MADISON – Federal prosecutors brought extortion charges Friday against the man whose arrest this week sparked violence and destruction in the capital city.
U.S. Attorney Scott Blader filed the charges against Devonere Johnson, alleging he threatened to bash windows of downtown businesses unless employees gave him money.
Blader also alleges Johnson, 28, threatened to “shut down and destroy” another business unless Johnson and his friends were provided free food and drinks.
In one restaurant, Johnson allegedly brought a boombox indoors and refused to turn it down. When the owner told Johnson he donated money to a group supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign, Johnson asked what he had done “locally.”
Ultimately, Johnson allegedly told the owner “give me money or we’ll break windows,” according to the criminal complaint.
Johnson entered another bar and allegedly asked for free food and drinks or else the bar would be “marked,” according to the complaint.
“You don’t want 600 people to come here and destroy your business and burn it down. The cops are on our side,” according to the complaint, which included interviews with the bar owner about what Johnson allegedly said. “You notice that when you call them, nothing happens to us.”
Blader said Johnson sought to extort the business owners by taking advantage of protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd.
“Those who attempt to take advantage of recent events to extort local businesses under the guise of community activism will be vigorously prosecuted,” Blader said in a statement
“All citizens have a right to feel safe within their communities. Extortion is not activism, it is a crime and it will not be tolerated,” he said.
Johnson, also known as Yeshua Musa, is a Madison activist who has been present at every protest following Floyd’s death. He was arrested outside a Capitol square restaurant on Tuesday after he brought a baseball bat and a bullhorn into the tavern and shouted at customers.
Business owners who were not identified also told the Wisconsin State Journal that Johnson had made threats against them unless they turned over free food and drinks or deposited money into Johnson’s bank account.
The arrest sparked hundreds to march in Madison’s downtown streets seeking Johnson’s release from jail. The demonstrations turned violent and threatening as protesters entered a private condo building and forced a driver from a car, and assaulted at least two people — including a state senator.
Statues representing women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery also were toppled. Protesters said the monuments symbolized a world that was never achieved for Black people.
If convicted, Johnson faces up to 40 years in federal prison. He has been held in the Dane County Jail since his arrest.