A Pennsylvania State Rep Shows the Dangers of Identity Politics

Former Pennsylvania State Representative Movita Johnson-Harrell (a Democrat, naturally) won her position because of her gender, race, and religion, and now her constituents are paying the price.


The Associated Press reported that Johnson-Harrell, a hijab-wearing Muslim, has been charged with “enriching herself by stealing money from a nonprofit organization she founded to serve the mentally ill and poor who were fighting addiction.”

And so once again we get a lesson in the dangers of identity politics. AP added that “Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office accused Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell of perjury, tampering with public records, theft and other charges….Court papers said the theft went on for years as Johnson-Harrell converted the charity’s funds into investment properties, vacations, and luxury clothing. Shapiro said Johnson-Harrell personally spent more than $500,000 from Motivations Education & Consultation Associates, diverting Medicaid and Social Security disability funds.”

Johnson-Harrell was “the first female Muslim member of the House” in Pennsylvania, and “came to office with the intensely personal story of having endured the shooting deaths of her father, brother, cousin and 18-year-old son.”

Corrupt officials of all creeds can be found more easily than anything else in this world. But Movita Johnson-Harrell only became a state representative because she was a Muslim – indeed, because she would be the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House and a hijab-wearing one at that. She was a symbol of the Democratic Party’s commitment to “diversity,” as well as — with her tragic personal story — a sign of its determination to take guns away from law-abiding Americans.


Her value, in other words, was as a symbol, not as a legislator. It is likely that when Democratic Party top dogs were deciding on who should run for the State House from her district, no one knew or cared whether Movita Johnson-Harrell would be an honest or competent state representative. Her value was solely in the fact that she was a racial and religious minority, a Sharia-adherent Muslim in a party that reveres such people.

What’s more, as a representative Johnson-Harrell played the identity politics game to the hilt. Last March, according to journalist Todd Starnes, another Pennsylvania State Representative, Stephanie Borowicz, prayed this to open a legislative session: “Jesus, you are our only hope. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus, that you are Lord.”

Johnson-Harrell was livid. The prayer, she declared, was “highly offensive to me, my guests, and other members of the House.” In a statement, she added that the prayer “blatantly represented the Islamophobia that exists among some leaders — leaders that are supposed to represent the people. I came to the Capitol to help build bipartisanship and collaborations regardless of race or religion to enhance the quality of life for everyone in the Commonwealth.”

Rep. Borowicz’s prayer may have been inappropriate in a setting in which not everyone present was Christian. We have, however, seen many imams say prayers at various legislative bodies that are not non-sectarian, but manifestly Islamic and even condemning of Jews and Christians, while the non-Muslim lawmakers stand with oblivious heads bowed. But “Islamophobic”? This illustrates how absurd charges of “Islamophobia” are, and how any manifestation of faith other than Islam is sometimes seen as offensive to Muslims.


In all this, the story of Movita Johnson-Harrell is similar to that of Mohamed Noor, the Minneapolis police officer who shot dead a pajama-clad woman, Justine Damond, who had called police about a disturbance in her neighborhood. Mohamed Noor was only on the Minneapolis police force because he was a Muslim, despite numerous indications of his incompetence.

In that case, a woman is dead. In this one, Medicaid and Social Security disability funds were diverted into Movita Johnson-Harrell’s coffers. That harmed the very people Movita Johnson-Harrell was supposed to be such a great representative for, because she shared their background. Why don’t we go back to supporting candidates based on their merits, not on their religion, ethnicity, race, or gender? The answer, of course, is because that would be “racist.”

Identity politics cuts against the very idea of representative government. If people can only be adequately governed by representatives who look like them, who have the same racial, religious, and ethnic background, America will atomize into mutually hostile camps organized along those lines. That is already happening today, and maybe it was the idea all along. In any case, no lesson will be learned here, any more than any lesson was learned in the case of Mohamed Noor. The story of Movita Johnson-Harrell is one that we are almost certainly going to see playing out in America again and again and again.


Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.

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