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.So Belgium got to him?! Here's this guy who somehow can't go to a conference, and then he fixates on somebody in the audience at a conference, and then makes all kinds of connections from there. Well, there's something very strange about the mind of Charles Johnson. Does it mean anything more generally about right-leaning people on the web? Does the NYT want it to?
The conference finished up in Brussels, and “the next day,” Johnson remembers, “people were e-mailing me saying, ‘You might want to cover this.’ So I started looking into it.” He discovered that among the conference’s 90 or so participants — though not among the speakers — was a man named Filip Dewinter, a leader of a Belgian-nationalist political party called Vlaams Belang, or “Flemish Interest.” Vlaams Belang, which has a history that reaches back to the wrong side of World War II, has an unabashed record of inflammatory rhetoric and hateful, opportunistic verbal viciousness of all sorts; a few years ago, for example, the party announced an advertising campaign in Moroccan newspapers and magazines to “discourage foreigners from coming to our country.” And as recently as 2004, it was condemned by the Belgian Supreme Court for incitement to discrimination and racial segregation. (The party responded by changing its name.) Even to most right-wing sensibilities, Vlaams Belang is certainly beyond the pale. Still, whether or not Dewinter, who has said that “in Flanders, the multicultural society has led to a multicriminal society,” is more extreme than the commenters who appeared regularly on Little Green Footballs seems like a subject on which right-wing minds might reasonably disagree. Perhaps that still happens somewhere. Gray, however, is not a popular shade on the Internet.
It seems borderline ridiculous that the political character of an extremist Belgian party, which in the last parliamentary election captured just 17 seats out of 150 in the Chamber of Representatives, should become the issue over which a kind of civil war among American conservatives broke out, but that is what happened.
UPDATE: Charles Johnson noticed this post and responded:
A very ignorant post from someone who knows nothing about it. I make no apologies for wanting to distance myself from European fascist groups -- and there is no doubt that they wanted to get me on their side at one point.The expression "I make no apologies" would only make sense if I had somehow criticized him for wanting to distance himself from European fascist groups, which I didn't do. I just puzzled over how his mind put together the problem that he needed to take action about. I make no apologies for not knowing anything more about it than I could read in the New York Times... or for finding the old Little Green Footballs too hateful to want to read.
Althouse is clueless, yet her mouth still runs.This kind of bullshit insult doesn't make me want to do any more research about Johnson. I read a NYT article about him and wrote a short post about it. If there is some mysterious backstory that's missing from the NYT, why not tell me about it? I'm not a useless, ignorant person because I don't know it, whatever it is. Why lash out like this? I'm sticking with my original impression that he's got too much free-floating anger. Toxic.
UPDATE 2: "I was one of the organizers of the Brussels event, and I was the person who wrote to Charles Johnson to invite him... Filip Dewinter was indeed a speaker at the conference... [T]o assert that there is some 'guilt by association' with Filip Dewinter is to give credence to the idea that the Vlaams Belang leader deserves the 'fascist' smears that have been so frequently aimed at him." I have no background or opinion on this myself. I'm linking to that for what it's worth and out of a sense of fairness.