In the world of Christwire, the Glenn Beck rally made Martin Luther King Jr. proud, Hurricane Earl is headed toward the Gay East Coast to reap God's vengeance, and the recent increase in pet-on-pet rape is a pernicious consequences of same-sex marriage.
This is, of course, satire: Completely over-the-top, but mimicking some extreme religious-right talking points so well that several mainstream news sites have been hoaxed. In a competitive and superheated news climate, a religious site calling for a boycott of Bill Murray, "murderer of lambs," was, for NBC Los Angeles, too good to not be true. The advice column "Is My Husband Gay?" (Does he "travel frequently to big cities or Asia"?) was, as the Atlantic Wire's John Hudson discovered, taken at face value by the Huffington Post.
Christwire owners Bryan Butvidas and Kirwin Watson, after fielding press queries and book offers for months, have finally decided to go public. In an interview with New York, Butvidas said the site's basic concept is to "see what Glenn Beck is talking about and then make it ten times worse."
"We're not trying to promote hate, we want to show how fake the world really is," he said. "We write to see how far we can get people to believe our nonsense. People believe anything they read on the Internet." Do readers get the joke? Just like with the media, not always. Butyidas, who usually pens columns under the name Tyson Bowers III, said some of the people who leave vituperative comments don't get the irony.
Butvidas, a software designer who lives in Southern California, and Watson, who is a health service worker in Kansas, have never met in person. They became friends through the humor site Shoutwire.
"Christwire thinks anyone who isn't a hardcore Christian conservative is a communist or secretly gay, or working for the Chinese or the Russians," Butvidas said. "When we started, we didn't realize that there are zealots and political sites out there who really do believe that."
Will the hoaxes be harder to come by now that the site is receiving more public attention? Not necessarily, said Watson.
"People have these preconceived notions about how certain people are supposed to act, so if a conservative Christian has a website, there are certain things you expect to see," he said. "No matter how many times you say it's satire, people will still buy it."
The site produces a tiny amount of revenue through online ads, which goes toward hosting costs. Vitriolic anti-gay stories on Christwire often carry ads for gay dating sites and Fire Island vacation rentals, thanks to Google's irony-free algorithms.
The most prolific of the Christwire authors, "Stephenson Billings," author of the site's biggest hits like "Is My Husband Gay?" and "The Golden Girls: How One TV Show Turned A Generation Of American Boys Into Homosexuals," remains stubbornly anonymous. According to a pseudonymous Facebook profile:
Mr. Stephenson Billings is a widely respected and Christian Investigative Journalist. The focus of his journalism is American society and culture inspired by his profound love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.. A former high school football athlete, Mr. Billings also enjoys being an eBay Powerseller and a Motivational Children’s Party Entertainer (working in the Auguste method) in his hometown in Tennessee. His hobbies include antique soda bottle collecting and the piano.
Butvidas said that Billings began submitting articles via e-mail and has resisted all attempts to get him to come forward, even with potential book-deal cash as an incentive.
"We have no idea who the hell he is, or if it's even a he," Butvidas said. "We're a satire site and we punk people, and here's a guy who's probably punking us."
Contributor Marie Jon, on the other hand, is a very real person. She is a "political/religious-based writer" for RenewAmerica.com who has published numerous items on Christwire like "Obama the Marxist." According to Butvidas, Jon sent her columns to Christwire unsolicited; she did not reply to a request for comment. She told the New York Times, which ran its own interview with the Christwire founders earlier on Friday: "I might have mistakenly contributed in the past, because I didn’t know the site, and then shrugged my shoulders because I didn’t know how popular they were."
We should note, fondly, that the anonymous Billings is a devoted reader of New York Magazine and this website's Sex Diaries. Or, in his words, the magazine "has thrown itself down willfully, dejected and impotent, on Gotham’s fluffy-pillowed bed of traded-fluids, begging for some hard lash of attention, blind to who is giving it as long as it penetrates their page-view projections." In "A Disturbing Look Inside the Mind of a Sex-Addicted Homosexual Hipster," Billings continues:
The magazine shows no shame at suckling at the teat of the worst of mediocre Bushwick-basement manufactured micro-trends. Their coverage is so unprofessionally and flamboyantly biased it truly begs the question if this rag should arrive in one’s mailbox in a brown paper bag with parental advisories stickered all over. Or better yet, serve it up over a bartop with a complimentary junior-sized condom and a Farsi-English dictionary.
Stephenson, we're big fans of yours, too. Give us a call sometime.
Additional reporting by Mike Vilensky