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Meet the Former Right-Wing Blogger Who Realized Conservatives Are Crazy

8 May 2012 General 24 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson

AlterNet / By Joshua Holland

For years, Charles Johnson was a prominent right-wing “war-blogger.” On his site, Little Green Footballs, he coined the term “anti-idiotarian,” wrote frequently of a “leftist-Islamist axis,” called Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas “a fanatical, deadly enemy of Western civilization” and inspired the hawkish Israeli journalist Gil Ronen to gush, “If anyone ever compiles a list of Internet sites that contribute to Israel’s public relations effort, Johnson’s site will probably come in first, far above the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s site.” His comments section became an infamous hotbed of xenophobia and wingnuttery.

That was then and this is now. Visit LGF today, and you’ll find posts decrying his former fellow travelers’ knee-jerk Islamophobia, debunking the Breitbrats’ steaming piles of nonsense and defending the Obama administration against scurrilous charges from Fox News. Johnson has undergone a remarkable political transformation over the past five years, but it didn’t come without a cost; he is now among the top targets of the right blogosphere – an apostate drawing an enormous amount of venom from people he once considered his allies.

This week, Charles Johnson appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour. Below is a lightly edited transcript (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Charles, I’ll be honest, I used to find you kind of terrifying. Not in a personal way, but as a prominent member of this group of so-called war bloggers. You were prominent in that group. You co-founded Pajamas Media and you were widely credited with helping to bring down Dan Rather after he reported on George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service. You used to be really filled with Islamophobia and xenophobia. James Wolcott of Vanity Fair once compared your site to “a disorganized Nuremberg rally.”

Charles Johnson: Yeah, I’ve heard worse. That’s a fair enough description. If you actually go back before the 9/11 attacks and read what I wrote on my blog you’ll find that I actually was never what you’d think of as a right-winger at all.

JH: You were always kind of an anachronistic right-wing blogger. You’re a highly accomplished jazz guitarist; you always seemed to care about the environment. What were your politics like on September 10 or during the Clinton years?

CJ: My politics in one sense didn’t change because even when I started to be more associated with right-wing blogs and that whole milieu I was still what you call a social liberal. I never went in for the religious right stuff. In fact the rising importance and power of those kind of people in the Republican Party is one of the reasons why I finally had to just go elsewhere.

JH: September 11th was a traumatic experience for the entire country. We all felt that way. Is it fair to say that you kind of snapped?

CJ: In a sense I guess you can say that. It hit me really hard. I grew up in New York and I was actually interested in architecture, so I followed the construction of the World Trade Center. It helped that I had a really personal connection to the area. It hit me really hard.

I don’t know if I snapped so much as I really wanted to know more about what was going on. I tend to focus real intensely on things when I get interested. That’s what happened with the blog. I focused on fundamentalist Islam and radical Islam. Over the years I began to be involved with people like Robert Spenser and Frank Gaffney. If I had known some of the things I know about them now I’d like to think I wouldn’t have been associated with them, but you live and you learn, I guess.

JH: Right. You were a very early entrant into the blogging world. By the time I started reading blogs, maybe in 2002 or 2003, you were very much like Robert [Spencer]. You were using this method common to people who have a fear of Islam which is finding examples of Muslims doing terrible things, and then at least implying, if not stating outright, that these horrific incidents represent the Muslim community outright.

CJ: That’s a fair criticism, and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve changed my focus. I’ve realized that to be true. At that point I had to say to myself that this doesn’t really make sense, knowing what I know now about some of the motivations of people like Spenser and the like. That’s one of the big reasons I’ve changed the focus of my blog.

Just to be clear, I was never really known as a right-winger until after the September 11th attacks. On my blog there were some pretty harsh criticisms of George W. Bush prior to the 2000 elections. And I didn’t vote for him.

JH: OK, so along the way you began to see things a little differently and you started to criticize your erstwhile allies. You started calling out Fox News inaccuracies. You called Jim Hoft, the dumbest person on the internet, a “borderline illiterate bigot.”

CJ: I stand by those words.

JH: They’re not even controversial, Charles. Along the way, and correct me if I’m wrong because I was an outsider looking in, it seems the tipping point came in 2007 when you had this epic flame war with Pamela Geller, who remains one of the country’s biggest bigots to this day. Geller was behind this ridiculous Ground Zero mosque controversy and was an apparent inspiration for Anders Breivik, who murdered 70-plus Norwegians last year. Tell me about that incident. And what is Vlaams Belang?

CJ: So you’ve been googling around a bit. Actually the split between me and the far-right blogging scene had begun before that, but that was one of the big schism points. It wasn’t just Pamela Geller, but Robert Spenser and those who called themselves the “anti-Jihad bloggers.” They had gone to Belgium to have a meeting with a bunch of European like-minded bloggers and other personalities. When I discovered that one of the people there was Filip Dewinter of the Belgian Vlaams Belang party, which actually is a successor to a party called Vlaams Blok, which was banned by the Belgian government for their neo-Nazi roots and extreme-right hate speech. What they did is basically reform the image of the party, but didn’t change much else.

When I discovered that this was one of the people they were making alliances with, I said I can’t. This is not for me. I started to criticize people like Pamela Geller. Geller in response started to lash out at me with incredible viciousness, which is kind of her standard mode of operation, and it went from there. Basically the more I looked into and really started to investigate the connections that were forming between these people and the American anti-Jihad blogging scene, the more I realized there’s something really wrong here. We’re talking about people who are fascists, who not only have neo-Nazi connections but also have connections to real, oldtime Nazis, the real Nazis from the Third Reich.

At that point I had a real gut check. It was a moment where things kind of changed — I began to look at things differently.

JH: Geller continues to dance with European far-right-wing parties like the English Defense League as well. And, as you say, she lashed out with lupine ferocity. She wrote at one point that your “campaign to destroy the most effective voices on the right from within has been completely exposed.” That you “have been outed for the mole, the plant, the dis-informationalist” that you are.

CJ: Both her and Robert Spencer question who’s paying me. They have all kinds of conspiracy theories about who bought me out, and is that even really me anymore?

JH: It’s George Soros, right?

CJ: Of course! He’s always behind it. But really what they’re doing is trying to divert attention from the very real issues I bring up about the people they associate with. That’s the bottom line with those people. All these personal attacks are really an attempt to divert attention away from the facts.

JH: On some level, blogging communities do form. It must have been kind of nerve-racking to switch sides when you’d developed these allegiances in these ongoing blog wars. Did you have second thoughts? Were you worried about whether you would be villified?

CJ: Absolutely I had feelings like that. Emotionally, it wasn’t easy to go through all this stuff, but sometimes you have to and hopefully you come out the other side better. I’ve always looked at my blog not as something I wanted to be the most popular place. Believe it or not, I try not to do things that just make my blog more popular on purpose. What I try to do is be as honest, straightforward and factual as I can. That’s kind of always been my intent, and sometimes above and sometimes below the line. Whether a whole bunch of other bloggers suddenly stop linking to me or said bad things about me, I can’t let that influence what I do. It doesn’t make any sense, otherwise I won’t be doing it anymore.

JH: Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist who studies the relationship between cognitive styles and ideology. He says that one of the attributes — and he says it’s a positive attribute — that conservatives display more prominently than liberals is loyalty. Loyalty is a good thing, but it has a dark side, which is tribalism. They’re more likely to have these tribal inclinations. I think you experienced what going against the tribe looks like first-hand.

CJ: That’s evident in my Twitter timeline – even in the last week, it’s been really nuts out there. I think it was Gandhi who said first they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win? They tried to ignore me, and now they’re going kind of in the mocking mode and graduating toward the attacking mode. Hopefully we’ll continue on with this analogy.

JH: The New York Times said you moved into a gated community because you were worried about these online threats. Is that true?

CJ: I’ve actually told other people that they kind of exaggerated that. They asked me what caused me to move into this gated community here. Really it was just that I found a nice place that happened to be in a gated community. It really wasn’t because I was worried about the threats, although I have had some threats, including one from a neo-Nazi who is a friend of blogger Stacy McCain. That was a concern, but it wasn’t the primary reason at all.

JH: Now what about the other side? From my perspective, once you shifted the focus of your writing I had no hesitation adding you to my RSS feed, and following you on Twitter. Were there people on the left who you’d tangled with in the past who had a harder time accepting you into their fold?

CJ: Absolutely. There have been one or two, but most people have been willing to just see where I’m at now and see what I’ve said about the stuff I wrote in the past. A lot of it I do regret, there’s no doubt about it. Hopefully all I can do is continue to do what I do, and be as straight and true to what I believe as possible.

JH: You say you have regrets. I wonder is there one thing that you regret more than others? Is there something that stands out in your mind?

CJ: I was totally wrong about Barack Obama. That’s one of my main regrets at this point. I really fell for a lot of the right wing propaganda, and I thought he was going to be a communist and a radical leftist and all that stuff. I believed a lot of the propaganda about him. If I could go back I would vote for him now, but we don’t have that time machine yet. That’s actually one of the main things. I should not have been so ready to accept it. That was one of the things that really woke me up, seeing the truth as opposed to all the lies that were being spread by this blizzard of propaganda.

JH: I had Eric Boehlert on the show a few weeks ago. He’s with Media Matters. He said something really interesting. He said that in the era of Obama, when things have really gone off the deep end on the right, they don’t bother debunking a lot of the right-wing media outlets that they used to track regularly because they’ve become so transparently crazy that nobody pays attention to them.

CJ: That’s a great point. Sometimes I actually stop myself from copying or covering that stuff as well, because it does seem like just another crazy or absurd thing. At this point they’re so far out there that there’s absolutely no concern for reality on these blogs. And they never back down and never correct anything.

JH: They certainly don’t. Do you think that their influence has truly waned? We saw Mitt Romney try to court right-wing bloggers this week.

CJ: I think influence is an interesting thing that’s hard to measure. The effects of the Tea Party on the Republican Party was definitely exacerbated by the right-wing blogs. I don’t really know how much of that Mitt Romney meeting was just pandering and how much of it was a genuine attempt to curry favor with the base. Some of the people they invited are weird choices if you really know their background. Some of these people have been incredibly vicious toward Romney, but that’s politics.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Original post: Meet the Former Right-Wing Blogger Who Realized Conservatives Are Crazy

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24 Comments »

  1. I wonder how Charles Johnson reconciles his supposed support for social tolerance with Islam’s drive to force our wives/girlfriends to wear ugly black burkas from head to toe?

    Leftists are entirely hypocritical on Islamism. And conservatives are almost as bad. The leftists claim to be pro-freedom on personal liberties issues, like marijuana, beer, gambling, sex, porn, gay rights. But they support Islamism, and it’s grossly totalitarian anti-fun, prudish beliefs. Conservatives are somewhat aligned with the prudish Muzzies, on such matters (with a few exceptions, like some conservatives who support marijuana legalization and are cool on gambling and alcohol issues.)

    Only us libertarians are consistent. We oppose prudishness in all its forms, whether it comes from social conservatives or from authoritarian Muzzies who want to outlaw fun.

    I’d love to ask Mr. Johnson how he reconciles his supposed support for personal freedoms, yet aligns himself with the most anti-sex, anti-alcohol, prudish authoritarians on the planet?

    Eric Dondero, Publisher
    LibertarianRepublican.net

  2. Yeah, Vlaams Belang is so “fascist,” that the daughter of the leader of the Party prances around Antwerp in a bikini.

    Meanwhile Pam Geller herself produces videos of her in a string bikini wading in the ocean for the Troops fighting Islamists overseas.

    Tell me please, how it is that people who support scantily-clad women, not to mention beer, boobs, and bars, can be considered “fascist”?

    The UK Independence Party for example, is the lone voice in Britain standing up to Nanny-Staters who want to impose smoking bans on bars and taverns. UKIP is also libertarian on marijuana, beer and gambling. And they are the #1 force fighting the Islamization of the UK.

    Seems all bass ackwards. You all are calling those who support personal and sexual freedoms “fascists,” while calling the real fascists – Islamists – freedom supporters. Orwellian indeed.

  3. damn, another article too long to read in my drunken state. but yes conservatives are crazy. freedom for all. may the law of “the prophet” not rise to rule the world, or america. seperation of religion and state. let no one be tortured in the name of allah. fuck the evangelicals, those who mean to impose “religious law”. muslim jew christian buddist hindu jani bahi’a shinto pagan santaria voodoo hudoo whatever…………….

    i don’t get why muslims can’t agree to their religious law not being allowed in america courts? who do you think you are????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  4. is there some genetic thing that makes us hate other folks who differ from us?

  5. Human nature causes us to confuse hate with fear, nobody will admit to fear until they have found a way to work thru it. You hear it in a soldier who has made it thru a battle.

  6. There is hope! Keep hope alive!

  7. Eric, trouble very often starts out as fun.

    Smoking and drinking ruins the liver, pancreas, lungs, and other things you might want later. Promiscuity is no health promoter either.

    Grow up Eric!

  8. I’m a Muslim, and I work in conservative politics -_- we aren’t all “crazy.”

  9. Good. People can change. Let’s hope people here realize conservatives can like or be Muslim as well, and maybe people here can stop painting such a large group with one brush.

  10. Eric, I know people have long used “fascist” as slang for people who want to set limits on personal enjoyment, but that isn’t what Fascism is. It has nothing to do with curbing parties and sexuality. Instead, we’re using it to mean people who draw battle lines between cultures, stirring up a war between “us” and “them”. They use nationalism, racism, conspiracy theories, and other forms of bigotry to demonize and define “them”, which appealing to the lowest common denominator of their own culture to better define “us”.

    Pam’s prancing in a bikini is actually an illustration of this phenomenon. She doesn’t care about changing western culture to be more conservative. She cares about winning the masses by making western culture look SO FUN compared to all other cultures, whom she calls evil and backwards, and suggest we annihilate. So yes, anti-Muslim bloggers and speakers will (depending on the person) revel in sexual expression, red meat, drunken parties, and even homosexual rights campaigns- so long as they can say “SEE how much better we are than THEM? That’s why we need to ban and annihilate them, to protect all this good clean fun we’re having.”

    You’ll notice people like geert wilders will attack Muslims in Europe by calling them homophobic. But when he speaks to an American audience, he doesn’t mention homosexuals at all. These people only mention the “fun stuff” that their audience already enjoys, because for them the point isn’t establishing any set of principles. It isn’t really “for” anything.

    It’s only “against” the Other, by any means necessary. Right now they denigrate pot-smokers as useful idiots for the left wing. But the moment they speak to a young drug-using audience, it’ll be about how Western civilization can use pot responsibly, and the scary Muslims/Mexicans/Blacks are the problem.

    So yeah, Fascism isn’t the same as social conservatism. It doesn’t really care what the people do, so long as they HATE all outsiders and have a strong feeling of superiority.

  11. I’ll give you an example of the common mistake you were making:

    Since the great Muslim powers collapsed around 100 years ago, replaced by secular dictatorships, Muslims had looked to what made their conquerors so powerful. The “West” was talking about “Modernity” (which itself was a semi-fascist movement), and pointed to technology and new cultural trends, gender roles, and economic systems as elements of that modernity. The “west” always referred to itself as “the west” and the Muslim world as “the Islamic world”, setting them up to contrast.

    The outcome is that when Muslim movements started forming, shaking off 100 years of dust, patching themselves together without any real idea of what their predecessors were like, all they knew FOR SURE, was that “The West” was what ruined them, and that “Modernity” was bad. The consequences were terrible. Afghans fought to the death to prevent women’s rights, because up until recently, they thought the very CONCEPT of women’s rights was “Western” and “Modernist”. Thankfully, teams of Scholars from other nations are now preaching in Afghanistan about women’s rights, to the chagrin and embarrassment of many Afghan men. Anyway, these movements, like the Taliban and Boko Haram (literally, “the west is forbidden”) still fight against “modernization” as a concept, and that’s stupid.

    Now, where does your example come in, Eric? Well, for decades now, in report after report, editorial after editorial, Americans have misunderstood “modernization” or “modernity” or “western” to refer to technology. People who oppose “Modernization” are opposed to the cultural constructs of modern western civilization. They have absolutely nothing against technology. So it’s not ironic or hypocritical in the least that backwards Islamists such as the salafis use twitter and youtube. That was never part of their problem.

    So essentially, objecting to the term “fascist” because Pam flaunts sexuality as a carnal reward of her culture to its fighting men, is like saying Salafis can’t be backwards extremists or can’t be against modernism, because they use the internet. In both cases, it’s a misunderstanding of what they object to, and what they want. The Nazis were after all, red-blooded drinking men who enjoyed a good party.

  12. <~ Uber Conservative and HATES Neo-CONs. Neo-Conservatives are Lefties that don't want to admit it. They <3 BIG Government just as much as BIG Corporations and welfare. I call the Democrats the Marxist Left and Republicans the Communist Left. Not much difference between the two…

  13. In much fewer words, I guess I could have said “Fascism doesn’t have anything to do with banning or permitting specific acts. It has to do with fostering an irrational zealous loyalty for a state, leader, or political movement, wherein the leaders cannot be criticized, critics are punished as traitors and heretics, and other cultures and perspectives are treated as threatening enemies. Often, this means establishing and defining one’s own culture, what a “Good German” believes and how they behave and dress.

    If you take anything these right-wing bloggers say seriously, and if you pay attention to their political efforts, you’ll see them for what they are. They want governments to defend and federally promote “Western” religious institutions as the “lesser evil”, ban mosque construction, ban Muslim immigration (or require belief-tests to weed out anti-Israel immigrants), ban foreign language use in businesses and in public, ban foreign clothing, ban foreign media sources, close down Muslim schools, ban Halal and Kosher food, forbid Muslims from having public office, permit regular screening and surveillance of Muslims, ban Muslim contracts and ceremonies, root out and imprison Muslim sympathizers as traitors, etc.

    But in the meantime, you’ll enjoy a glass of wine and go to pool parties.

  14. They are actually pretty venomous, on a personal level, about anything Muslims are involved in. Don’t step back and take a big-picture view of their campaign, because then you put your own positive, rational spin on what they do. Get up close and see what Geller and Spencer are like, how they phrase things, how they twist stories, what words they commonly use and why. They’re not fighting to preserve the west against Islamization, because it’s never going to happen anyway and they know it. They’re attack dogs spitefully targeting all and any Muslims who pop their heads up or achieve anything. The “anti-jihad” movement is led, vanguard and strategy table, by cynical hateful people who object to anything possibly Muslim related, to an extremely irrational degree.

    If this was really about saving the West from invasion, and not about fighting Muslims as a people, would Geller and her brood object to Muslim beauty contest winners? Would they be circulating debunked lies about US Mosques being radical? Wouldn’t they want Moderate Muslim allies? Why don’t they have any? Why object to a show about Muslims? Why boycott a company for offering halal food? None of the conflicts Geller fights are actual battles in the war on terror. None of them are mortal conflicts to defend the West, because nobody she ever attacks poses a threat to the west. It’s all about riding a tidal wave of nationalism, carried up as a hero on the backs of angry terrified Americans, waving a sword of self-righteousness against innocent people whom she and her cohorts need to portray as Orcs and villains, just so she can win imaginary battles against them.

    Johnson saw this eventually.

  15. Hassan, your posts are interesting. It is easy to see the buffoonery of Geller, who appears to be getting crazier by the minute. Spencer is saner and a bit more careful.

    The muslims rotted under the Ottomans. I think it was Ataturk who blamed Islam as a “dead dog hanging around our necks, rotting our society.”

    I don’t know whether that is so, but Muslim tribal hatred of the other is well documented, the constant conflicts hinder all progress.

    As long as Islam sells its soul to politics, espouses theocracy and murders the other, it and the muslims will be feared and despised.

    Perhaps other nations will follow Hungary’s lead and not recognize it as a religion and forbid muslim immigration.

  16. I do not belong to the Republican Party nor the Democrat Party. I belong to the Common Sense Party (a CommOnist, if you like). My government doesn’t speak for me even though it likes to fuck me in the wallet on a daily basis. Republicans and Democrats have fucked this country up since day one, both sides are liars, thieves and murderers with the same suit and tie. Until someone can prove themselves worthy of my vote, then they shall never gain it or my respect or trust. These fuck bubbles will do or say anything to get elected and contrary to popular belief, unless you are a member of a million dollar corporation or a lobbyist, you (the common peasant) and your vote doesn’t mean shit. End of rant.

  17. shibly???? is that u?????

    Surat An-Nūr (The Light) – سورة النور بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

    24:1

    سورة أنزلناها وفرضناها وأنزلنا فيها آيات بينات لعلكم تذكرون

    [This is] a surah which We have sent down and made [that within it] obligatory and revealed therein verses of clear evidence that you might remember.

    24:2

    الزانية والزاني فاجلدوا كل واحد منهما مائة جلدة ولا تأخذكم بهما رأفة في دين الله إن كنتم تؤمنون بالله واليوم الآخر وليشهد عذابهما طائفة من المؤمنين

    The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah , if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment.

    24:3

    الزاني لا ينكح إلا زانية أو مشركة والزانية لا ينكحها إلا زان أو مشرك وحرم ذلك على المؤمنين

    The fornicator does not marry except a [female] fornicator or polytheist, and none marries her except a fornicator or a polytheist, and that has been made unlawful to the believers.

    sounds at least semi-fascist to me? isn’t it muslim who say that their religion is all encompasing, including governance of the populace? true fascism doesn’t specifically address at to what social morays it would impose on the hoi polloi. but just like rasism is often used to label those who don’t like islam. despite islam not being a race. fascism is a term that is often used to describe an authoritarian government’s abillity to limit the liberties of the people. islam is very limiting of social freedoms, including gambling, alchol, sex, freedom of speech, etc. etc. as are the “family values” crowd on the right. according to the koran you can even be limited as to who you can marry. a muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-muslim, right?

    i see the syrians are employing suicide bombers more and more. what would pape say?

  18. anon,

    i think you have more common ground with muslim then you want to admit. it’s my liver. i’m going to pour myself a nice stiff vodka. might even buy a pack of smokes today.

    “trouble very often starts out as fun.”
    your slippery slope reasoning is nearly as dangerous as the koran. drinking leads to fornicating leads to aids. so you must ban drinking. also scantly dressed women lead to fornicating or worst rape, must ban the bikini. gotta close the strip clubs, ban porn. might be best to keep your women totally covered and at home. i think many adulterous relationships happen at work (you know the punishment for that). best women not be in the work force. best to make sure they can’t leave the house without a male relative. you’re starting to sound like a saudi.

  19. Ban? I ban none of these stupid things, Prohibition has been tried. Smoking, so chic in former yrs is under attack. A health org in NYT ad recently said society could no longer afford smoking, too many expensive deaths.

    People used to drive drunk all over the place. If somebody died, the attitude was fatalistic: alas, such is life and death on the road. Then MADD arose, and it became unfunny to drive drunk.

  20. Nor am I the vigilante muslim type who thinks it is ok to run up and clobber someone who’s not following the prescribed mode.

  21. It’s your liver now. Later on it will go public as a health care cost. Need a transplant? Hey, US gov, gimme a transplant.

  22. anon,

    i’m all for eliminating all public health care. medicare is going to kill the country. medicare was a terrible socialist experiment that has failed. if i can’t pay for my new liver i should be allowed to die. you should be able to sell your organs.

    so you are with hiliary on her “fat tax”. shouldn’t we eliminate bounce houses then? http://www.jrapublish.com/bounce-house-injury-statistics-every-parent-should-know.html btw i own a bouce house rental company. how about playgrounds? cars? definately motorcycles? extreme sports? definately skateboarding? you ever seen the show “scarred”on mtv 2? how about the nfl? do you see all the studies they are doing about longterm brain damage? jr seau shot him self in the chest. and the chicago guy too a couple of years ago, dugens, something with a d?

    so you don’t think the heavy sin tax on liquor is in the black? maybe i will die before getting social security and save the government money.

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