Charlie Johnston is from Belleville.
If you come from St. Louis, that's all you need to know.
Charlie is the kind of guy you'd meet in a bar in Belleville, Illinois - a working class community across the river from St. Louis, where I'm from. Guys from Belleville - and from all over Southern Illinois - are characters. They come up with tall tales and you sit on a bar stool listening to them and you take everything they say with a grain of salt because they're from Belleville.
Charlie Johnston is a liar. Or a teller of tall tales. Take your pick.
He says an angel is giving him secret messages. He says, among other things, that the last normal Christmas was Christmas of 2013, and if you didn't notice how abnormal Christmas of 2014 and Christmas of 2015 were, that's not his fault. He says that his angel has told him that Obama will not finish his term; that he will convert and that the 2016 elections will be suspended. He says that the Virgin Mary will publicly appear in 2017 and that there will be a utopia of Christian believers on earth from that point forward. He says he walked across America - even though he appears to be in his 70's, is overweight, admits to having nerve damage, and his own posts on his Facebook page prove that he did no such thing.
On Friday, April 29, the National Catholic Register published a well written and well researched article by Patti Armstrong detailing Charlie's weirdness and the bishops who have warned their flocks about him and banned him from speaking in their dioceses. In that article, Patti quotes me, and my two posts on Charlie (this one and this one).
Before I tell you Charlie's response, you have to realize what happens when a guy from Belleville starts telling tall tales - claiming an angel is giving him visionary messages that are patently absurd, claiming he's walked across the United States, claiming a cataclysm is coming, the date of which he keeps changing - when a guy from Belleville starts telling tall tales and suddenly discovers that there are a ton of Devout Catholics who, for whatever sick reason, ARE ACTUALLY BELIEVING HIM!
Now if you're Charlie Johnston and you've been making this up as you go along, what do you do when the National Catholic Register links to an article by a guy named Kevin O'Brien, a guy from across the river in St. Louis, who has proof that you've been lying about one big thing in particular - your walk across America?
You could attack this Kevin O'Brien in a number of ways. He's a public figure, he's a sinner, he's got a temper, he's vulnerable.
But let me make a comparison. If you notice, people who hate the Catholic Church hardly ever hate it for valid reasons - the sex scandal or the corruption in Rome or bad bishops - they usually hate it for really bizarre reasons, like "The fishing industry has the Pope in its back pocket, which is why Catholics have to eat fish during Lent" or "Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and Dan Brown was right and Mother Teresa was evil".
Likewise, Charlie Johnston (who's from Belleville), and who could, if he wanted, dig up some real dirt against me and do some damage (frequent sinner and occasional jerk that I am) - Charlie does what any other teller of tall tales does when he realizes he's been knocked off his bar stool and the gig is up.
Boldly. Completely. Out of thin air.
He makes up a totally bizarre fib out of whole cloth and sells it - even though it's a lie that is impossible for him to support.
Here's what Charlie says about me (my emphasis) ..
She also cites blogger Kevin O’Brien who, some time back, did an unhinged attack piece, in which he didn’t allow any comments. It was chock full of misinformation, including that I had never taken a pilgrimage at all and that I was raising MILLIONS (use your best Dr. Evil voice) for the Shrine through the donations button on my website. I corresponded with him for a few days, noting that I do not have and never have had a donations button on my website. Oops – he corrected it without noting any correction had been made. Old-time journalistic ethics allow for minor grammatical and spelling edits to be made without publicly acknowledging it, but require any substantive edits to be disclosed. The business on the pilgrimage was strange. There were literally thousands of contemporary witnesses who were virtually following me on my way. Over a few days, O”Brien edited and re-edited that portion of it, again without acknowledging he had made any errors in the first place. The last time I looked he concluded that I had “only” walked 1,700 miles, that it was not coast to coast, and that I accepted rides from people who offered.
Now CHARLIE JOHNSTON HAS NEVER CONTACTED ME! He did not correspond with me for a few days. This is an incredibly bold lie, and an incredibly stupid one.
So let me address Charlie for a moment.
Charlie, either you're lying or I am. If I'm lying, and you and I did correspond for a few days, as you claim, all you have to do is produce the correspondence to prove it. Where are these "few days" of emails or letters, Charlie? You cannot produce them because they do not exist. Charlie, you are lying.
And I edited my original post once, to take out a reference to Father Corapi, a reference that did not fit. Other than that, I have not changed one thing in my original post since I published it last fall, despite what Charlie claims. I have never written that Charlie had a donation button on his website or that he was raising millions or that he walked anywhere near 1700 miles.
Again, if I'm lying and you're not, Charlie, prove it. I have screen shots of your Facebook posts that demonstrate that you did not walk across America (in case you decide to delete them from Facebook). Do you have screenshots of the various changes you claim I made on my site?
Well, I don't mean to be angry or nasty. I like Charlie. I really do. How can you not like a guy from Belleville who lies like this?
I called Charlie yesterday after he lied about me. "I want to tell you that I admire you for lying so boldly," I told him, and I meant it. It takes guts to lie like this. "But of course," I continued, "you have no evidence to support your lies, which you should have realized before you told them." At which point, Charlie went ballistic, said that I was the one who was the liar, and hung up on me.
Later, this happened ...
Ha! I'm an "ambitious young sort"!
Do you know how long it's been since I've been an "ambitious young sort"? It's been years!
I love you, Charlie Johnston. You are an American icon - a religious huckster; you're a biblical icon - a false prophet; you're an eternal icon - an emperor without any clothes, and your fans keep admiring how well dressed you are. You pull tall tales out of thin air and you're as amazed as I am that your fan base believes you - because you're not at all good at lying, but your True Believers don't care; they eat it up no matter what you say.
I really admire your guts and the inanity of your lies. The next time you're in Belleville, I'll drive across the river and buy you a beer.
I'm not mad that you're lying about me.
I'm mad that your followers are believing you.
UPDATE - May 1, 2016 - On Charlie's blog, he has admitted that he and I never "corresponded for a few days". He still claims I re-edited my original blog post a number of times, though he has no evidence of that. He continues to malign me, but he has admitted that there was no correspondence.