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BREAKING NEWS

Alt-right activist who met with congressmen posted about black 'violence gene'

Image: Phil Roe, Andy Harris
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Matt Fuller HuffPost
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An alt-right activist who met with two Republican congressmen to discuss "DNA" and "genetics" posted on Facebook that he believes Muslims are "genetically different in their propensity for violence or rape" and linked to stories about how African-Americans "possessed a 'violence' gene."

Chuck Johnson met with Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland and Phil Roe of Tennessee on Thursday. After a Huffington Post reporter tweeted a photo of Johnson with the two congressmen, and the photo attracted media attention because of Johnson's far-right views, Roe released a statement saying he and Harris had met with Johnson because he was representing a company advocating for "increasing the number of sequenced genomes for research."

Spokespersons for Harris and Roe both confirmed to NBC News that they had met with Johnson Thursday, and a spokesperson for Roe said they had discussed "DNA" and "genetics." Johnson and Harris would not identify the company when asked. Roe's office said it did not know the identify of the company.

Johnson is best known for his conspiracy-filled right-wing news websites, connections to white supremacists, and downplaying the severity of the Holocaust in an online forum. He declined to comment on his new endeavor or the meeting, telling NBC News in a series of text messages, "I don't discuss my work with people who don't understand it."

Rep. Harris was "unaware" of Johnson's previous associations, according to a statement provided to NBC News by a spokesperson. "Of course I disavow and condemn white supremacy and anti-semitism," said Harris.

Genetics in the context of race was not discussed in the meeting, according to Harris's statement.

Rep. Roe similarly distanced himself from Johnson. A spokesperson for Roe told NBC News the congressman was unaware of Johnson's "abhorrent" statements surrounding race and they were not brought up during the meeting, which lasted 10 minutes.

Both congressmen had voted to condemn racist remarks about white supremacy made by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one day prior.

Over the years, Johnson has shown a steady interest in DNA — both the genetic makeup of politicians and the links he draws between DNA, race, intelligence and predisposition for criminality.

In May 2017, Johnson shared a post with the headline "African Americans possess 'violence' gene, researchers find" from a fringe website. The article's author is anonymous, and anyone can post to the site. The previous year, Johnson linked to a news report about the assault of a white teen by black girls and wrote "They mean to exterminate us" above the link.

In February 2016, he implored people to "Google the MAO-A gene." The Google search results for "MAO-A" often feature debunked articles attempting to tie race to violence.

"It's the genetics," he wrote.

Earlier in that same month, Johnson posted to Facebook, "Asians are smarter. It's in the genes, man."

Johnson has also attempted to link the genes of Muslims, who are members of a religion and not a specific ethnic group, to a genetic predisposition to violence.

"We don't want to talk about inbreeding and how it leads to mental illness in Muslim populations. It's too taboo," Johnson wrote on Dec. 4, 2015.

"We also don't talk about how they are genetically different in their propensity for violence or rape even though the empirical evidence is overwhelming."

Dr. Paige Harden, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin who focuses on antisocial behavior, told NBC News that Johnson's understanding of the MAO-A gene is "wrong on basically every level that it's possible to be wrong."

"Work (on the MAO-A gene) has now been largely discredited, because we now know that human behaviors are not influenced by single genes with large effects—they are influenced by lots and lots and lots—think thousands—of genetic variants, each of which has a tiny effect," said Harden. "Bottom line: MAO-A likely doesn't matter for aggression or antisocial behavior."

"I don't agree with everything I have posted on Facebook and I don't think anyone does," Johnson told NBC News. "Asking me to defend my views on Facebook is a little absurd."

"I defer to the best scientists in the field, like James Watson."

Watson, a 90-year-old Nobel prize-winner, widely known as one of the fathers of DNA, was recently stripped of his titles by the laboratory where he completed most of his research for "misuse of science to justify prejudice," including the belief that Africans are less intelligent than Europeans.

Johnson's spokesman, Ali Alexander, a conservative political operative, reached out to NBC News in subsequent texts, with a statement that read in part, "Charles has sought to make the world a better place, realizing that he participated in the escalation of toxic conversations online."

"Any attempt to lynch Charles over his intellectual and scientific pursuits on questions of race and our makeup seems not silly — but politically motivated."

Since the shuttering of his far-right conspiracy websites, GotNews and WeSearchr, Johnson has laid low, citing the alleged censorship of conservatives.

In June 2018, Johnson posted that he had "just met with about fifteen members of Congress today" and planned to "meet with a Cabinet member" about tech censorship.

In a Reddit "ask me anything" question-and-answer session in 2017, Johnson said he believed the "Allied bombings of Germany were a war crime" and that he agreed with a false theory "about Auschwitz and the gas chambers not being real."

"There were a number of sources that disputed the six million figure and I find myself in that camp reluctantly," he wrote in January 2017. "Of course you can't really discuss any of this stuff without being called a Holocaust denier which I am not."

In a text, Johnson told NBC News he made those comments as way to test the limits of Reddit's free speech and cited his charitable contributions to Jewish causes.