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Podcast Tells The Strange Tale Behind Kentucky Preacher’s Rise To Political Power

Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting is launching “The Pope’s Long Con,” a new podcast that follows a seven-month investigation of a preacher-turned-politician and his web of lies and deceit.

The podcast covers the twists and turns of an investigation that uncovered allegations of arson, bootlegging, molestation in the church and more. It details how missteps by law enforcement, political parties and the government allowed fast-talking preacher Danny Ray Johnson to catapult himself into the Kentucky state Capitol. Johnson gained attention in the 2016 election for sharing racist images of the Obamas with ape-like features on Facebook.

The first episode in the series is available now in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and wherever you get your podcasts. A new episode will be released each week through January 10, 2018.

“The Pope’s Long Con” is based on more than 100 interviews conducted by R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan. Their investigation took them to state Rep. Danny Ray Johnson’s hometown of Bastrop, Louisiana, to conduct interviews and research his past. They also reviewed thousands of page of public documents, court files and more. Many of these files are available online here.

Johnson claims he served as White House chaplain to three presidents and a United Nations ambassador. He says he set up the morgue at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and was the pastor who gave last rites for all of those pulled from the towers.

KyCIR's reporting showed those claims to be false.

He says he’s healed the sick and raised the dead, and that he helped quell the riots in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of three police officers in connection with the beating of Rodney King. He claims to love people of all races and religions, and says he had a seat at the table for international peace talks.

All this despite his history of hate speech, racist Facebook posts and general derision for African-Americans and Muslims. All this, despite his own secrets.

“The Pope’s Long Con” is a story about a preacher-turned-politician who rose to power on lies and rode the Trump train to Kentucky’s capital. But it also raises bigger questions: What happens when the government, political parties and law enforcement falter? What happens when the institutions you rely on look the other way, when a liar slips through the cracks into a position of power?

More details on the series can be found at KyCIR.org.

Kirsten is the Director of Marketing at LPM. Email Kirsten at kpfalzgraf@lpm.org.