The Strange Case of Charles C. Johnson

Like a lot of people who care about politics, I’ve been quietly following Charles C. Johnson for a while, but lately, I’ve become fascinated by him. What sets Johnson apart from other rightwing activist who’ve made trolling their primary form of expression (e.g., Malkin, O’Keefe) is Johnson’s own proclaimed grievance. In every interview I’ve read with him, he says something like, “I’m doing this for people like me, nerds who were bullied.”

I believe him when he says he was bullied. The fact that people in college hated him so much that they made up a story about him shitting on the floor seems like proof enough. On the other hand, these claims are utterly disingenuous. Are we supposed to believe that was bullied in high school by, um, feminists?

But the tough part about all this is that—in college at least—he was still Charles C. Johnson. You’d be hard pressed to find some sort of evolution. Even then, he had his own little news site where his primary mode of discourse was trolling.

Let’s take a break here to stipulate that bullying someone, whether because of their political views or some perceived weakness or anything else, is not okay. Responding forcefully to someone’s public opinions, however, is absolutely fair game.

What makes this hard is that while Johnson may have been regularly picked on, it’s really hard to parse what was real bullying and what was simply reaction to Johnson’s attempts to attract negative attention. After all, Johnson’s whole M.O. is to repeatedly and deliberately do things that draw ire. Johnson may claim that he’s does what he does for the sake of truth, but the contradictions aren’t hard to see. When he broadcasts the home addresses of Times reporters, whines about being kicked of Twitter, and then turns around and threatens anyone who might reveal the location of his own home, it’s like saying, “Truth for you but not for me.” It’s a tacit acknowledgement that beyond any principle, he does this because he can.

It is unusual in modern society for someone to look you in the eye and say in so many words, “Whatever power I have, I will use against you.” Moreover, Johnson isn’t just saying that to his own critics. He’s said it to rape victims, innocent people killed by the police, and journalists doing their jobs. What do you call that if not bullying?

The pathology is intriguing—and like any side show fun to watch—but what is Johnson, really, if not the thing he claims to hate most?