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Danny Ray Johnson (October 18, 1960 – December 13, 2017) was a religious leader and US politician whose many extravagant lifetime claims were refuted in an exposé released two days before his suicide. Married twice with five children, Johnson was originally from Louisiana, but had settled in Kentucky's Louisville metropolitan area by the 1980s. Throughout his life, Johnson claimed to have been involved with many prominent Americans and in many important US events, however evidence would later come to light disputing most of these claims.

Dan Johnson
Bust photo of a blond-haired Caucasoid man wearing a white collared shirt and yellow tie; he is smiling and looking into the camera.
Danny Ray Johnson

(1960-10-18)October 18, 1960
DiedDec. 13, 2017 (2017-12-14) (aged 57)
Cause of deathSuicide by gun
Resting placeMount Washington, KY, US
Alma materBastrop High School (1979)
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Tylia Harris (divorced)
Rebecca Wilson (m. 1987)
  • Jerry Johnson (father)
  • Charlene Johnson (mother)
Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
from the 49th district
In office
January 2, 2017 (2017-01-02) – December 13, 2017 (2017-12-13)
Preceded byLinda H. Belcher (2015–17)
Succeeded byLinda H. Belcher (2018–19)
Bishop Dan Johnson

After becoming involved with Christianity in his youth, Johnson traveled with missionaries in Tennessee and South America before founding a controversial Louisville-area church in the late 1970s—Heart of Fire Church. With Johnson as its "bishop", Heart of Fire eschewed the trappings of traditional Christian churches, and instead at times featured toplessness, cigarette-smoking, underage drinking, anti-Islamism, and a tattoo parlor. The victim of arson in 2000, the church was rebuilt after Johnson was sued by his insurance provider.

It was the 2010s when Johnson became politically active, and despite a controversial campaign that included his own party leadership asking for his withdrawal, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives from the 49th District. After 11 months and nine days in office, an exposé by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting was publicly released; it included many refutations of Johnson's self-biography, as well as details about a 2013 child sexual abuse allegation. After denying the accusations of his alleged victim, Johnson committed suicide by gun on December 13, 2017.

Personal lifeEdit

On October 18, 1960, Danny Ray Johnson was born to Jerry J. and Charlene Blocker Johnson in Bastrop, Louisiana; he was the middle child between sisters Teresa (older) and Rita (younger).[1] Johnson graduated from Bastrop High School in 1979,[2] and left home at 17-years-old. By his early 20s, Johnson already had a child, been divorced from his first wife—Tylia Harris, and filed for bankruptcy in Louisiana.[1] Per his 1985 Jefferson County Police Department arrest record, Johnson stood at 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) and weighed 170 pounds (77 kg).[3] Johnson married his second wife, Rebecca Wilson (born (1961-08-17)August 17, 1961), in Jefferson County, Kentucky on February 14, 1987.[1] By 2017, Johnson resided in Mount Washington, Kentucky[4] and had five children. Johnson was known for his hate speech, Facebook posts, "and general derision for African-Americans and Muslims."[2]


According to Johnson's Kentucky House of Representatives profile, he was a Republican, a Kentucky Colonel, and a member of the National Rifle Association of Kentucky.[5]


On October 18, 1985, police in Louisville, Kentucky caught two people with Johnson's 1982 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in Cox Park, by the Ohio River (38°17′05″N 85°41′28″W / 38.284650°N 85.691225°W / 38.284650; -85.691225). The interior and exterior of the car had been covered in gasoline, and its rims & tires had been removed. Under interrogation, the suspects told police that Johnson had given them the keys, paid them US$200 (equivalent to $465.9 in 2018), told them to keep the rims and tires, and wanted the car torched while he was celebrating his birthday with ministry co-workers. When brought in that same day, Johnson claimed the vehicle had been stolen, and signed a police report to that effect; after investigators Mirandized the preacher and told him of the confessors, Johnson admitted to paying the arsonists as part of an insurance fraud scheme—the 25-year-old owned over $10,000 (equivalent to about $23,000 in 2018) on the Cadillac, which itself needed thousands in repairs. Johnson was indicted for felonious "complicity to commit arson" and a misdemeanor of filing a false police report; after pleading not-guilty and completing a six-month diversion program, the charges were dismissed in February 1987. In later years, Johnson would say of the incident: "When the car came up missing, I didn't know what happened to the car. It was vandalized."[2]

To Johnson's claim of having been the "White House Chaplain" to Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, an expert in the field confirmed that no such position exists; all three presidential libraries also confirmed "find[ing] no connection between Johnson and the White House." The Rev. Dr. Cecil Murray of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles refuted Johnson's claim of setting up safe zones in that city during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, not only by virtue of not having seen the "golden-haired preacher from Kentucky" among the rioting people of color, but also because there were no "safe zones" during the six-day incident.[2]

Johnson regularly told of how he rushed to Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks, created an impromptu morgue, and administered last rites to victims for two weeks. Storm Swain, a professor of theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia who authored a book on chaplains at Ground Zero, invalidated every aspect of Johnson's September-11 claims. In 2017, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York knew nobody who remembered Johnson.[2] Johnson's 2016 & 2017 financial disclosures listed New York workers' compensation as his only source of income.[6][4]

Johnson has claimed, at times under oath, to hold a Doctor of Theology, a Doctor of Philosophy,[5] and a Doctor of Divinity, that last from Kingsway University and Theological Seminary in Des Moines, Iowa; Kingsway confirmed that Johnson studied there, but did not graduate. In 2016 election campaign, Johnson claimed that Ted Nugent had endorsed his election during a rally at Bowman Field; spokeswomen for the musician and airport both had no record of this.[2]


Johnson has pointed to a childhood miracle as the incident that spurred his religiosity. After a childhood accident with a BB gun, Johnson was blinded in one or both of his eyes; his parents took him to a physician. Johnson would later say that he was seven years old when his blindness was miraculously cured. During his adolescence, Johnson attended the Swartz First Assembly of God Church in Monroe, Louisiana; Pastor Gerald Lewis recalls that Johnson, to whom he was a father figure and mentor, stopped attending church without warning or explanation.[2] After graduating high school at age 17, Johnson left Bastrop to work with the McKeithens—a Christian missions group based out of Nashville, Tennessee—for two years.[1]

When Dr. David Fischer was pastor of the Living Waters Church in Pasadena, California, he wrote a letter supporting alleged miracles performed by Johnson while the latter man was on a short-term mission to South America; Fischer said in his June 1991 correspondence that Johnson had cured a Venezuelan man of deafness and resurrected a Colombian man: "He spoke to death and commanded it to leave."[2]

Heart of Fire ChurchEdit

Heart of Fire Church
Location5101 Bardstown Road
Bullitt County, Kentucky
CountryUnited States
WebsiteOfficial website
Founded1977 (1977)
Past bishop(s)Dan Johnson
Pastor(s)Rebecca Johnson

According to the church's own website, Johnson founded Heart of Fire Church in 1977,[7] at 5101 Bardstown Road,[8] styling himself as its bishop.[7]

Over its lifetime, Heart of Fire has drawn criticism from locals, civilian and law-enforcement alike. Johnson frequently proselytized for political candidates (e.g. Donald Trump) from his pulpit, violating the conditions of Heart of Fire's tax-exempt status. Racism, toplessness, cigarette-smoking, underage drinking, anti-Islamism, and a tattoo parlor were all to be found in Johnson's Heart of Fire Church throughout the years. Thrice in six years, the church was cited for selling alcoholic drinks without a license; after a 2009 raid by the Kentucky Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), Johnson was fined $250 (equivalent to $291.96 in 2018) despite attempting to convince Judge Sheila Collins that the beer that had been hidden from ABC agents was for communion rites.[2]

After Dan Johnson committed suicide in 2017, his wife Rebecca took over as pastor.[9]


In mid-2000, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company showed the non-denominational Heart of Fire Church was bankrupt: loans far exceeded the property's value, any potential sale, and the church's potential to ever settle. The church and Johnsons were also in financial straits with "dozens of bounced checks and credit card debts". Heart of Fire secretary and parishioner Michelle Cook explained how Johnson committed insurance fraud against Brotherhood Mutual to make money for himself.[2]

On June 12, 2000, Heart of Fire on Bardstown Road was set afire. When a witness saw a "white, late-model Cadillac pulling out from behind the church with no lights on [whose] driver was a white guy who might have had blond hair", the blond, 1995 White-Cadillac-owning Johnson instead blamed the Ku Klux Klan, saying the hate group had threatened the church. No charges were ever filed in the arson.[2] The losses were estimated at $1–1.75 million (equivalent to about $1.45–2.55M in 2018).[10] Brotherhood Mutual sued Heart of Fire, saying that the church had been negligent in light of the alleged threats; both parties settled and the church was rebuilt.[2]


In the 1990s, the Clinton administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began offering loan guarantees to rebuild black churches that were victims of arson. In 2003, Heart of Fire received the third-largest of these federal loans for $1.5 million (equivalent to about $2M in 2018); the church used the money to buy the chancel it was leasing, and build a new fellowship hall-cum-bar. In 2019, Clinton-era HUD secretary Henry Cisneros described Heart of Fire's purchase and construction as not "meet[ing] the criteria that we originally had set." Less than a month after securing the guaranteed loan, and for the next 14 years, Johnson failed to have the loan forgiven; in 2009, the US federal government obtained the mortgage for Heart of Fire. In February 2019, HUD secured a court order of sale for the church—valued at $634,000[9]—as the non-profit was more than $2.4M in debt to the national government. Heart of Fire was scheduled to hold a May 20, 2018 auction ("antiques, appliances, furniture, Harley Davidson parts and commercial kitchen equipment"), the purpose of which was described to WDRB by Pastor Rebecca Johnson as:[11]

In 2000 our church was arsoned. It was considered a" hate crime". In 2001We started the process of filing under the Law passed by Pres Bill Clinton to restore arsoned churches. We received our first correspondence on Sept 5, 2001 from Hudd. […] Our church took up the restoration project in 2003 […]. We were initially supposed to get Grant as all other churches that filed did. They ran out of Grant money and said do it as a gaurnteed loan, Hud official in DC said we will get other funding. That never happened. This has been in court for years trying to get funds promised. Things were looking good till Dan died. They said he was dead on paper so none of the testimony counts from Dan or DC Hudd. So I ve signed with a Realtor and we're selling the property to pay the debt and relocate. […] We have an auction Sunday for items not needed in order to pay off part of construction loan put on my home. [sic]

Rape allegationEdit

At age eight, Maranda Richmond first attended Heart of Fire Church in 2004 with her father. She became friends with the Johnson children and considered Dan Johnson "a second dad." Richmond attended parties and sleepovers that were held at the church building as well as the Johnsons' house; occasionally alcoholic drinks were provided to the children by Johnson and other adults.[2] Richmond told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) that she was raped by Johnson 15 days after her 17th birthday (the night of December 31, 2012);[12] she had been staying with his daughter in the apartment under the fellowship hall. The following day, the two exchanged messages over Facebook:[2]

[Johnson's daughter] Sarah said I was mean to Bo You and Her by telling you all to go to bed so sorry don’t remember I was told we all got drugged at TK’s anyway so sorry if I sounded mean, you know you are one of my favorites, love you sorry! Boaz did Great Sunday ! Your future Husband !

— Johnson

What you did was beyond mean, it was evil. Drugged or not, I think you know what happened that night and that’s why you’re sending this message. I never thought something like that would happen to me, especially by someone like you. I looked at you as a Dad, but now I sincerely hope I don’t see you again, but I might try to maintain a relationship with your kids. And there is no point in responding to this message either because I don’t want to talk about it ever again.

— Richmond

Richmond and her parents went to the police in April 2013, but after failing to secretly record a confession from Johnson, the case was closed with no charges filed. Richmond saw a mental health professional the summer of 2013, and presented her "psychosocial assessment, notes and progress reports" to the KyCIR in 2017; the onetime honors student and drum major at Louisville Male High School had exhibited symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. After the KyCIR began investigating Johnson, the Louisville Metro Police Department reached out to Richmond and reopened the case at her request, but had made no actions as of five months later.[2]


It was the 2010s when Johnson began to zealously express right-wing and libertarian political sentiments.[2]

2016 electionsEdit

Johnson ran in the Republican Party's primary for the 49th District's seat (representing part of Bullitt County, Kentucky) in the Kentucky House of Representatives; his political campaign mirrored his personal ideals of "supporting guns, liberty and pro-life causes." During a political rally at Heart of Fire, the church's billboard read, "Pray To Make America Great Again". Jennifer Stepp (a former Heart of Fire congregant) originally won the Republican primary, but was found by a judge to have been ineligible to run. The Bullitt County Republican Party executive committee held a secret ballot and selected Johnson as their replacement candidate.[2]

In the general election for the 49th District's seat, Johnson faced the incumbent Democrat, Linda H. Belcher (born 1947 or 1948). Belcher had held the 49th seat for three terms after replacing her husband in 2008. Johnson eschewed their public debate in favor of making online accusations against Belcher, alleging that she ("lyin’ Linda") had—among other accusations—instigated death threats and bomb threats, doxxed the Johnsons, and colluded with Barack Obama ("the Islam’crat") and Hillary Clinton to send "Chicago thugs" after Johnson's family. Belcher refuted Johnson's claims, but otherwise ran a subdued campaign, focusing instead on her record as representative. Also during his campaign, Johnson made several Facebook posts that racially-targeted the family of Barack Obama, and then refused to withdraw from the race even at the request of the Republican Party of Kentucky.[2]

On Election Day 2016, Republican Donald Trump received almost 75% of Bullitt County's votes for president, while Johnson defeated Belcher by 156 votes.[13]

2016, general, Kentucky state representative, 49th District[13]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Dan Johnson 9,342 50.42
Democratic Linda H. Belcher 9,186 49.58


Johnson began his tenure in the Kentucky House on January 2, 2017.[14]

Despite its unconstitutionality, Johnson filed a bill (Abolition of Abortion in Kentucky Act) to make abortions performed in Kentucky illegal. Physicians who performed abortions under the proposed law could be charged with "fetal homicide — a felony that can be charged as a capital offense but isn't eligible for the death penalty."[15] Johnson also filed bills concerning freedom of speech. One such proposal would have forced public universities to allow the promulgation of speech that is "offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrongheaded." The other would require all internet-accessible computers sold in Kentucky to come pre-installed with software to block "obscenity, child pornography, revenge pornography, and prostitution."[16]

As of November 14, 2017, he was a member of the House's committees on: State Government; Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology; Transportation; Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection; Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs; and Tourism and Outdoor Recreation.[5]

Exposé and suicideEdit

[In response to Governor Bevin's condemnation of Kentucky state employees who settled sexual abuse allegations.]
I'm totally against anything that has to do with abuse, however there are no perfect people. I believe the governor's statements are completely politically motivated and he's acting like a spoiled brat because he did not get his way

Dan Johnson, November 2017[17]

On December 11, 2017, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR) released an exposé on Johnson ("The Pope's Long Con"), the culmination of over seven months of investigations and 100+ interviews. Both Democrats and Republicans called for his resignation from the Kentucky General Assembly. The Republican governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, called the representative "an embarrassment", while the Democratic mayor of Louisville Metro initiated a review of Richmond's 2013 allegations.[2]

Johnson held a news conference two days later at Heart of Fire Church where he denied the accusations of sexual assault,[18] instead saying that Richmond's claims stemmed from their political differences.[19] That afternoon at 4:59 p.m., Johnson posted a rambling missive to Facebook.[20] After pinging the assemblyman's phone, police found his body on a bank of the Salt River in Mount Washington, Kentucky; he had shot himself in the head[21] with a .40-caliber pistol.[22] The time of death was recorded as 8:20 p.m. The next day, Rebecca Johnson told reporters, "These high-tech lynchings based on lies and half-truths can’t be allowed to win the day"; on Today, she blamed the KyCIR ("that little greasy reporter") for her husband's death.[2] Dan Johnson was interred in a Mount Washington cemetery on December 18, 2017.[23]

Nominated by the Bullitt County Republican Party, Rebecca Johnson sought election to her husband's position as state representative from the 49th District.[24] Of the 4947 votes cast in the February 20, 2018 special election, Democrat Linda H. Belcher received 68.45 percent;[25] Johnson blamed electoral fraud for her loss. By February 2018, both women were registered for the 2018 general election,[26] though Johnson withdrew the following month, saying, "I feel my time can be best served with my family and my ministry".[9]

2018, special, Kentucky state representative, 49th District[25]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Linda H. Belcher 3,386 68.45
Republican Rebecca Johnson 1,561 31.55


  1. ^ a b c d Johnson, Dan (August 3, 2000). "Danny Johnson sworn statement - 8/3/2000 - in church fire insurance suit" (Interview). Interviewed by Bernard Leachman. Louisville, Kentucky: Briditte Benedetti. pp. 1–167. Archived from the original on October 24, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Dunlop, R.G.; Ryan, Jacob (December 11, 2017), The Pope's Long Con, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, archived from the original on May 26, 2019, retrieved May 30, 2019, A Kentucky preacher-turned-politician's web of lies
  3. ^ Skaggs, K.; Baker, William R. (October 21, 1985), Jefferson Co. Police documents re: 1985 alleged car arson (Form), Jefferson County Police Department, pp. 1–36, archived from the original on June 24, 2018, retrieved June 1, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Dan (January 9, 2017), Statement of Financial Disclosure (KRS 6.787) (Form), Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission (published January 20, 2017), pp. 1–4, archived from the original on June 1, 2019, retrieved June 1, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  5. ^ a b c "House District 49". Kentucky House of Representatives. Archived from the original on November 14, 2017. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  6. ^ Johnson, Dan (September 10, 2016), Statement of Financial Disclosure (KRS 6.787) (Form), Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission (published September 12, 2016), pp. 1–4, archived from the original on June 1, 2019, retrieved June 1, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  7. ^ a b "Who is Bishop Danny Johnson?". Heart of Fire Church. 2008. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  8. ^ "Church founded by late Rep. Dan Johnson fending off foreclosure". Louisville, Kentucky: WDRB. March 20, 2018. Archived from the original on July 6, 2019. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Dunlop, R.G.; Ryan, Jacob (March 21, 2018), The Government Rebuilt Dan Johnson's Church. Now It's Foreclosing On It, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, archived from the original on June 4, 2019, retrieved July 5, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  10. ^ Richardson, J. (June 16, 2000), Jefferson County Police investigative report on 2000 arson at Heart of Fire Church (Form), Jefferson County Police Department, pp. 1–10, archived from the original on June 24, 2018, retrieved June 1, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  11. ^ "Heart of Fire Church led by former Bullitt County lawmaker auctioning items". Louisville, Kentucky: WDRB. May 18, 2018. Archived from the original on July 6, 2019. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  12. ^ Incident/Information Report: Crimes Against Children Unit (Form), Louisville Metro Police Department, April 24, 2013, pp. 10–11, archived from the original on May 31, 2019, retrieved June 3, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  13. ^ a b Cheves, John (November 18, 2016). "How did a candidate disowned by his own party for racism end up winning?". Lexington Herald-Leader. Shepherdsville, Kentucky. ISSN 0745-4260. Archived from the original on April 28, 2018. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  14. ^ Desrochers, Daniel (December 11, 2017). "Kentucky Republicans call for resignation of GOP lawmaker accused of molesting girl". Lexington Herald-Leader. ISSN 0745-4260. Archived from the original on March 30, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  15. ^ Barton, Ryland (October 9, 2017). "Lawmaker Proposes Bill To Ban Abortion In Kentucky". WFPL. Archived from the original on May 10, 2018. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  16. ^ Barton, Ryland (December 9, 2017). "Lawmaker Wants Porn Blockers On All Computers Sold In Kentucky". WFPL. Archived from the original on May 30, 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  17. ^ Novelly, Thomas (November 4, 2017). "Calls for resignations in sexual harassment scandal draw praise from both parties". The Courier-Journal. Archived from the original on June 3, 2019. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  18. ^ Mosbergen, Dominique (December 14, 2017). "Kentucky Lawmaker And Self-Styled 'Pope' Kills Himself Amid Sexual Assault Investigation". HuffPost. Archived from the original on June 4, 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019. Rep. Dan Johnson had been accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old friend of his daughter in 2012.
  19. ^ Bailey, Phillip M.; Novelly, Thomas (December 12, 2017). "Kentucky Rep. Dan Johnson won't resign, says sexual abuse allegations are politically motivated". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  20. ^ Astor, Maggie (December 13, 2017). "Kentucky Lawmaker Kills Himself Amid Sexual Assault Allegations, Officials Say". The New York Times. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. ISSN 1553-8095. OCLC 1645522. Archived from the original on February 8, 2018. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  21. ^ "Kentucky State Rep. Dan Johnson dies of self-inflicted gunshot wound in Mt. Washington". Louisville, Kentucky: WDRB. December 13, 2017. Archived from the original on May 29, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  22. ^ Dalton, Meg (January 4, 2018). "'Any journalist's nightmare': The Pope's Long Con unraveled a web of lies, with tragic consequences". Columbia Journalism Review. ISSN 0010-194X. Archived from the original on December 23, 2018. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  23. ^ Barton, Ryland (December 19, 2017), Family, Friends Gather At Heart Of Fire Church To Remember Rep. Dan Johnson, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, archived from the original on August 10, 2018, retrieved July 6, 2019 Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  24. ^ Ryan, Jacob (December 28, 2017). Bullitt County GOP Picks Rebecca Johnson To Run For House Seat. Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Archived from the original on August 25, 2018. Retrieved June 4, 2019. Invalid |script-title=: missing prefix (help)
  25. ^ a b "Certified Election Results (SBE approved 2-27-2018)" (PDF). State Board of Elections. Kentucky. February 27, 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on January 1, 2019. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  26. ^ "Linda Belcher Reclaims Seat In Bullitt County Special Election". WFPL. February 20, 2018. Archived from the original on February 26, 2018. Retrieved June 4, 2019.