I have to admit that I, like a lot of other people, had a WTF moment when I first read the news that AOL was buying HuffPost. My next thought, however, was that if it hadn't been for AOL, I wouldn't be blogging on HuffPost today.
Back in 2002, I was doing something completely different for a living than what I do now. I had been working in the printing industry for nearly twenty years, and was by then on my own, doing freelance work for a bunch of small printing companies, and other exciting things like creating catalogs for lighting fixture companies. (To this day, I can't walk into a building without looking up and subconsciously identifying the type of light fixtures in the ceilings.) I didn't hate what I was doing, but it wasn't exactly a satisfying career where I felt like I was doing anything terribly important. It was just a job.
I had no idea that my whole life was about to change one day when I signed onto AOL to read my email. On days when I wasn't too busy, I would usually read a few of the news stories on AOL when I signed on to check my mail, and one of the stories that day was about ex-Judge Roy Moore's infamous Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama courthouse. Having a little time to kill, I decided to click on the link to the message board about the story, something I had never done before. Little did I know when I decided to click on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history, or that six months later I'd be writing a book about it.
I don't have much formal education. In fact, I only attended high school for a few months (making it quite amusing that Glenn Beck referred to me as "some professor" when poo-pooing one of my posts here). But I had always been extremely interested in history, particularly American history, and knew enough from my own reading, studying, and countless trips to historical sites and museums as a kid, to know that what I was seeing on this AOL message board was not real American history. I was reading post after post defending the Ten Commandments monument with misquotes and lies, copied and pasted from what I soon found out were countless Christian websites. I just couldn't resist the urge to respond to a few of these posts.
At first, my responses were short -- nothing more than correcting a misquote or briefly explaining why something couldn't possibly be true. It soon became apparent, however, that my brief rebuttals were not working. I was often accused of being a liar, and occasionally accused of being the antichrist. So, I began spending a little time looking things up and posting longer, more detailed rebuttals, eventually even adding footnotes.
Before long, other people who were battling the lies on the AOL message boards began emailing me posts from the both the Ten Commandments board and other related boards, asking me whether or not they were true. Apparently, these people had gotten the impression from my now quite lengthy, footnoted posts that I was some sort of expert on the subject. I wasn't -- at least not yet -- but I did know enough to be able to answer most of these emails, even if it was only to tell someone where they could find the information they needed to disprove whatever lie they were trying to disprove. Between writing my own posts on the boards and answering emails, what had begun as a simple click on an AOL message board link had become somewhat of a "calling" that I was spending several hours a day on.
From time to time over the next few months, someone on the message boards would respond to one of my posts by saying that I should write a book. While I appreciated the compliment, I didn't take the idea very seriously -- at least not at first. For one thing, I was was sure that there must already be plenty of books on the subject, written by people far more qualified than I was to write about it. When I tried to find such a book, however, I couldn't. I found a few books that refuted the lies to some degree, but none providing the amount of information or level of detail I was including in my message board posts. At this point, the idea of writing a book was beginning to seem a little less crazy, and when I half-jokingly mentioned the idea to a few of my real life friends, I was surprised to find that they didn't think it was crazy at all. So, never having written anything before, with the exception of posts on AOL message boards, and having no particular qualifications to write a history book, I found myself writing a history book.
Fast forward to 2006. What had started out as a plan to spend a few months writing a short book debunking the historical myths and lies floating around the internet had become a much bigger project than I had anticipated. My little book, titled Liars For Jesus (after a phrase coined on the old Compuserve message boards to describe Christians who will make up or lie about anything for the sake of their religion), had evolved from a short single volume into what will eventually be a three-volume series (I'm still working on Volume 2). There were just too many lies to cover in one book. These lies were everywhere -- on the internet, in the books of pseudo-historians like David Barton, in debates in Congress, and even in the opinions of Supreme Court justices.
Soon after releasing the first volume of Liars For Jesus in August of 2006, I was contacted by Bruce Wilson, who, along with Fred Clarkson, had founded a blog called Talk2Action. Bruce wanted to know if I'd be interested in joining Talk2Action to write about the religious right's revisionism of American history. After one look at this blog, with its incredible line-up of writers and in-depth analysis of all things related to the religious right, my answer was a definite 'yes.' But, just as I was all set to dive into the world of blogging, everything got put on hold. My dog, Mac, who, for three years, had patiently put up with me as I spent day after day immersed in writing my book, became mysteriously ill. Not one of three different vets could figure out what was wrong with him, and he passed away a few weeks later. Then, only a week later, my father, who had been the biggest and most enthusiastic supporter of my decision to write my book, suddenly and unexpected passed away. It would be five months before I started writing again, but once I got started I was quickly cranking out post after post on Talk2Action.
One of the first things I decided to write was a series exposing all of the historical revisionism found in the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools course, having no idea that what I was writing was going to lead to an actual job, something that I really needed at this point. When Bruce Wilson read my series on the Bible curriculum, he became curious about David Barton, one of the Bible curriculum's advisory board members, and started Googling Barton's name and words like "curriculum." What Bruce stumbled upon would lead me to be introduced to Mikey Weinstein, the head of an organization that I had never heard of -- the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
What Bruce had found was an essay on the "myth" of separation between church and state in the American history unit of the Department of Defense's core curriculum for the JROTC program. On May 13, 2007, I wrote a post titled "The Department of Defense -- Bringing Historical Revisionism to a High School Near You." By the end of the month, thanks to a MRFF volunteer who spotted my post and sent it to Mikey, I was working for MRFF.
About a year later, after writing numerous pieces about religion and the military on Talk2Action, the head of one of MRFF's allied organizations thought my pieces needed to be seen by a larger audience. She had a friend who was a blogger here on HuffPost, and, through that friend, put me in contact with one of HuffPost's editors. I submitted the next piece I wrote, and have been blogging here ever since.
Blogging on HuffPost has allowed me to bring attention not only to issues related to the work of MRFF, but also to the issue of the rampant historical revisionism by the right -- the issue that ignited my transformation from a person who used to sit around drawing pictures of lighting fixtures and typesetting restaurant menus into a full-time writer and activist -- reaching an audience that I could never have imagined reaching on that day back in 2002 when I posted my first message on that AOL message board. Now, with the merging of HuffPost and AOL, I can't help but be excited by the potential to reach an even larger audience -- back on AOL, where I started my little journey nine years ago.