Skip to comments.Larry Schweikart: FreeRepublic.com – the First Web Warrior Site [correction at 158, 193]
Posted on 09/05/2020 10:27:28 AM PDT by EyesOfTX
Guest Piece by Americas History Teacher, Larry Schweikart Today, with a host of conservative websites producing exceptional; content that the Hoax News media refuses to cover, including uncoverdc.com, Breitbart, TheLibertyDaily, Hot Air, and others, it is useful to remember that at one time there was really only one such site. When conservatives had not been vocal, let alone active, www.freerepublic.com (http://www.freerepublic.com) became both the mouthpiece and the gathering place for activism for conservatives.
Its hard today, with the hundreds of on-line news and commentary sites, to imagine a time when there were few opposition voices to the liberal media. CNN had been founded in 1980 as a cable-based alternative to the big three of ABC, NBC, and CBS, and two years later the Washington Times was founded as a conservative alternative to the Washington Post, New York Times, and the only slightly less political USAToday founded that same year. And I do not mean to imply that CNN was conservative, only that it was the first to even attempt to challenge the big three.
In 1988, Rush Limbaugh launched his hugely successful national radio show. And that was it: for several years, conservatives had the Washington Times and Rush. Not until 1995 did the DrudgeReport, considered conservative-leaning at the time, appear and make a splash with revelations about Monica Lewinskys dress that eventually provoked the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
VDO.AI But already another force was building. Jim Robinson, a California-based software developer who specialized in writing accounting software for fruit growers), had been active on the early Prodigy bulletin boards. At the time Prodigy operated much as todays Twitter, with a certain word limit before a person had to start a new paragraph and link to it. As Robinson noted, Prodigy was not only clumsy but expensive and he found himself spending a great deal of money just to post on Prodigy every month. Instead of posting, Robinson mulled, maybe I should start my own bulletin board. He began developing software for a conservative bulletin board in 1995.
A registered Democrat (as was his wife), Robinson didnt pay much attention to politics before [Bill] Clinton. Or, as he put it, Clinton got to me. Robinson, a pro-life Christian conservative, was especially put off by Clintons private immorality. To solve the Prodigy problem, Jims son Johnalso a software developerurged him to get his own server. John thought the new internet had great promise.
The original FreeRepublic.com had an html-code foundation, didnt have a data base, and Jim had to create his own internal search engine. He, John, and a Freeper known as Doughty One (Jims business partner) launched Free Republic in 1996, just as Clinton was getting re-elected amidst scandal. At first, Jim did virtually all of the posting of articles (while still working a full-time job with his company). Within a few months, the site had 1,000 users, and by the end of 1997, 4,000.
Freepers could post articles from all other sitesDrudge was an early favoritebut also could make comments on the new, which was frequently more informative than the news itself. Soon, Robinson was spending so much time on Free Republic I didnt have time to do my own software work. At that time, he had a company called Software Solutions that had gone public under the name Protosource Corporation, and which was grossing between $2 million and $3 million a year.
At that point, Robinson admitted, I found out I was the worlds worst manager. The worst, he added for emphasis. The company had ballooned up with a marketing department, an internet company, a computer training company and so on. The board of directors fired Jim from his own company. But he was allowed a year on his contract and complimentary hosting on the companys web server. Then the company discovered Robinsons Free Republic was eating up all of its bandwidth, and Jim was forced off. He started Electronic Orchard as the hosting site for FreeRepublic.com.
By then Free Republic had taken off, first by bringing along many of the older Prodigy posters, but also gaining a new audience of Clinton critics. One of the early Freepers was Lucianne Goldberg, who would become a confidant to Linda Tripp in the Clinton impeachment saga (and mother to neverTrumper Jonah Goldberg). Lucianne left early. As Jim saw it, She just wanted to form her own website to copy FR. Not only were anonymous posters present, but soon it became clear that Mark Levin (screen name holdonnow), and Sean Hannity were at least lurking, if not posting, on the board. As was Rush Limbaughs Bo Snerdly.
As the site grew with unfettered commentary (as Jim originally preferred it), posters could say anything about anyone and ruffled both Hannitys and Rushs feathers at some point. Eventually, Rush was attracted back; Hannity, not. At one time, Peggy Noonan, Matt Drudge, and Ann Coulter were all too happy to appear in public with Freepers at events. The Weekly Standard, in a spoof job application to be on Special Counsel Kenneth Starrs staff in which one of the questions for an applicant was What is your Freeper handle?
Without knowing it, Jim Robinson had trained a new generation of internet activists in the person of Andrew Breitbart. Under the screen name Andrewand no one knew who he was at the timeBreitbart lurked and posted on FR. But most important of all, he soaked up the structure and promise of internet-based activism.
The site was completely free-wheeling and on the honor system. As Jim noted, anyone could post under any name, and people frequently posting as Jim Robinson were entirely frauds. Anyone could pretend to be anyone. It wasnt until 1998 that John wrote new software that clamped down on the fraud. Long-time Freeper Kristinn Taylor, who came to FR in 1998, recalled it was like being home among friends. Conservatives at that time were isolated.
From 1996 to 1998, the site not only gained posters but fostered activism as Freepers began to make personal connections. This led to perhaps the first real wave of conservative activism since the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in the early 1960s. Prior to this, conservatives were polite, nice, non-confrontational. Much of this approach stemmed from Ronald Reagans good-natured style of using humor to overcome and deflect liberal critics. But the fact was that the vast majority of people lacked Reagans genius and simply ceding ground to liberals only made them more bold. Jim Robinson understood that.
Freeper activism had a stellar early moment in 1998 on Halloween, which was the eve of the Houses Clinton impeachment vote. It went four hours covered by the media, and long-time California, then Washington-based Freeper Kristinn Taylor (Kristinn) recalled that it was a key moment in the new conservative activism. FR did live threads, Taylor noted, in innovating and using the internet for activism. Probably the most active chapter was the California group that included Connie Hair (now chief of staff to Louis Gohmert) and Navy Vet (Roger Hunter).
Indeed, the Clinton administration began to monitor FR threads, as later would the Bush White House and even the United States Supreme Court. Certainly liberal trolls frequented the site. In the early years, when Jim was not around to moderate, liberals would spam the site. When Jim, who has lost both legs and suffers from muscular dystrophy (I type with one finger, he joked), left California for the 1998 Halloween rally in D.C., the site was spammed by liberals with pictures of Fox journalists Brit Himes son, Alexander Sandy Hume, who died in February 1998. Jim appointed a number of moderators to share the load and to cover when he was gone.
Among the most notable examples of FRs success and activism, after 9/11, Kristinn noted that FreeRepublic.com organized a massive campaign of supporting morale of the troops, especially combating the hateful efforts of the anti-war group Code Pink that was assailing wounded veterans at Walter Reed. Freepers made regular appearances at Walter Reed to support the wounded vets. We were told by both the vets and their families, Taylor noted, how much our support helped them. One notoriouis Freeper, Doctor Raoul (Raoul Deming, now deceased) would put on a devil costume and appear at Hillary Clinton booksignings. Soon, other Freepers copied him, all donning devil suits. Clinton found herself harassed and unnerved at every event.
Taylor and Robinson both pointed out that Freepers played a key role in the Clinton impeachment, constantly sending materials to the conservative House members and working closely with the House Impeachment managers. One of the key House Managers, Congressman Bob Barr, said impeachment couldnt have happened without Free Republic. On the day of the House impeachment vote, Free Republic took out a full page ad in the Washington Times. It was a picture of George Washington with a tear trickling down his face and the question, How Would He Vote? At the bottom, the ad thanked all of the 13 House Impeachment Managers by name.
But probably the best-known incident in Freeperdom was the 2004 Bush National Guard letter expose known as Rathergate. On September 8, 2004, at the height of President George W. Bushs reelection campaign, Dan Rather had gone on national television with allegations that Bush had ignored direct orders from a superior, had been gronded from flying due to failure to perform up to standards, and that his superior had been pressured to give Bush higher marks.
Free Republic was holding a live thread on the broadcast when a Georgia lawyer whose handle was Buckhead noticed that the font on the documents was wrong, and instantly knew the typewriter and typography did not exist at the time. The papers Rather touted were forgeries. Soon the mainstream media picked up the Buckhead/Freeper allegations and the documents were debunked. Rather looked like a political operative or a fooland later sued CBS/Viacom for making him a scapegoat, but it was clear to Americansthanks to Free Republicthat Rather had lied.
Not long after Rathergate, though, FreeRepublic began to diminish as a force. This was to be expected. Copycats appeared everywhere and siphoned off Freepers who had their own ambitions or who had an axe to grind with Robinson. There were regular purges at FR, as well. As Kristinn noted, Jim never took advertising, and thus the site was limited to what could be raised by regular Freepathons. Also, he said, Every primary was a bloodbath, with different groups claiming ideological purity.
Robinson always came around, despite his own preferences, to support the GOP nomineeeven Mitt Romney in 2012, who was far from Jims preferred candidate. I never set out to purge anyone, Robinson said. I always said if you want to do a different site, be my guest. The Romney people left, or maybe I helped them out [the door}, he joked. Why do I want people to come in [to FreeRepublic] and bash people? he asked.
Free Republic is still around, and Freepers are as cantankerous as ever. If it doesnt have the same political presence it had 15 years ago, its warrants every modern conservatives appreciation. Without FR, its doubtful that the modern conservative movement would be nearly what it has become.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriots History of the United States and the author of Reagan: The American President. He is also the founder of the Wild World of History website that features a full US and World History curriculum complete with student guides, teacher guides, tests, and video lectures.
I know what you mean.
It’s been interesting watching human dynamics on the forum
over the years.
I believe the last exodus was in February or so of 2016.
That voting thing I ran that year really angered some
folks who thought one candidate was treated unfairly.
I guess some of this people pushed too hard, and they
were booted and like minded people jumped ship.
Thanks to the Robinsons for making it happen, Schweikart for writing this, Eyes of Tx for posting it, and a big "PING!" to everyone here who goes back to at least Oct 2001, when I was first invited, lurked and originally joined. Many of you were Local FR Chapter Chairs, and you made it happen when we got to meet, greet, and "Freep" politicians, and to rally and show our support for our military and first responders.
Hats off to you all!
no shout out to Laz?
Holy Moly! I joined on July 10, 2001, so you better take your hats off to me, too;-)
Great info. Thanks to all of the Freeper Founding Fathers and Mothers. Im a week shy of my 20th FR anniversary. I remember following the campaign of 2000 on this site...my first with the amazing tool that is the internet. Fascinating times, wondering how the Republics fate would turn on the Bush vs. Gore election. Now, 20 years on, poised on the edge of an Occupy the White House movement, and the fate of the Republic turning on Trump vs. Biden. A wild ride.
I think i pinged you to that post, didn’t I?
I think thats the same day at Union Square, freeping the anti war wackos.
I still miss A+Bert! Of course, he was a scoundrel, but he did keep things lively.
IIRC, JohnHuang2 was a prolific poster.
What stuff was lost? Years? That would be sad...
I stayed out of the wars and I knew when to shut up. Most of the time, I didn’t have a dog in that fight. I miss the conspiracy crazies but I never understood Quix at all. Not that it was bad, it was just way over my head. But all the others were great fun and educational. FR taught me how to spot a Stormfronter within seconds, how to spot something that looks real but isn’t and how to determine when the media is lying to me. I also learned not to follow along with the echo chamber which is what my liberals friends are doing now.
Life has been really busy for the last 22 years
DC rallies, all the years at Walter Reed, Banquets and so much more are all in my memory too. I lost contact with Kristin last year but do have some pictures, favors, shirts and other things that might be of interest to a history of FR.
Prodigy to today. A very long road.
Hope you are well, I check in most days still..
Thanks for posting this great history of FR.
Thank you, Jim and John Robinson for your dedication to the cause of American Conservatism.
Stealin’ that image. Good addition to the FR profile page.
Thank you. INFOBUMP!
Some of us old-timers are too mean to die.
I thought our discussions of the 2016 election were outstanding, and many of us not only predicted the Trump victory but explained exactly why and how it would happen—while the mass media was totally clueless.
The election night thread was one for the ages....
maybe, I htink we were walking there and met these cops
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