When Corey Johnson was 17, he murdered a 13-year-old boy, Jovanni Sierra Brand, and stabbed two other people because they “idolized celebrities and disrespected his Muslim faith.” Johnson is now 21. On Thursday, he got a life sentence for the murder, but no one seems to be pondering the larger implications of the case.
The UK’s Daily Mail reported Thursday that “Palm Beach County Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo sentenced Johnson to life in prison and said on Thursday she did not believe rehabilitation was likely for Johnson after he remained emotionless during the heartfelt testimony of Jovanni’s mother.”
When he was in court Thursday, Johnson did make an attempt to show remorse: “I wish I could take it back, I wish I could do something to make this right. I’d like to apologize not because it will change anything, but because I’m really truly sorry.” Johnson also, according to the Daily Mail, said that he “regretted following the Islamic extremist group ISIS, and that he hoped to help people to compensate for the crimes he had committed.”
The most important aspect of this story, however, apart from the lives lost and ruined, is the fact that Johnson had only recently converted to Islam when he killed Brand and had already come to the attention of law enforcement before he committed murder. “At the time of his arrest for the killing of Jovanni in 2018,” the Daily Mail reported, “Johnson already had federal charges pending against him for threatening a Catholic school in England.”
His case was so serious that FBI agents met with administrators at his high school; Johnson “had reached out to ISIS online saying that he wished to join the murderous terrorist group.” In October 2016, he sent threats to McAuley Catholic High School in Doncaster, England (there is no indication of why he chose that school). “Authorities said the threats were so serious that up to 100 students withdrew from the school for fear of an attack.” One of the messages Johnson sent to the school said: “We have our sights set on you, and by Allah we will kill every infidel student at this school inshallah) #McAuleySchoolMassacre.”
So he reached out to ISIS, wanted to join the terrorist group, and sent threats of a jihad massacre to a school. Yet over a year later he was still running around loose and unsupervised to the extent that he was able to buy a knife, even though he was underage, and use it on three people, killing one. Corey Johnson was never placed on a “watch list.” Nothing was done at all.
Local10.com reported at the time of the attack that “in his statement, Johnson advised he stabbed the victims because of his Muslim faith,” and that “just before the attack, Johnson was reading the Quran from his phone ‘to give him courage to carry out his intentions.’”
So now Jovanni Sierra Brand is dead, and there is no bringing him back, but surely authorities have learned from the blunders that led to his being killed and have taken steps to make sure that nothing like Johnson’s jihad attack happens again, right? Of course not. In the years immediately following 9/11, counterterror agents were taught that one sign of a potential jihad killer was a sudden turn to devout observance of Islam. Devout Muslims weren’t all jihadis, but all jihadis, especially those who were converts to Islam, were devout. During the Obama administration, however, all that was removed from counterterror training: it was “Islamophobic” and “singled Muslims out,” as if some jihad terrorists were Methodists, yet Methodism wasn’t being studied.
Years after that, Corey Johnson showed all the signs of being a dangerous jihadi. Nothing was done because to have acted upon those signs would have been “Islamophobic.” After the murder, Brand’s family was reportedly planning to sue the Publix supermarket chain for selling Johnson the knife he used as a murder weapon. They should instead have sued law enforcement for not watching Johnson more closely and the establishment media for relentlessly demonizing anyone who ever suggested that selling Johnson his Qur’an may have been just as dangerous as selling him the knife.
How many people even know that this incident happened at all? The murder of Jovanni Sierra Brand should have been the occasion for a national discussion about the phenomenon of converts to Islam becoming violent, which keeps happening, and what should be done about it. Has Johnson’s mosque been investigated? Who converted him to Islam? Has the person who converted Johnson converted others? No one is answering or even asking such questions. They don’t fit the narrative.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.