The New York Times has a surprisingly even-handed and generally (but not entirely) accurate piece about how libelblogger Charles Johnson betrayed his friends and abandoned his principles. Unlike the LA Times and Vanity Fair, the Gray Lady, oddly enough, seems less inclined to reward Johnson for his betrayal.
The irrational hatred and determination to destroy others no matter what lies need to be told to do it, the paranoia, the roaring-mouse totalitarianism and cultishness, the self-obsession and self-righteous preening, the howlingly superficial thought processes — in short, every tendency we have come to know and love in Charles Johnson over the last two years is on display in this piece, “Right-Wing Flame War!,” by Jonathan Dee, January 21. Some highlights:
[…] “It’s just so illogical,” [Pamela] Geller told me heatedly not long ago. “I loved him. I respected him. But the way he went after people was like a mental illness. There’s an evil to that, a maliciousness. He’s a traitor, a turncoat, a plant. We may not know for years what actually happened. You think he changed his mind?” […]
IN OCTOBER 2007, Johnson was asked to take part in what was billed as a Counter-Jihad Conference in Brussels, a gathering of fewer than a hundred politicians and opinion leaders from around the world who convened to share ideas and strategies for combating the spread of militant Islam. Johnson was not the only writer invited — Geller was there, as well as Robert Spencer of jihadwatch.org (a Web site Johnson himself designed), to name two — but he did not go. “I’m just not a joiner of these things,” he says.[…]
An aside: he didn’t design the site as it currently appears. The site has been thoroughly de-lizardized.
The common line at LGF that he warned Pamela Geller and me not to go to this conference because of the alleged appearance of “fascists” there is false. Johnson never spoke with me about this conference before it happened. And once more, for the record, despite Johnson’s lies, this was no “neofascist” or “racist” conference. A Knesset member, Aryeh Eldad, was among the speakers, as was the great historian Bat Ye’or. Another speaker spoke about Islamic antisemitism. Patrick Sookhdeo spoke about the Islamization of England. I spoke.
Johnson began taking shots at not only Vlaams Belang, an organization it seems safe to say the vast majority of his readers had never heard of, but also at formerly favored colleagues like Spencer and Geller, to whom, by attending the same conference, the European neofascist movement was now . . . linked. Johnson first hinted, and eventually demanded, that they publicly distance themselves from both Vlaams Belang and the conference itself, and when they demurred, he publicly distanced himself from them.
This is a hasty telescoping of events that unfolded over a year. Pamela Geller took the brunt of his attacks. He didn’t turn on me until later. I was trying to keep the peace between both sides. I regret that I did not call him on his dirty dealing earlier.
“Filip Dewinter has said some things I deplore,” Spencer says. “But I don’t consider myself responsible for him just because I was at this conference and he was, too. That’s an outrageous kind of guilt by association. Let me ask you this: a few years ago I spoke at a Yom Kippur service, and one of the other speakers was Hillary Clinton. Does that make me a supporter or her work, or her of mine?” […]
The article calmly skewers Johnson for his wild defamation and mudslinging:
It may be difficult to travel to Belgium and build the case that Filip Dewinter is not just a hateful character but an actual Nazi (and thus that those who can be linked to him are Nazi sympathizers), but sitting at your keyboard, there is no trick to it at all. Not only can the past never really be erased; it co-exists, in cyberspace, with the present, and an important type of context is destroyed. […]
“I was such a small fish at the time,” Geller said. “I realized I was basically committing blog suicide by going against him. But he was wrong.” When one of Johnson’s posts about the conference was picked up and incorporated in a press release by the conservative bÃªte noire Council on American-Islamic Relations, Geller called him out on Atlas Shrugs; he responded with a series of posts about her, the most memorable of which was titled, “Pamela Geller: Poster Girl for Eurofascism.” (Not that Geller herself, who posted a Photoshopped picture of Johnson in Joker makeup, was exactly on the high road.) Traffic at her site, she says, went down about 75 percent. “He really did put a knife in the trans-Atlantic counterjihad movement, for a long time. People were running for cover. Nobody wanted to go against him then. He was the king.”
Spencer says: “I have actually had people contact me and say, ‘I understand you’re the American representative for Vlaams Belang.’ And that is because of Johnson.”
In real life — and I told Dee this — I have nothing to do with Vlaams Belang, or any other political party. I don’t accept Johnson’s libels about them, but I still have nothing to do with them, for the same reason that I don’t have anything to do with any party: the resistance to the jihad is not a party issue, and should transcend such divisions.
After Spencer wrote last month on Jihad Watch that I interviewed him, Johnson forwarded me several posts by other bloggers charting Spencer’s unsavory “associations”; one of them tried to connect him, via a chain of links that is too long even to summarize, to Slobodan Milosevic. The more creatively defamatory the whole dispute becomes, the further it moves from the issues around which Johnson and Spencer and many others have supposedly reframed their lives. But I never got the sense that any of it was put forth by Johnson, either in person or on the blog, in anything other than perfect earnestness. He came of age, as a writer and as a public figure, in the culture of damnation by link, and he does not exempt himself from its logic. […]
As illogical as that logic may be.
And the hapless Lizard Lord’s tinhorn Stalinism even takes a hit:
THE QUESTIONING OF Johnson’s tactics started to come not just from without L.G.F. but also from within. Readers both casual and loyal spoke up in the comment threads to ask, sometimes diplomatically and sometimes not, whether all this casual flinging of epithets like “fascist” wasn’t maybe an overreaction. Johnson’s response, in thousands of cases, was to block their accounts and ban some of them from viewing the blog. “Get off my Web site” was a common farewell. (Johnson insists that this is not true — that no one has ever been banned from L.G.F. merely for disagreeing with him — but the anecdotal evidence to the contrary is voluminous, and the fact that the offending comments were instantly and permanently deleted makes it impossible to check others’ records against his.) […]
A reasonable approach, which L.G.F.’s exiles mostly rejected. Comment threads all over the blogosphere were hijacked by people sharing stories of their banishment. Another stalker blog — this one assailing Johnson from the right — sprang up, administered by banned former “Lizards,” as L.G.F.’s registrants are known. Johnson responded by posting those former registrants’ real names and photographs on L.G.F. — an astounding breach of civility on the Internet, where anonymity is often prized above all else. […]
It was unfair and simplistic and petulant, but it also seems to have achieved its goal. Very few people on the right want to be linked with Charles Johnson anymore….
Who would want to be?
“It’s not that the war on terror has finished,” he said. “It’s never going to be finished, but I think things have reached the point now where it’s not as pressing as it was. Some of the measures we took to protect ourselves against extremists have been pretty effective. And so I realized, you know, that maybe it’s time to tell people that I’m not onboard with a lot of this social-conservative agenda. And I think that I actually speak for a lot of people.” Though our conversation took place in the fall, he told me in a subsequent e-mail message that the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing “doesn’t change my opinion about that.” […]
Over one-third of the successful and attempted jihad terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 took place in 2009. Yeah, Johnson, we’re out of the woods. It’s all over.
No one ever said L.G.F., or any blog, had to be about the free exchange of ideas. “It’s his sandbox,” Pamela Geller says simply. “He can do whatever he wants.” Still, if you read L.G.F. today, you will find it hard to miss the paradox that a site whose origins, and whose greatest crisis, were rooted in opposition to totalitarianism now reads at times like a blog version of “Animal Farm.” Johnson seems obsessed with what others think of him, posting much more often than he used to about references to himself elsewhere on the Internet and breaking into comment threads (a recent one was about the relative merits of top- versus front-loaded washing machines) to call commenters’ attention to yet another attack on him that was posted at some other site. […] He has banned readers because he has seen them commenting on other sites of which he does not approve. He is, as he reminds them, always watching. […]
“This is one area where I did change,” Johnson admitted. “I realized you can’t just let it be free speech. It doesn’t work that way on the Internet. Total free speech is a recipe for anarchy when people can’t see each other.”
IN THE LAST DAY of November, Johnson delivered the final blow to his old alliances. In a post that he said took him about three minutes to write, he listed 10 reasons “Why I Parted Ways With the Right.” The “reasons” themselves amounted to little more than laundry lists: “Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.),” for instance. In the voluminous comment thread attached, Johnson was characteristically interested less in discussing the break itself than in discussing the reaction to it — calling readers’ attention to the number of times it was “re-tweeted,” linking to attacks on him, citing praise from quarters that not long ago would have considered him toxic. […]
“I saw the bill of particulars he nailed to the door of his Web site,” says the author Peter Collier — himself a survivor of the special vitriol directed at those who change sides in the ideological wars, after he and David Horowitz, his fellow former Ramparts editor, publicly leapt from far left to far right in the late 1980s. “Not exactly Whittaker Chambers, is he? I must say I was pretty put off by the profligate and kind of lame use of the word ‘fascism,’ a word that has been systematically denuded of its meaning, so that now it just signifies somebody you don’t agree with. I don’t want to say that it didn’t take some bravery and forethought and all that stuff — it just didn’t seem like a very considered and certainly not a very theoretical break. More of a take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.”…
Not exactly Whittaker Chambers indeed.
SECOND UPDATE: Pamela has more trenchant observations on this miserable slug.