The New York Times Magazine recently profiled Charles Johnson, who – back in the good old days of Dick Cheney’s ‘Go fuck yourself’ – was an important online player in what one ex-associate of his terms ‘the trans-Atlantic counterjihad movement’. A ponytailed, LA-based jazz guitarist, Johnson was one of those who went a bit nuts after the 11 September attacks. Little Green Footballs, previously a personal blog devoted to web design and bicycle racing, rapidly became the go-to site for defenders of Western civilisation who wished to share genocidal fantasies about Muslims, fret or gloat over the plight of ‘Eurabia’, send pizzas to Israeli troops in the Occupied Territories and so on. Melanie Phillips became its best-known British fan.
LGF’s finest hour was in 2004, when an animated .gif that Johnson created helped to end the career of the CBS broadcaster Dan Rather. In 2007, though, he began to suspect that some sectors of the trans-Atlantic counterjihad movement might be inhabited by extreme right-wingers. (A ‘Counter-Jihad Conference’ in Brussels attended by a leader of Vlaams Belang, an immigrant-baiting Flemish nationalist party, provided the initial clue.) Soon he was trying to nail down his co-bloggers’ Flemish extremist connections with the same zeal he’d once brought to bear on the likes of Rachel Corrie, who was known in LGF comment threads as ‘St Pancake’.
Johnson announced that he was parting ways with the right in November 2009, having fallen out with most of his former allies and been denounced on air by Glenn Beck. ‘The way he went after people was like a mental illness,’ one counter-Islamofascist told the New York Times’s Jonathan Dee, referring to Johnson’s behaviour after his change of heart. Dee, surely joking in the penultimate phrase, adds: ‘People who have pledged their lives to fighting Islamic extremism, when asked about Charles Johnson now, unsheathe a word they do not throw around lightly: “evil.”’
Things haven’t got that bad yet for Kelly, The Onion’s editorial cartoonist, but in recent months he’s often exhibited a comparable case of ideological backsliding. Back in the day, you could count on Kelly for a red-bloodedly right-wing take on everything from conditions at Guantanamo to climate change. Occasionally he would depart a little from orthodox Republican talking points, and occasionally he seemed not to have completely understood his material. As the reprinted ‘Kelly Klassics’ showed, though, he had been in business since at least the 1980s, and knew how to deal with such phenomena as the Iraq Study Group:
Since last summer, however, there have been signs in his work that some kind of crisis is taking place in the Kelly household. Today’s selfish wives have become a frequent target, as have doctors and other types of health scold, intimidating delivery men, and the Hollywood executives responsible for burying obscure Tom Selleck movies. There are perhaps one or two indications that Kelly has once again been drinking more than is good for him in response to the cares of a late-middle-aged cartoonist:
Not a peep, however, of the teabagging, birtherism, Sarah Palin worship and Obamacare hysteria that this artist’s long-term admirers have been expecting. Either Kelly is losing his touch, or his creator, the former Village Voice cartoonist Ward Sutton, has come to feel that some things can’t easily be satirised.