Mistaken identity leads to harassment of Roselle councilwoman

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ROSELLE, NJ — A crazy thing happened recently. In a case of mistaken identity, something seemingly out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, two women found themselves the recipients of nasty hate messages from supporters of President Trump. Though the mistaken-identity aspect of the situation was unfortunate, the women were able to come together during a Zoom conference on Saturday, Dec. 19, and address the situation, all while bonding, finding common ground and standing together against those who were harassing them.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani presented testimony on alleged voter fraud to Michigan House Oversight Committee members. Michigan state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, who represents Michigan’s 5th District, accused Giuliani’s witnesses of lying and later received racist death threats from Trump supporters.

Days later, quite a bit of controversy was stirred up by a video on Facebook by Rep. Johnson, in which she is seen saying, “This is just a warning to you Trumpers. Be careful. Walk lightly. We ain’t playing with you. Enough of the shenanigans. Enough is enough. For those of you who are soldiers, you know how to do it. Do it right. Be in order. Make them pay.”

Though Rep. Johnson later said that the video was not meant to be threatening, and that by “soldiers” she meant “The soldiers for Christ, the soldiers for justice, the soldiers for democracy against racism,” not surprisingly, there was backlash to her video. Bizarrely, though, much of it was directed at the wrong woman — one 612 miles east and a bit south of Detroit, in the borough of Roselle.

“I was at home with my husband having dinner and I began receiving phone calls in reference to a situation of me making accusations about the GOP, me making threats about bringing my soldiers out,” Roselle Councilwoman Cynthia Johnson said in a phone interview on Thursday, Dec. 17, of what began happening on Thursday, Dec. 10. “I said to them that ‘I have no clue of what you’re talking about.’ They kept stating to me: ‘I know who you are, we know where you live, you sit on the party and the nerve of you to continue and constantly making threats, I’m going to reveal you and go national with this.’ Again, I kept saying to them, ‘I have no knowledge of what you’re talking about.’

“Threats kept coming throughout that afternoon, and my husband asked me to immediately hang up the phone,” she continued. “So, they called back, again, stating to me that I can’t run, I can’t hide, they know who I am, I made statements and they want me to publicly apologize. I hung up, and the phone calls kept coming through restricted numbers. I was called a pig. I was told to watch my back. I was called a racial slur, and they made it very clear that they were with the Grand Old Party, also known as the GOP.”

This was indeed a classic case of mistaken identity.

“I come to find out there is a Cynthia Johnson who’s a political figure in Michigan. Same name, same hair color and a similarity in age,” Councilwoman Johnson said. “Due to this mistake, I’d like a formal apology from certain people who’ve been harassing me. On Dec. 11, there was a woman … who has been emailing, calling and texting me and made it very clear that she’s part of the GOP. …She made it very clear that she was recording me and the FBI is well aware of what’s going on, of what I said and I do. The calls kept coming. I’d like an apology from the group she’s affiliated with, because I was definitely profiled and definitely threatened. I was contacted by someone … who sent me disturbing messages also, where he called me a pig. I need to let the public know of how we’re still being perceived, how we’re still being profiled. Just because someone has the same name does not mean that that’s the right person.”

When James Carey, chairperson of Elizabeth’s Resistance Movement Organization, heard about the situation, he was quick to respond.

“I’m appalled. We’re living in dangerous times,” Carey said on Thursday, Dec. 17, in a phone interview. “You have Trump, who lost the presidential election and, as a result, is reluctant in conceding, and then you have his loyalists out there exacerbating the situation and invoking violence. Now you have a councilwoman, who resides in the borough of Roselle and has similarities to Rep. Cynthia Johnson, but the only thing they have in common is that they’re both black women, same name and have blonde hair.”

Carey pointed out that, if the perpetrators had done their due diligence on Google, they would have seen that one is a state representative, and one is a borough councilwoman hundreds of miles away. He said Trump’s loyalists are making incendiary comments and spewing hate, and no one is saying anything about it.

“Councilwoman Johnson belongs to the Union County Democratic Party. What I would hope to come out of this is the Union County elected officials, such as the Union County Democratic Party, the borough Democratic chairperson, the county chairperson and the state chairperson, will openly come out with a statement in condemnation of what’s going on. This way, Cynthia won’t feel like she’s on an island by herself. She doesn’t deserve this,” said Carey.

Councilwoman Johnson said she felt a little shaken, due to the threats, and was concerned for her safety. She admitted to being worried about Rep. Johnson’s safety, as well.

Before the two Cynthia Johnsons’ arranged to have a Zoom meeting, the one from Roselle reached out. “I’m in the process of contacting her,” the Councilwoman said, “where she and I can have some kind of dialogue, to actually let her know and tell her that I have been threatened. I have had racial remarks… I want to tell her to be careful also because I fear for her.”

The two women finally connected on Saturday, Dec. 19, via Zoom conference, at which time they bonded, found common ground, addressed the issues of terroristic threats made to them and stood together on the issues at hand. They were struck by how much they had in common.

“You have to understand, this thing is not about a name,” Rep. Johnson said to Councilwoman Johnson on Saturday, Dec. 19, during the Zoom conference. “This had a couple of things to do with it. It was to take away our votes, but even before then, we had the opportunity to see it on full display of how we are dismissed. It was on full display. We have to make some real changes. All of us. The attention has been gotten. We have a lot of work to do, and there are a lot of things that we can do. Moving forward, we don’t have to call it reparations, but that’s the goal.”

Rep. Johnson also explained what happened on the day of Giuliani’s testimony.

“I simply asked several questions. Giuliani and his followers came into our committee room, in Lansing, with the intent of throwing doubt into the election. Not only were they throwing doubt into the election, but they also began to spin lies about the city, the county and about the people who reside in Detroit. I simply wasn’t going to have it. I was not going to sit by and be the only black woman in the room, knowing what I was hearing, and ignore it. That wasn’t going to happen. I began to receive really vile name-calling messages the day of the committee meeting.”

The harassment continued, and Rep. Johnson had had enough.

“The next day, I began to receive aggressive messages,” she said. “I went online and told them to stop it. I said, ‘You are being watched by the FBI, so tread lightly.’ … My message was clear. These Trumpers who were sending me all of these foul messages, I told them to stop. …

“What happened that Wednesday, that was only an example of what black people and women go through regularly. Enough of that. It’s got to stop. It’s going to stop, and we’re going to make it stop. We don’t have to be violent; we don’t have to name-call or do any of that, since the only thing that they know and live by is money.”

Abby Klomparens, Rep. Johnson’s legislative director, said in a phone interview on Saturday, Dec. 19, that there had been talk by Michigan lawmakers of Johnson being stripped of her committee seatings in response to the video.

“Essentially, we were both contacted by reporters before we heard from anyone internally that (Michigan House Speaker Lee) Chatfield had stripped Rep. Johnson of her committees because of the Facebook Live video,” said Klomparens. “They said it was essentially inciting violence and that it was threatening, which we feel is very much an exaggeration.”

Rep. Johnson said that, after she had posted the video, she received a phone call from Michigan Democratic Party leader Christine Greig expressing concerns about the video. She said she didn’t know what Greig was talking about.

“I’m thinking she’s talking about the video that I made, and I didn’t understand. She told me the video was everywhere, and I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I kept thinking to myself, ‘What was it that I said in my video that made people lose their minds?’ That whole day I was getting threatening messages and calls.”

To Rep. Johnson’s surprise, there was a second video, and it was soon discovered that Johnson was also a victim of a cyberattack.

“I don’t find out about this doctored, second video until 2 a.m. the next morning,” she said. “The way I found out about that was because I kept questioning this and thinking about what was going on. I go through my phone and I come across a call from Michigan Advance, which is a news outlet, who were trying to get in touch with me.”

Rep. Johnson called someone at Michigan Advance, waking him up, and asked him to tell her what he found.

“The live video that I made was doctored in less than 12 hours and it was doctored outside of the country,” she said. “He told me that I was a victim of cyberattack. It was at that point where I realized all the dots were connecting. I’m relieved now that I didn’t create this craziness, and I thanked God for showing me this. It was such a relief. It was nothing but a time of praise for me.

“We’re living through spiritual times right now,” she continued. “God’s army is being built before our eyes, and he’s working a mighty work. When a soldier goes into battle, it’s not because he really wants to, but because he’s been told to. So he has to. The battle that we go through is one that is spiritual. I have no fear. I’m not inciting violence. Who am I to think that I don’t have to carry the cross? For my people, I’m willing to carry this cross. The best way to fight anyone is to make sure you document, you trust, but you verify.”

According to Michiganadvance.com, the video was edited into a standalone 38-second clip slapped with the label “a message from a domestic terrorist” and circulated through the right-wing social media, including Parler, a microblogging site, Disclose.tv, Twitter and YouTube.

The video was a far cry from the three-minute video that was posted on Rep. Johnson’s personal Facebook page, thanking supporters and encouraging them to be smart.

Samuel Bishop, a former Roselle councilman who helped orchestrate the meeting between the two women, found the silver lining in this crazy, unfortunate situation.

“The good thing about this is that it’s shedding a light on what’s going on, because this is just crazy,” Bishop said on Thursday, Dec. 17. “The Cynthia Johnson in Michigan doesn’t deserve this, let alone an innocent bystander, which is Councilwoman Cynthia Johnson. The only thing Rep. Cynthia Johnson did was respond to the death threats and vile things that were being thrown at her.”

Now, the two women, who are indeed victims in all of this, have aspired to keep in touch and work together.