By Brian E. Muhammad, Anisah Muhammad and J.A. Salaam
Photo Caption: John Fitzgerald Johnson, also known as Grandmaster Jay, leads NFAC members on a march to Parc San Souci in downtown Lafayette, La., Oct. 3. NFAC, a Black militia group based in Atlanta, marched in Lafayette in response to threats made by U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins on Facebook regarding protests in Lafayette following the death of Trayford Pellerin, a 31-year-old Black man, who was fatally shot by Lafayette police responding to a reported disturbance involving a man with a knife at a north Lafayette gas station on Aug. 21. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos
The leader of the Not F—king Around Coalition (NFAC), an all-Black militia that has been in the media over the last year was recently arrested on federal charges and later charged with state crimes by authorities in Kentucky. He is accused of pointing a weapon at federal agents and city police officers.
Activists and analysts say the charges reflect longtime and ever-present attempts to control and target Blacks seen as “militant” and who claim the constitutional right to bear arms.
John F. Johnson, also known as Grandmaster Jay, was charged Dec. 3 with assaulting and aiming an assault weapon at federal task force officers for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Secret Service, and Louisville Metro Police Department officers in early September.
As WAVE-TV 3 in Louisville reported Dec. 4, Mr. Johnson faces an additional five state counts of wanton endangerment for allegedly pointing an AR-15-style rifle at LMPD officers on Sept. 4, the day the NFAC was protesting in downtown Louisville. The documents allege Mr. Johnson pointed the gun at officers positioned on a building rooftop. Authorities claim Mr. Johnson was caught on surveillance video.
“The complaining witness is listed as an LMPD officer. Johnson is set to be arraigned on Dec. 18 at 1 p.m. in Jefferson County,” the news station reported.
Russell Coleman, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky announced the federal charges. Mr. Johnson, 57, was arrested at his West Chester, Ohio home, later booked into a Louisville facility and appeared before a federal judge.
Lori “Chaka” White, chief of staff for the St. Louis Chapter of the New Black Panther Party, rejects the charges and law enforcement’s double standard.
“I stood in the street with 15 heavily armed White men standing in front of me, fingers on triggers, the very same day they claimed Grandmaster Jay pointed a firearm at agents, not one LMPD officer was present,” said Ms. White.
“LMPD was aware of all groups that would be present that weekend. They had a heavy presence where the NFAC was but had no officers on the ground in Jefferson Square. I know because I was there,” she continued.
“A defense wall was built in front of me by the angry patriots, so let’s focus on them (law enforcement) focusing on one group, the NFAC. If I wasn’t there, I would have thought that was the only group there that weekend.”
“Are we the example? Yes. This is their way of telling us ‘y’all can play, but we play harder,’ ” said Ms. White. “They will do whatever they can do to make us understand they are in control. Why wait 90 days to file criminal charges? she asked.
“When they feel a Black man has power, they will seek to break him. I support him (NFAC leader Johnson). I’m for the work; I don’t know many people that can pull as many people together as he did to fight for Black Power.”
Mr. Johnson was also arrested a day before the anniversary of the police killing of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in their Chicago apartment in 1969.
“I think it’s fitting that this state-sponsored terrorism, police-sponsored terrorism, on behalf of the United States Attorney has been deployed against our brother on the anniversary of the state killing of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton,” said Dr. Greg Carr, chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University.
Historically, he said, police have been an extension of White nationalist interests and if they charge Mr. Johnson with assault, they should also charge individuals with White militia groups.
“If that’s going to be his charge, they’re going to have to round up every one of the White militia that have been deployed all over this country in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd,” he said. “But we know that’s not going to happen, because this is a surgical, targeted attempt to repress Black struggle, Black organization, Black liberation organizations and Black movement.”
He explained that the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, does not apply to Black people and that White militia can act out that right successfully because of the historical role played first as paddy rollers during slavery and now as extensions of law enforcement.
“Black people who avail themselves of the ostensible Second Amendment rights, whether it be Robert Williams and Mabel Williams and the Monroe, N.C., chapter of the NAACP as they chronicled in his book ‘Negroes with Guns’ in the 1960s. Whether it’s the Black Panther Party going to Sacramento, the state capitol of California, with their weapons, as was their right by federal and state law in California, or whether it be those who were armed, protecting themselves in NFAC with brother Johnson, Grandmaster Jay,” Dr. Carr said. “Those rights have to be viewed through the lens of race, which means they have to be viewed through the lens of a diminished right.”
He said he believes the arrest is a coordinated attempt by Louisville and the state of Kentucky to intimidate and send a message and that the charges are an early test for the Biden-Harris administration.
“They need to weigh in and withdraw these charges, and they’re able to do that once this administration assumes the presidency Jan. 20,” he said.
NFAC is one of a number of U.S. organizations that believe in carrying arms for self- defense. Historically, such Black groups have organized to protect Black Lives. The Deacons for Defense and Justice organized in Jonesboro, La., in 1964 to defend civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan.
The organization was made up of Black veterans who believed in armed self-defense. Two dozen chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Deacons for Defense provided protection for people participating in protest marches in Mississippi in 1966, including the March Against Fear.
The Black Panther Party for Self Defense founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland in 1966 also invoked the constitutional right to carry arms for self and community. They also believed in social justice and revolution against oppression and U.S. hegemony. Their movement spread nationally and internationally.
NFAC includes members who are ex-military personnel, Mr. Johnson told The Final Call in an exclusive interview earlier this year.
“It’s now time,” he said, arguing a combination of forces arrayed against the Black community aid and abet a system designed for Black victimization. “We’ve reached a tipping point where we require a stronger answer other than rhetoric … speeches … half-hearted agreements … that they never follow through on,” he said.
Some see Mr. Johnson’s arrest as part of the history of U.S. government surveillance and suppressive harassment of Black organizations in the late 1960s to the mid-1970s with its Counter-Intelligence Program or COINTELPRO. Leaders and activists were imprisoned and killed.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what this is,” said Dr. Ricky Jones, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Kentucky. “If people felt that brother Johnson, Grandmaster Jay, really threatened these officers in September, they wouldn’t of waited until December to bring him to account,” he said.
“Not only would he have been arrested; he probably would have been shot,” said Dr. Jones.
An example is being made of Mr. Johnson, and the White power structure is sending a message, said the Pan African Studies scholar. “The message is pretty clear,” he said. “This is retribution. It’s retrenchment. It’s time to get these uppity negros back in line.” Otherwise Whites fear there will be gun carrying Black people all over the country, added Dr. Jones.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Johnson “forcibly assaulted, resisted, opposed, impeded, intimidated, and interfered” with federally deputized task force officers.
Militias have been part of the national discourse, especially with the rise of White militias and gun rights movements exerting their rights to bear arms. However, racism in respecting or acknowledging 2nd Amendment rights for Blacks has always been problematic.
Federal law enforcement agencies and President Trump have been criticized for ignoring White supremacists while Mr. Trump has characterized the Black Lives Matter movement as “terrorists,” and others have been branded “Black Identity Extremists.”
“My problem is nobody questions when White people organize themselves and carry arms. When White people decide that they want to organize militias … no one says a thing,” Mr. Johnson told The Final Call. “But the moment that the Black man decides to do it everyone wants to examine it.”
If convicted on the charges, Mr. Johnson faces 20 years in prison.