man gives off strong incel energy, and his elevation really showcases how much the politics of bitter sexual obsession have come to dominate the Republican Party. 

Journalists and Democratic researchers have been carefully compiling a couple decades worth of quotes from Johnson, who flat-out rejects the First Amendment prohibition against government-imposed religion. Instead, he falsely claims the Founders wished to impose his deeply fundamentalist faith on the public on the grounds that we "depend upon religious and moral virtue" to "prevent political corruption and the abuse of power." 

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Johnson is lying, of course, as demonstrated by the fact that he helped lead the effort to steal an election for Donald Trump, which was a corrupt abuse of power on behalf of a man lacking all moral virtue. As usual with these right-wing freaks, the Jesus chatter is just a thin cover for the real fixation: Fury at other people for having all the sexy fun times. 

His elevation really showcases how much the politics of bitter sexual obsession have come to dominate the Republican Party.

Johnson warned that legalized same-sex marriage is "the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic." (If only it were that exciting! Most same-sex marriages, like most straight ones, are harbingers of binge-watching TV from a well-worn couch.) He's repeatedly described homosexuality with terms like "sinful," "destructive," "deviant," and "bizarre." He, like all these bigots, compared same-sex marriage to the right of "a person to marry his pet." 

No, he has not backed off these positions. When asked on Fox News about it this week, he said, "Go pick up a Bible." In truth, the Bible is not nearly as interested in policing people's sex lives as Johnson is. (Not that it should matter, since this is not a theocracy.) This level of outrage about the acrobatic sex lives he imagines other people have draws more on the incel-style fantasy than anything in scripture. 

In true incel fashion, Johnson is haunted by all the erotic adventures he imagines the straight ladies of America are having when he's not in the room. When New York's Irin Carmon interviewed him in 2015, he blamed legal abortion for school shootings, saying, "When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable, then you do wind up with school shooters.” Nor was that a one-off. In 2016, he gave a speech in which he blamed feminism, liberal divorce laws, and the "sexual revolution" for mass shootings. 

In this view, Johnson agrees with mass shooters, who claim they were driven to it because of women's sexual freedom. In the year before Johnson blamed male violence on women's sexuality, the incel-identified killer Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree in California, claiming he was forced to do it to "punish" the "sluts" who had sex with other men while he remained a virgin. Since then, there's been a rash of violent incidents, some quite deadly, conducted by men who employ the same logic: Female sexual autonomy offends them, and must be punished with pain and death. 

As David Futrelle, who has tracked incel forums at his blog We Hunted the Mammoth, has detailed over the years, at the center of incel ideology is a simple claim: That women cannot be trusted with the decision of who to be in a sexual relationship with. If women are allowed freedom of choice in their romantic endeavors, incel thinking posits, they'll be too preoccupied with "sleeping around" to settle down. And that women's gallivanting about leaves men, especially "beta males," lonely and frustrated. So women have to be locked down for the good of "society," by which they mean men. Or really, just those men who fear they can't get a wife without coercion.

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Johnson has similar views. He wants to lock women down into unhappy marriages with abortion bans. And, in a twist that incels will love, he wants to throw away the key. He's long been outspoken against "no-fault" divorce, which allows someone to leave simply because they no longer want to be married. These laws don't just benefit those in garden-variety unhappy marriages. By lifting the burden to "prove" their suffering in court, abused women have an easier time escaping. That's why liberalized divorce laws led to a 20% decline in female suicides

Johnson's own marriage was licensed under the "covenant" law in Louisiana. Couples who get married with that license have almost no right to divorce, and can only do so if they prove adultery or physical abuse. Religious conservatives passed covenant marriage laws in the 90s with much fanfare, but almost no couples opted in. And it's no wonder. "If I don't trap you, I know you'll leave" isn't really the marriage proposal of romantic dreams. But it is, of course, the guiding view of incels when it comes to relationships. 

Johnson is such a weirdo about sex that it might be hard to get people to believe it. Luckily, there are a lot of clips showing the creepy obsession with controlling women that really drives home the incel vibe Johnson is throwing. Such as "joking" that his wife spends all her time "on her knees."

Or how he talks about women like he's a villain in "The Handmaid's Tale." 

There are still many in the punditry who are confused about why Christian conservatives like Johnson glommed onto Trump, a thrice-married chronic adulterer who touches the Bible like it will burn him. But, of course, it was never really about Jesus. What Trump and the men who worship him share is anger that any woman would have the right to say no: To a date, to a marriage, to having your baby. It's why Trump has a long history of sexual assault. And it's why men like Johnson embrace a "religion" that is hyper-focused on caging women like they're farm animals. And why they resent gay people for their perceived sexual adventures. It's a coalition of men who fear, often for very good reason, that their repulsive personalities exclude them from a world where sexual expression requires consent. Johnson's now the most powerful Republican in Congress. The incel-ization of the GOP is complete. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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