Kevin J. Johnston and The Tragedy of Kevin J. Johnston
A bar of soap, several Twitch suspensions, and particularly bad “Bronchitis” season have made one thing for sure: Spring hasn’t been kind to Calgary’s loudest adopted mayoral candidate.
“The whole household’s sick here. Logan’s sick. Kevin’s sick. So yeah, we’re kind of just all in the dumps right now… But, it’s not Covid.” Derek Storie clarified during an April 23 live stream of The Kevin J. Johnston Show.
Storie, Logan Murphy, and Kevin J. Johnston himself run the Twitch-based live stream together from the home they currently share in Calgary. Johnston, the face of the show, is a prominent political activist and less-than-successful politician no stranger to the highs and lows of Canada’s modern far-right political movement. But although he’s not new to reactionary politics, Johnston’s particular brand of far-right fringe activism has seen a bit of renaissance in Canada over the last year as frustrations with government responses to Covid-19 continue to grow.
Johnston ended off March of 2021 by punching a man over a single bar of Irish Spring soap — which he stole — and attempting to “citizen’s arrest” the man he punched, only to see himself be arrested for assault. Then he fell for an April Fool’s article by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network about the incident involving a promise to provide “pool noodles and helmets to managers of grocery stores across Alberta”. Eventually, after over a year of denying Covid-19’s existence, Johnson and his housemates all fell ill to a contagious disease that sure looks like it might be Covid-19. But rather than seeing a doctor, he asked his supporters to send him their own medications. While still symptomatic, they became involved in a standoff with police at a church. To end off April, Johnston finally got a suspension from Twitch… twice.
These are all gaffes from within the span of one month’s time. And not for nothing, Johnston made himself the centre of these scandals and more all while being the (I want to say proud?) owner of a few racist coffee brands, a hate crime charge, a Joe Biden comic book, and 2.5 million dollars of legal debt.
Johnson’s career as a conditional outrage machine and shock-value generator has put him in and out of national media attention since 2017. Once the runner up for mayor of Mississauga in Peel’s 2018 election, Johnson’s performance as a mock politician was a debatably effective publicity stunt. Effective enough, at least, that he thought a similar campaign was worth running in Calgary three years later.
Since Covid-19 came to Canada, Kevin J. Johnson is usually introduced to Canadians fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with him as one of two things:
1. His mayoral campaign.
2. A figurehead in Canada’s anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement.
By the merits of celebrity status, a doomed mayoral campaign and success at becoming an anti-mask influencer aren’t particularly unique. Most major cities in Canada have single-issue mayoral bids from candidates who don’t have “real” chances of winning, and Canada’s pumped out plenty of successful anti-mask social media personalities. While Johnson’s following may be large, it’s not completely out of bounds for professional far-right shit disturbers in Canada.
What keeps Johnson two steps away from the limelight at all times is that he wears both hats with an uncanny ability to produce gaffes.
If he wasn’t also spreading racist rhetoric, dangerous medical takes, and quite possibly preventable diseases while doing all of this, one could almost be impressed at Kevin J. Johnson’s ability to command attention — intentional or otherwise.
But that’s not the case. Bigotry and dangerous medical misinformation are a core part of Johnston’s brand. He and his company have been crossing a bridge from already very problematic to potentially life-threatening over the last week as they spend their time spreading untested, untreated, and evidently contagious cases of “bronchitis” — scratch that — “pneumonia”, all around Calgary.
Since April 18, members of Kevin J. Johnston household have been exhibiting and describing a range of flu-like symptoms: fever; sweating; coughing; and eventually a lack of appetite on their live stream and on social media. Initially Johnston blamed his cough on “being dehydrated and shouting”, as seen in footage he recorded during a lively house party.
On Monday’s live stream, Johnston claimed that he since knew that he didn’t have bronchitis, but did have pneumonia, stating: “If Covid was a real thing, I would have rather had that. Trump, he was better in just two days. This has been five or six.” Johnston made it clear to his Twitch moderators to kick out any viewers talking about his condition and stated, “If you wanted to make stupid statements about the fact that I am contagious, or that I have Covid-19, you’re out. I’m blocking you. Don’t be stupid”. He would end up holding his throat to speak and using an inhaler throughout the stream before signing off his own show early.
Johnston’s particular messaging about Covid-19 usually downplays Covid-19’s impact or outright denies its existence. In an impassioned speech earlier this month, Johnston claimed that there was “absolutely zero evidence out there anywhere that we are in the middle of a pandemic.” Adding “I know, I literally wrote the book on it.” Johnston’s book is titled Masks are Bullshit: Stopping The Madness of Kung Flu. In its product description on Johnston’s website, Covid-19 is referred to as “the FLU”.
Claims that Covid-19 is fake are common among far-right personalities. ‘Aunt E Pho’, an anonymous antifascist activist, has been watching The Kevin J. Johnson Show and posting updates about potentially contagious exposures to Twitter. When asked if she believed that Johnston himself might believed his alleged pneumonia diagnosis she explained, “I think Kevin desperately wants to believe that he has pneumonia. I suspect he’s in an incredible state of cognitive dissonance, publicly denying that Covid exists while knowing that he’s never been this sick and that he’s suffering in a unique way with this illness… His public-facing persona demands that he doesn’t acknowledge Covid. I think he’d literally die before admitting to (contracting) Covid.”
The Fortress and The “Gestapo”
Last Friday, Derek Storie filmed himself at a food drive with Artur Pawlowski’s Street Church. Johnston had been in and out of attendance from in-person activism as his symptoms apparently kept him in bed for long hours. The next day, Storie and Johnston would both rush to Pawlowki’s Saturday service at the Cave of Adullam after hearing about police officers and Alberta health Services officials on scene.
Pastor Artur and his brother Dawid reached some notoriety earlier this year for trying to create a spiritual sequel to Charlottesville’s famous “Unite the Right” rally in Calgary. The brothers even used photographs from Unite The Right to promote their own. Attendees, including featured speaker Johnston, marched with tiki torches — an invocation of the white supremacist imagery made famous by Neo-nazis attending Unite The Right. The Pawlowskis have well documented histories of bigotry, most often towards the LGBTQ community. In a Facebook post last year, Artur claimed Covid-19 was “spread through homosexual acts”.
Artur Pawlowski’s infamous church service, held on Saturdays at The Cave of Adullam in Calgary (nicknamed ‘The Fortress’ by Pawlowski in Facebook posts) has been acting as a hot topic of discussion in North America’s celebrity far-right. Chris Sky, who appears in Storie’s videos with the street church and who’s spent time streaming with Johnston and the Pawlowkis this month, is a well known anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-gay, and anti-Jewish activist. Saccoccia has said that “Blacks lack the sophistication to make an advanced civilization” and that “the average Black has an IQ of high 70s to mid 80s, AKA mentally challenged”. He’s also quoted Mein Kampf in a positive manner and blamed a Jewish conspiracy for paedophilia and for the Holocaust, which he believes to be fake. Because of his semi-celebrity status of Canada’s biggest anti-mask influencer and his repeating gigs on both rebel News and Infowars, his reach is much larger than that of most of his associates in Canada’s far-right.
Service at The Cave of Adullam is repeatedly held with no masks or social distancing, a fact made clear by live streams recorded from inside the church. Police officers and Alberta Health services officials have been yelled at and physically blocked from entering on multiple occasions.
Recurring confrontations at the church eventually landed Artur attention from Infowars and even an interview on Fox News, who sided strongly with the Pawlowski over Albertan police. Artur has allegedly wracked up twenty-eight tickets for fines related to his unlawful activity during a pandemic.
Ontario is Sorry
Johnston first became prominent in Canada’s alt-right in 2017 for a variety of mostly anti-Muslim stunts made on his old program, the Freedom Report. As the face of Freedom Report he interviewed several Conservative leadership candidates including Erin O’Tool, and was described by Global News as “a self-proclaimed online journalist who regularly posts accolades to the superiority of white people, along with diatribes against immigration in general and Muslims in particular”. He also made some headlines in that year for offering one thousand dollars to supporters for filming Muslim students praying in public schools.
Johnston would eventually lead an infamous harassment campaign against Mohamad Fakih, the owner of Halal food chain Paramount Foods, including making allegations that Fakih “supported terrorism”. Johnston was charged with Wilful Promotion of Hate Speech and was eventually convicted in 2019.
In 2018 Johnston claimed to have been attacked by forty-six Antifa “members”, offering some less-than gruesome selfies as evidence of a “knife attack” and more. To no one’s surprise, his story did not add up.
In 2019 Johnston was revealed to be a supporter of the Canadian Nationalist Party, a Neo-Nazi political party. Travis Byron, the party’s leader, campaigned with the goal of forcing Jews — which he called a “parasitic tribe” — out of Canada.
In 2020 Johnston branded himself as an anti-mask activist and re-emerged as a public figure in another political scene with a disproportionately high rate of openly racist figureheads. Johnston is a frequent speaker at anti-mask and anti-lockdown demonstrations not just in Alberta, but across Canada, often alongside some of the same company he spoke with in pre-pandemic days.
Currently the Kevin J. Johnston show streams five nights a week on Twitch. Or at least it did run until Monday, when Twitch removed the show’s channel. Johnston claimed that the suspension was temporary and has since made a new channel — scratch that — a new new channel and plans to continue evading his suspension. He remains active on his Instagram, Facebook, and Gab accounts, which of course are all still ban free. His recent endeavours also include the sales of a few particularly interesting pieces of Kevin J. Johnston branded items, including reading materials, that are sold alongside his campaign merchandise.
Among the most riveting merchandise are a couple of Ebooks and several satirical brands of coffee. Some blends are shy of earning points for having a unique selling point, as Liberal Tears actually shares a name with both an unaffiliated brand of Canadian far-right political coffee and one from Missouri.
Another blend, Mayor Mud is racist reference to Calgary’s current mayor, while Wasted Native is a reference to racist stereotypes of Indigenous Canadians. (There’s a theme here is what I’m getting at.)
The most exciting product, however, is easily what appears to be a single issue of a dystopian fiction comic book. The comic takes place in “the most-likely future of the United States of America after just a few years of the Biden Administration destroying America from within”. It’s cover invokes a terror only captured by what looks like Chewbacca towering over a Chinese flag.
Most of the team behind Johnston’s current content emerges from an overlapping fringe political landscape. Much like Chris Sky, Derek Storie is a former Canadian Yellow Vest who used to create content that somewhat sympathetic to his cause might call “anti-immigration”. Similar to Johnston, Ed Jamnisek (another KJJ Show personality) has a history of social media stunts targeting Muslim Canadians. Storie and Jamnisek interviewed Canada’s most notorious Neo-Nazi, Paul Fromm, in 2019.
The Kevin J. Johnston Show
Johnston’s messaging has been somewhat revamped into suiting an anti-mask narrative, but underlying themes remain the same. Negative reactions towards Liberalism, Islam, the Black Lives Matter movement, and anti-Fascist activism dominate Kevin’s conversations and rhetoric against government oversight can be broadly repurposed to suit a far-right narrative. Conversations are usually more anti-everything than they are pro-anything, leaving a space for Johnston to be interpreted in a potentially positive light to both libertarian-leaning and more authoritarian right-wing viewers.
Content doesn’t usually seem to cross the bridge between broad grievances and specific calls to action, but one could argue that it certainly flirts with it. Sometimes interactions with audience members range from typical behaviours of live streamers, such as bids for prizes and includes paid endorsements of small businesses, into topics better left untouched. One particular commenter from Monday inquired about purchasing firearms without a license in Canada, and although Johnston offered only anecdotes, Storie’s take on the question sure seems like it could be interpreted as advice on how to unlawfully posses a firearm — a charge worth up to six months in prison for a first offence and up to ten years for a second.
Similarly, the streamers’ grievances towards the police and Johnston’s political enemies do not generally delve into calls for violence, but can approach the territory. While commenting on a videotape documenting a routine interaction with two police officers at the Manitoba-Ontario border, Johnston stated that “they both deserved to be dragged by a car”. He also expressed a strong desire to “knock her (one of the officers) right out” while she calmly explained border mandates.
Good Luck, Calgary
Calgary’s 2021 general election is slated for this Fall. As is the case with any fringe candidate running a campaign against the odds, a big question is always whether or not they believe they have a chance.
“Kevin likely views his second place finish (which in the past he claimed was due to cheating) along with Alberta being a more conservative province and Nenshi not running as a chance for him to win the mayoral election,” said Tony.
With Canada’s slow ascent to becoming a vaccinated country, questions also loom about where the year-old anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement goes once we recover from the pandemic. As hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses have already been administered worldwide, fans of reactionary content creators might eventually have to reconcile that perhaps vaccines and face masks aren’t the death traps that far-right conspiracy theorists made them out to be.
“It’s hard to say where any of the far-right will go after the pandemic has ended,” Tony admitted. “They have more eyes on them now than ever, even if the anti-maskers aren’t interested in the rest of their messaging their associations and inclusion at anti-mask events is of concern.”
Today, Alberta has more than 20,000 active cases of Covid-19. Johnston appears to still be recovering from a dry cough. For now, at least, the tragedy persists.
Members and staff of The Kevin J. Johnston Show did not respond to a request for comment.
This article is part of an ongoing series about the spread of the alt-right in Canada in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Check out my Medium page for previous entries.
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