For his initiation as the imperial wizard of the All American Invisible Knights and the admittance of three new members to that group, Johnson set a cross ablaze in a ceremonial cross lighting for the public at a house in Warrenville, S.C. He said it was the first KKK cross lighting made open to public in 50 years.
It was five hours after the KKK group rallied in front of Augusta State University in protest of the school's treatment of a graduate student.
At the cross lighting, which began at dusk, Johnson said his group would soon have a larger presence in Augusta. The group is planning another rally after 300 counter-protesters accused them of hatred and racism at ASU Saturday.
"We're coming back to Augusta because of the disrespect given today," Johnson said. "(Protesters) never gave us a chance to say what we had to say."
Johnson said he ended the rally in front of ASU early because "people there tried to make it about hate, but it was about constitutional rights."
The KKK members prepared a 16-foot cross by wrapping it in cotton sheets and burlap pieces. They doused it in kerosene and let it soak while the members changed into traditional robes.
Johnson insisted that their rituals did not represent the hatred and intimidation that cross lightings are historically known for.
He said while other Klans represent racism and white supremacy, his Invisible Knights are a new era of Klansmen who stand for heritage.
Their message calls for the protection of American values and promoting political ideals, such as keeping illegal immigrants from taking U.S. jobs.
"We understand when you hear Ku Klux Klan you think racism and hatred," Johnson said. "We do not believe in hate. ... This is strictly ritual."
Johnson said there are at least 13 other Klan groups in the South that do not promote violence or hatred.
Across the street from the cross lighting, Tom Clay, 68, was appalled.
Clay knows the history of the Klan well because he spent his childhood attending rallies with his father, Al Dean Clay, a KKK grand dragon.
He recalls giant crosses being set ablaze during rallies at Stone Mountain, Ga. He also witnessed beatings and dog attacks in Alabama.
"It just turns your stomach," he said about the violence.
As for his neighbor's actions, Clay said he didn't give it any weight.
"It's just something to keep (things) going," he said.
Johnson said that image of the KKK is what his group is putting behind them. His Invisible Knights, which he says has 922 members across nine states, has "a new era of thinking."
The Klansmen walked circles around the blazing cross, repeating a chant of their leader in a black Klan hood.
After the flames burned through the cotton and burlap, a Klansmen sprayed the cross before the wood could burn through.
The group then headed inside the house to finish its initiation.
"What happens after this, we do not open to the public," Johnson said.