“We do not want to see an American citizen, on this soil, detained without trial,” he said.
Now 20 years old, Johnson suspended his college studies and founded PANDA, for People Against the NDAA, which grew into a national organization that provides information and training to people and municipalities who want to take a stand. He will speak about the act and opposition efforts at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kodiak Public Library.
Johnson believes section 1021 of the NDAA, which affirms the president’s power to use the armed forces to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, indefinitely without trial opens the door to abuses like the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“It gives the president the exact same authority,” he said. “It declares America a battlefield.”
Johnson said several cities, starting with Albany, N.Y., have already banned indefinite detention in their jurisdictions. He cites an interpretation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that offers a way around the precedence of federal over local laws.
The Supremacy Clause applies to laws made “in pursuance” of the Constitution, so “the NDAA fails that caveat,” Johnson said.
The Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge the act, so PANDA supports other means of calling attention to its implications.
“Just as you and I can engage in civil disobedience, so can a local government,” Johnson said.
Johnson said PANDA has gone to more than 60 cities with political leanings from both ends of the spectrum.
“We are nonpartisan, nonviolent and grass roots,” he said.
Johnson was moved to become a full-time activist because of moral concerns about abuse of power and tragedies like the accidental killing of 16-year-old American Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Johnson enjoys writing and speaking and has contributed to national publications like the Huffington Post, although he has little time to write now. He came from a speech at the University of California Los Angeles to spend a week in Kodiak at the invitation of Jamie Fagan.
Johnson said he expects to stick with his current campaign until the NDAA provisions are removed from law. If that goal is reached, he might seek another cause.
“I grew up with a great respect for police,” he said, but added that the increasing militarization of police needs watching, and he might turn his activism toward bringing more accountability to that area.
He mentioned a moral test asking if the unknown soldiers came back to life, would they think their sacrifice was worth it.
“And I don’t think that they would,” he said.
Johnson believes the principal of guarding against overreaching by government should unite all Americans.
“We may not agree on who they are, but we agree we have had some very dangerous presidents,” he said. “We don’t need to wait until we see this power being abused.”