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Déjà Vu — “Meltdown” At Free Republic

Since it is a slow news day:

Déjà Vu At The Latest "Meltdown" At Free Republic

by Steve Gilbert (aka Mojo, Hon and Sam Hill at FR)

I have received numerous emails and "Freepmails" asking about Free Republic and what the heck is going on over there. Regular readers here know I don’t like to post about other web sites. And the machinations of Free Republic is an especially tiresome subject to me. So hopefully this will be the first and last thread here about FR and its management.

Rather than attempt a full-fledged exegesis I would prefer to answer whatever questions people might have as fully and accurately as I can. But first let me to give a brief background on this recurring phenomena from my perspective.

I have been aware of Jim Robinson, the owner of FR, since before he started his site. He used to post quite regularly on the Whitewater bulletin board at Prodigy, where he butted heads quite regularly with the moderators. They claimed they were only objecting to his posting of articles that were copyright protected. Robinson claimed they had a political agenda.

Eventually Robinson was banned from Prodigy. He next turned up at another place I and many other conservatives regularly visited at the time (circa 1995), the now legendary usenet group alt.current-events.clinton.whitewater. This site had tremendous influence for a news group and was regularly featured in mainstream media stories in this period.

Mr. Robinson continued to post at a.c-e.c.w the same kind of articles he had posted at Prodigy. Then he began to post links to promote his own fledgling site, Free Republic.

At first Robinson was the only poster at his new site. Again, he posted pretty much the same kind of articles he had posted at Prodigy and a.c-e.c.w. without any commentary from either him or anyone else. Indeed, his site was very much like an early blog. But FR wasn’t all that unique. Some other posters from Prodigy, other news discussion sites and a.c-e.c.w. had similar sites.

Soon Robinson was joined at FR by another poster, Rodger Schultz (if I am remembering correctly). Between the two of them they posted a couple of articles a day from the usual conservative and libertarian sources of the day, plus pieces from slightly more questionable sources like the John Birch Society.

In the early days Robinson was mostly concerned with political scandals. I was later told by Jim and/or by his son John he really had no interest in politics until the Iran-Contra scandal under Reagan hit. So the Lippo Group/Riady business and the supposed drug-dealing through Mena, Arkansas were of major interest to him, as was of course Whitewater. As the Whitewater scandal grew, Free Republic became somewhat more popular. But it was still quite small and crude.

In its earlier days there were often quite ugly arguments, brought on almost entirely by one or two liberals who posted there just to attack the conservative members. This forced Robinson to institute a registration system, which was off-putting to a lot of the regular visitors at the time. Some of whom worried that their private information would end up being used against them by the Clintons or their minions.

Another relatively small but popular place for conservatives, the Drudge Report, linked to FR’s Whitewater page in late 1997. When Drudge uncovered the spiked Monica Lewinsky story and other similar information he got from Lucianne Goldberg, his site took off. And a lot of Drudge’s new readers were funneled from his site to Free Republic.

FR was soon flooded with mainstream conservatives, social conservatives and even moderate Republicans. In turn these new members were soon followed by a smaller but louder influx of libertarians, Birchers and what we now call paleo-conservatives. And there ensued quite a few flame-wars between the older members and some of these new firebrands.

But in the heady days of the Lewinsky scandal and the run up to Clinton’s impeachment Robinson maintained a much more moderate political stance. He regularly tried to tamp down the more extreme members of the libertarian and paleo groups, most notably in a purge in early 1999 now preposterously called the "Night Of The Long Knives."

But almost immediately after the Senate’s failure to convict Bill Clinton, Robinson did an abrupt about-face and went after the more run-of-the-mill conservatives and moderates.

This turnabout began in the May of 1999, when out of left-field Robinson started to post his theories that the CIA funded itself by drug running and that George HW Bush, having been the director of the CIA, was a kingpin in their international drug operations.

Mr. Robinson further claimed the US had fought every conflict since WWII to establish and preserve this drug empire. He also maintained that drugs were introduced and propagated in the US by the CIA for these same nefarious ends.

Unfortunately for me, I was the first to challenge Mr. Robinson’s assertions. Almost immediately I and others who tried to counter these bizarre leftwing fantasies were summarily and gleefully banned. I was told to leave and to take my "blood-sucking party" [meaning the GOP] with me. Which was pretty ironic since I have never been much of a party supporter and had regularly criticized the Republicans’ lack of spine.

Robinson even used the occasion to proudly announce that like all of his ancestors on both sides of the family since the American Revolution, he was a lifelong registered Democrat.

Numerous high profile conservatives like Lucianne Goldberg abandoned Free Republic at that time. Matt Drudge de-linked from them and castigated its new direction. (You can read Salon magazine’s take on the events here.) I was told by insiders that half of FR’s membership was either banned or left at the time.

Many of the libertarians, Birchers and paleo-cons who had been previously shunted aside or even banned were quickly re-instated and placed front and center. They joined Robinson in triumphantly celebrating the exodus of their enemies and FR’s new, "more pure" direction.

But to a great extent Robinson was only returning to his roots. Many of the sentiments he expressed in 1999 were not too far from the claims of many of the sources he regularly posted from when he began FR. And he often said he had learned politics "at the knee" of the notorious crackpot Michael Rivero and another conspiracy writer of the period, Missy Kelly. (They had both been regular posters on the Prodigy board, and Rivero also posted at a.c-e.c.w., where he was largely ridiculed as a nutjob.)

Robinson announced that he wanted to use Free Republic to investigate these CIA drug charges and other long popular leftwing conspiracies, such as the intelligence agencies spying on US citizens via Echelon. This was to be FR’s new mission. But nothing ever came of it.

Still, in the months up to the Republican nomination Robinson regularly and often denounced George W Bush, and loudly proclaimed he would never vote for him. He insisted Bush’s election would just be an extension of the Clinton regime and that it would be highly dangerous for the country.

Robinson and other FR members even claimed the Bushes and Clintons were working in cahoots to pass the Presidency back and forth between their families in order to continue their destruction of the country. Many if not most of these lurid threads have since been expunged from FR.

But in the eleventh hour before the 2000 elections Robinson suddenly experienced another epiphany. He announced his undying commitment to electing George W. Bush. And anyone who spoke out against Bush now faced banishment. Robinson then went on to ban quite a few former comrades who had not gotten the memo and who had blithely continued to oppose Bush’s candidacy.

After Bush’s narrow victory Mr. Robinson made many preposterous claims about how crucial FR’s support had been in his election. Robinson even went so far as to stage a "photo op" of himself registering as a Republican — a couple of weeks after election day.

Since the 2000 elections, through 9/11 and the War On Terror Mr. Robinson has been fairly steadfast in his support of President Bush and our intelligence agencies. Though he has increasingly chided Bush and the Republicans for their domestic policies, most especially their spending.

And, apart from some of the obsessive compulsive Crevo/Evo crowd and some of the more inflammatory participants in the Terry Schiavo debates, there haven’t been any large scale purges to speak of — until now. And once again, his latest volta-face seems to have come out of nowhere.

Of course the Free Republic forum belongs to Jim Robinson. But just as surely he also owes something to the thousands of people who have provided his site with its content over all these years. Just as he owes something to all those people who have actually participated in the political activism that helped to put Free Republic on the map and give it whatever political clout it has enjoyed.

In my own case, I was an organizer and the "line producer" for Free Republic’s first national rally "The March For Justice," which many claim helped the House decide to move forward with Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I was also instrumental in several of FR’s subsequent rallies.

I have also gotten their activities, including the MFJ, C-SPAN coverage. I led many of FR’s letter writing/fax campaigns, by providing exhaustive lists of House and Senate members, along with their contact information and free phone and fax services. And I, like many others, have contributed to the now millions of dollars Mr. Robinson has been given by FR’s members. But on a whim I was kicked down the stairs and lied about at FR for years after. (John Robinson even claimed that I had posted death threats against President Clinton at FR.)

Six years after my 1999 banning I returned to FR to post some of my research about presidential candidate John Kerry at FR. I thought it was important enough to try to reach as many conservatives as possible.

Much of my work was incorporated into FR’s offshoot "Winter Soldier" site. And much of what I first uncovered and posted at FR or got into the media through reporter friends ended up in the second half of Swiftboat John O’Neil’s "Unfit For Command."

I am not bragging about my all too modest accomplishments. I just want to point out that there are or were plenty of people at Free Republic like me who have put in a lot of work for the cause of conservatism. FR can and should be a forum that can accomplish good things for the cause.

So I can readily understand why so many of its members are taken aback when they’re told the site they have worked so long and hard to build up is suddenly going in another, quite different direction. Especially when Mr. Robinson’s goals tend to veer so wildly.

Robinson’s latest anti-Giuliani, anti-abortion jihad is a typical bolt from the blue. For despite his current claims Mr. Robinson has never been much of a "social conservative." Indeed, he used to promote both big and little "L" libertarians at his site. Many who knew him claimed he was a libertarian, and maybe he is.

Free Republic’s home page still links to libertarian Republican groups on its front page. A trip down memory lane via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine will show how strongly FR tilted libertarian in its earlier years.

In fact, FR’s earlier "mission statements" read more like a libertarian screeds than anything else. Ironically, the "mission statement" that graced the site circa 1999 was largely written by a libertarian who was himself banned in the May 1999 purges. It does not specifically mention any "social conservative" points, including abortion.

Robinson himself has long been against the "war on drugs". He has argued for legalizing prostitution and other so-called victimless crimes. And, unless he has recently changed his mind, he is still in the "open borders" camp.

Certainly fighting illegal immigration has never been a top priority for him. To the contrary, Robinson has driven away promoters of the Minuteman project and prohibited threads from being posted about them at FR.

Similarly, in the ten or more years I have followed his postings Mr. Robinson has seldom mentioned abortion as a top concern. Yet now he is using abortion and other "social conservatism" issues to drive away many of the very same people he had previously encouraged at FR.

Who knows why? Perhaps Robinson is simply lashing out in frustration. These "purges" have usually occurred after some major disappointment. Such as when the Senate failed to convict Mr. Clinton. This might just be the culmination of his anger at the Republicans losing Congress and a general but bitter disappointment in the GOP’s less than stellar performance over the last six years.

A conspiracy theorist might even suggest that Free Republic would be far more likely to regain a lot of its former glory and profitability under a Hillary Clinton administration than under a Republican administration. And that this could be a motivation in attacking the GOP front-runner and talking about starting a third party — or just encouraging people to sit the election out in protest.

In any case, I was merely trying to remind people on the current blood-letting thread about Mr. Robinson’s previous turnabouts when I was banned. With the turnover at Free Republic, there are fewer and fewer people who remember its roller-coaster history. And fewer still who are willing to face banishment by bringing it up.

But there it is.

Oh, and for the record, I am not a particular fan of Rudy Giuliani. In fact I haven’t expressed an opinion about any of the current Republican candidates anywhere.

But I would certainly prefer to have Mr. Giuliani in the Presidency over Mrs. Clinton or any of the current crop of Democrat candidates.

In fact, I find it almost impossible to believe anyone who cares about this country would not agree. But clearly some don’t. They must have very different priorities.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Sunday, April 29th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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