Once, a long time ago, if you were an individual seeking reasonable and intelligent political discourse in the Internet, from a right-wing perspective, there were few places as prominent and respected as Jim Robinson’s freerepublic.com.

The site counted among its members such luminaries as Tony Snow, Barbara Olsen, Lucianne and Jonah Goldberg, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, and Andrew Breitbart; even Robert Bork was rumored to post in FR.

The site’s users, known as FReepers, were considerable in number, dedicated, and passionate; Jim Robinson’s conservative brigades were able to launch either a spontaneous roadside rally, or organize nation-wide protests.  During the Bush/Gore recount, FReepers organized rallies from Texas, to Florida, to Georgia, to Washington DC itself.

  • It was a FReeper who ended Dan Rather’s career.
  • It was a FReeper who coined the term Sore/Loserman during the Bush/Gore recount wars.
  • It was a FReeper who posted the first known report of trouble with the Columbia, as it disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana on re-entry.
  • It was a FReeper who photo-shopped the infamous image of John Kerry standing side-by-side with Jane Fonda in an anti Vietnam war rally.

A reasonable argument could be made that FR was influential in Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Those were the Golden Days of Free Republic, but the site shines no longer.

Today, Free Republic is a shadow of its former self, with vitriol lauded as eloquence, and bigotry held as patriotism, Mr. Robinson is leading a quixotic crusade against the GOP’s presumed Presidential nominee, allowing (even encouraging) unbridled, bigoted attacks on Romney’s Mormon faith to flourish in the forum.

Robinson, who proclaims himself a conservative leader, standing up for traditional American values, will banish anyone who disagrees with his version of conservatism from the site, but what Mr. Robinson fails to realize is that it was individual members of his forum that brought gravitas to the site, and not the other way around.

To be fair, Robinson created what could very well be the best software of its kind at the time of FR’s ascent, but it was the massive interchange of ideas between members, the FReepers themselves, all riding atop the e-wave of the late 20th Century, and driven by their animosity toward the Clinton administration, that brought the forum into the spotlight.

Alas, Mr. Robinson convinced himself that the message was the medium, when it was the messengers who raised the medium to glory.

Internet blogs are buzzing with reports of a massive crack up in FR, with anti-Romney sentiment standing side-by-side with open anti-Mormon bias, FReepers are abandoning Jim Robinson’s burning ship in droves, populating sites like http://www.gopbriefingroom.com to discuss the chaotic status of Free Republic.

In facebook, exiled FReepers stand amazed at the realization that Free Republic and Daily KOS, bitter Internet blog political ideology enemies, are actually supporting the same candidate for the Presidency this cycle, as FReepers openly support the idea of an Obama win, as such a victory will “teach the GOP a lesson”.

This post from FReeper “Leep”

“Crash and burn America. Hopefully, we can rebuild in 10 or 20 or 50 years…?”

The signs are visible to even the naked eye.

Check this statement by the site’s founder, Jim Robinson, just a few nights ago:

“Lastly, we’re having a bit of changeover on our moderator staff. At least two moderators resigned this afternoon after I flatly refused to rein in a so-called anti-Mormon “bigot” on FR.”

In today’s Free Republic, no one will be critical of anti-Mormon statements. Jim Robinson once again:

“This website considers the Mormon religion as false doctrine. Period.”

It’s nearly impossible to cross the line on criticism of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism at a site where the proprietor dismisses the entire religion as a “false doctrine”.

Robinson, in his refusal to support the GOP ticket seems to understand that he has become a minority within a minority, within a diminishing number of supporters, as he says:

“I doubt there are 10% of the FReepers in agreement with me on this.”

Ten percent of a rapidly diminishing number of posting members could spell financial troubles for Robinson, as some of the site’s most steadfast financial supporters quietly melt into the night.

Robinson himself acknowledged the sites diminishing contribution levels earlier this year, announcing that he was investigating other means to secure financial support:

I’ve checked with an ad agency. We can probably raise the funds we need to operate FR at our current level and at the current market price for online advertising if we run a banner ad at the top of every page and at least one rectangular ad in the above the fold body of the page and a couple rectangular ads in the sidebar. If that doesn’t generate enough revenue, we can also run pop ups or pop unders and we can even run audio and video ads if need be. But of course, if we go full bore commercial, we’d have to insure strict copyright compliance with very brief excerpting of all articles to avoid lawsuits. And the agency would require that we install a filter to censor out any bad or unacceptable words in our posts.

Robinson went on to repeat his commitment to go down with his ship, rather than support Romney, or as he puts it, “an abortionist/homosexualist/statist.”

Then again, even as Free Republic fades into irrelevance, Robinson’s legacy lives on in an unintended cottage industry of forums offering refuge to FReepers wishing to distance themselves from Robinson.

Sites like True Blue Liberty, Sweetness and Light, and others are all populated by dissatisfied or vanished FReepers.

As one of the founding partners of The Briefing Room quipped recently:

“The FR meltdown is good for business, people are looking for a sanctuary, and a place where sanity still reigns. Our membership rolls are increasing hourly, and they all come to ask the same question…”what in the world happened to Free Republic.”

Sad thing, that what was once such a great notion will crumble and fall under the weight of such negative and destructive actions as are being witnessed in the forum these days, and that in the end, the great things accomplished by the many, will be dragged down into the dust bin of history by the few.

Ring the bell, close the book, and quench the candle for Free Republic.