Rod Dreher Canceled
Things finally got too weird for his benefactor.
At Vanity Fair, Caleb Escarma reports on “How Rod Dreher’s Blog Got a Little ‘Too Weird’”’ for The American Conservative.”
“It never got weird enough for me,” once spoken by Hunter S. Thompson, is an apt mantra for the dedicated fans of eccentric conservative blogger Rod Dreher. Over the last 12 years, Dreher, whose blog at The American Conservative will post for the last time Friday, has built a cult following with some of the most bizarre diatribes in opinion journalism. He has warned that so-called sissy hypnosis porn is “profoundly evil;” detailed the “formal” Catholic exorcism of a friend’s suicidal wife; and recalled—in unsettling detail—the time he witnessed a Black classmate’s uncircumcised penis.
But one particular reader, upon reading the last of said posts, determined the blog had simply gotten too weird, according to two sources familiar with the publication. That disgruntled reader was Howard Ahmanson Jr., the heir to a California banking fortune and the sole benefactor of Dreher’s six-figure salary at TAC, which is published by American Ideas Institute, a nonprofit. This unique funding arrangement—a single donor choosing to cover one writer’s entire salary—was paired with an even more unusual editorial arrangement: Dreher was allowed to publish directly on TAC’s site without any revisions or legal oversight, according to the two sources.
Dreher, Ahmanson, and Emile Doak, TAC’s executive director, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ahmanson had apparently long admired the work of Dreher, who has authored numerous conservative books and previously wrote for the Beliefnet blog and The Dallas Morning News. But according to the two sources, Ahmanson began to sour on his beneficiary in 2021, when Dreher, in a blog post debating circumcision, wrote the following: “All us boys wanted to stare at his primitive root wiener when we were at the urinal during recess, because it was monstrous. Nobody told us that wieners could look like that.” Incredibly, that was the “first red flag” for Ahmanson, one source told me, adding that the rift had been building for about a year.
Some of Dreher’s commentary on the gay and transgender communities also proved off-putting to Ahmanson, such as his lurid musings on anal sex, rectal bleeding, and the “partially rotted off” nose of a gay man who contracted monkeypox. “At some point, he basically decided, ‘This is too weird,’” the source, paraphrasing Ahmanson, explained to me. “‘I don’t want to read this or pay for this anymore.’”
And, of course, it didn’t help that the blogger, who resides in Hungary, almost caused a small geopolitical crisis last month, when he mistakenly published remarks made by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán during a session with other friendly pundits that Dreher thought at the time was on the record. Dreher, whose stay in the country is being partially funded by a think tank with close ties to the Hungarian government, revealed Orbán’s assertions that NATO is “in a war with Russia” and that he wishes to leave the European Union, comments that ran counter to the regime’s official policies and were not meant for publication. When Dreher realized his mistake, he changed the post’s wording to suggest that Orbán had maintained his public position.
There’s more but you get the idea. Dreher’s final post was gracious enough and he’s taking his talents to Substack, where I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he increased his take-home pay.
Regardless, his dissent into the depths of weirdness is rather sad. In recent years, I’ve mostly encountered his work from the odd link here and there and notes in the comment section here about the latest whacky thing he’s written.
It wasn’t always thus. I first mentioned his work here in June of 2005, in a post titled “The Wal-Mart Trade-Off,” responding to a thoughtful column he’d written for the Dallas Morning News. He was still contributing to the conversation a decade or so ago, debating Andrew Sullivan on the Catholic Church’s position on gay marriage (“The Christian Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name“) and discussing with Ta-Nehisi Coates class resentment and its racial elements (“Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’“).
In the intervening years, prior to Steven Taylor and I commenting on Dreher’s fascination with Orban, most of the OTB front page references to Dreher came from the late Doug Mataconis. Scanning those posts, there doesn’t seem to be a switch that flipped.
It may, of course, be the case that Dreher was always profoundly weird but either was more careful in what he wrote earlier in his career or that, mostly viewing his writings from links from other bloggers or aggregators, I only saw those on matters that interested me.
If I could send a discreet private memo to let you know you’d called Rod Dreher “Rob” in the headline I would. I won’t object if you choose to delete this message!
You beat me to it Prof James, I was all set to post the link to the Vanity Fair piece on how Dreher had lost his sugar daddy.
Of all the stories about pundits that have gone around the bend before diving off a cliff, Dreher’s has to be one of the weirdest. It’s difficult to imaging what a tortured soul this guy must be.
You beat me to posting on this James, though I do have one quibble:
First I was honestly shocked to learn the Dreher was getting a six figure paycheck (I realize that covers a wide range, but still) for the TAC column. Maybe Substack is profitable, but I am not sure I believe there are enough (what do we call his fans? Rod-heads?) out there to match that loss.
BTW, I suspect, beyond his weird kinks, there might be other reasons why the TAC and others are ok the column is finally done:
@wr: Fixed. Amusingly, I also referred to him as “Rob” in the above-linked 2005 post, which I corrected this morning. Perhaps that subconsciously influenced the headline!
@Matt Bernius: I made the assumption that “six figures” just meant he was making a little over $100,000—which is a nice living for a political opinion writer. Granted he’s more popular, but Matt Yglesias is reportedly making some $800,000 and Heather Cox Richardson some $5 million!
I may not speak for many, if any, weirdos. But fuck that guy for associating weirdness with Dreher’s theocracy, authoritarianism, and bigotry.
Apparently, the only thing worse than a banker is a banker’s heir.
He deserves exactly as much benefit of the doubt as he gives to those whom he condemns. So none.
To put it another way, it seems one has to work to becomes less tolerant as one ages and gains experience. So if you encounter such a person, it’s likely safe to assume they have always been that way and hid views they thought would threaten their standing.
Encarma referred to the Orban business. I agree that that was probably the last straw.
Dreher has a cute habit of telling his readers that something dreadful has happened, with ominous build-up–and then refusing to tell you what it is. Coy. I hate coy.
Weirdly, I was thinking of Rod Dreher just before I picked up my phone and saw this. I was actually thinking about Matt Yglesias. I recently saw a bit about Yglesias saying that to do what he’s doing he has to love the process of writing so he can sit at his laptop all day cranking out words. That reminded me of Dreher, about whom I have commented he cranks out a huge volume of work, but quality suffers. Yglesias led to some discussion here a few weeks ago on how substack reveals the importance of editors. I hadn’t known TAC couldn’t edit Dreher. I still glance at TAC but find very few articles of any interest and I quit reading Dreher entirely. “Too weird” and he never uses fifty words if five hundred will do. Also, I recently commented, I can’t remember the context, that apparently you can find a RW millionaire to fund anything. Apparently not quite anything anymore.
I confess I feel a little guilty about snarking on Dreher. He has some issues, recently lost his wife, and now his patron.
That’s a bit of a reach.
As to the rest, he is long past his sell by date, just ask his Ex. I honestly think he has some mental issues tho I won’t speculate as to what they might be.
Good catch, I had missed that in my skim of the Vanity Fair article.
I gave up on the TAC a few years ago. It was right after they fired Daniel Larison and their remaining sane and principled conservative voices. Seeing them gone and Scott Ritter and Dreher remain was a bridge too far for me.
Dreher was one of the conservatives I read because, while I disagreed with most of his worldview, he often engaged honestly with his critics. But gradually his quirks became obsessions. And during the riots over the police shootings I finally gave him up, as his columns made it plain that he was a blatant racist, and a profoundly fearful one at that.
A tangent, but I was irritated by some anti-Trump GOP writing he’d always supported Republican patriotism and such, specifically mentioning support for law enforcement as signified by the blue line flag. But now he’s realizing they’re racist. What the bloody …. did he think the blue line represented?
I too have a synapse or two flicker his name couple days ago (we should take a poll — how many here tho’t of Rod in the last week?)
Saw where Orban had made so remark that Hungary’s economy in future will have to be Euro- rather than Russo- directed. Pretty obvious. What will be left of Russian economy?
I wondered how that reality was goes for Rod. But not enough to check.
I have never read Rod Dreher. As far as weirdness goes, I’ve read stuff a lot weirder than the stuff mentioned on the internet. Nobody was paying them to write it, though.
Everything about Rod Dreher just screams closeted self-hating gay man to me. From his “conservative metrosexual” crunchy con phase, to his obsession with writing graphic descriptions of penises and gay sex, to his seeming need to spend as much time away from his (now ex-) wife as possible.
If it weren’t for all the damage he was doing to LGBT+ people, I’d feel sorry for him. He’d be so much happier if he just embraced his freak instead of trying to be a good boy for people who will never love him.
@James Joyner: “Matt Yglesias is reportedly making some $800,000 and Heather Cox Richardson some $5 million!”
If true, the fact that HCR makes six times as much as Matt Yglesias is one of the few truly just outcomes this world has offered recently.
I had been following Dreher since his NR days. “Crunchy Cons” was a great book, and showed how Conservatives could embrace some liberal positions without losing their conservative bona-fides. But something changed in Dreher when he moved back to St. Francisville outside of Baton Rouge. His relationship with his family was toxic, but he didn’t see it. His relationship with his “paw” was terrible until the day his father died. His relationship with his sister was even worse. But moving back home definitely changed something in him.
His obsession with LGBTQ and Trans people was not healthy. My guess is that he has had almost zero interactions with any trans people. But it’s nothing new. He’s always had an issue with teh gay. Always.
Last several years, however, he’s just become close to unhinged. He would find, and amplify the most odd, unique stories involving some unknown trans person, and attempt to argue that these random unknown odd stories were somehow fully representative of the larger trans community.
It’s sad to see someone lose their mind slowly, but that’s what we’ve witnesses with Dreher. He used to be a healthy skeptic, but recently has been parroting all the Fox bullshit, along with the OANN and NewMax bullshit about groomers. His strong support DeSantis tells you all you need to know.
@OzarkHillbilly: It’s a play on when LeBron announced hew was going to take his “talents to South Beach”
@Stormy Dragon: I have to admit that this would not surprise me. At a minimum, he feels like someone who is seeking to fill some kind of need that is not being met. I decided not to write about him a while back because it was always a temptation to play pop psychologist.
I think he actually is homophobic and transphobic, with emphasis on “phobic” and maybe that is personal, maybe it’s not, but it is definitely unhealthy and damaging to others. And his embrace of Orbanism is profoundly disturbing.
For most of Rod’s career, I’ve always had the impression that ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” And that the faults he found in others were actually the personal demons of his own. Here’s hoping he gets the help needed to resolve his inner turmoils.
You start hearing all sorts of praise, you start thinking maybe there’s something to it, maybe you are superior, maybe people should follow you, at the same time you’re getting older, more aware of your lack of lasting accomplishments, your wife is making a lot more than you*, you’re feeling left behind, out of the conversation, so you increase the volume, you double down because that’s what worked in the past, and by God you still have a lot to say don’t you? And by the time you realize you’ve lost it and are circling the bowl, it’s too late.
Not that I identify with any of that. Ahem.
The single smartest thing we ever did was to vow to each other that no matter what level of success we achieved we would never start believing our own bullshit. You start taking yourself seriously, start thinking you’re all that, you end up on substack.
*That may be more about me than Rod.
@Stormy Dragon: People who knew him in high school and college corroborate that he briefly uncloseted himself and was in a gay relationship:
(Search for “Harrison Brace”…)
His repression of this side of him explains a lot about his pathologies and obsessions,
Dreher was also pretty reckless and ended up getting sued:
Last year, the publication settled a defamation suit out of court, per the two sources, that stemmed from a post that Dreher had written accusing a Kentucky high school student of promoting “LGBT consciousness,” bullying classmates, and “disrespecting teachers.
I’m guessing the Fox-Dominion thing has freaked out conservative publications. The ethical recklessness of going after students and trans kids is a big potential liability. This idiot who wrote for Bari Weiss about kids ID’ing as helicopters apparently was keeping a secret excel file of case info she accessed. Not a lawyer, but I can’t believe it’s legal to do that. These are people who should be pushed away, despite the millions of red flags. Instead they get the spotlight because they’re crazy and they feed the craziness. Dreher was one of the worst. Show him a thing about 15-year old and he’s in their instagram and social media history and writing about it. That’s just not acceptable.
@Argon: I dunno. The whole “homo/transphobics are all closet queers” idea is too convenient of a meme for me. We still don’t use, or maybe even have, language to describe everything that goes on in sexual identity and attraction. And probably won’t use it all if we ever get a handle. We’d lose the ability to vilify those we disdain.
@Michael Reynolds: Sone of us luck out by never having any “levels of success” to begin with. Ordinariness is underrated.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
Is this the writing of a straight man?
That’s the writing of a man who wants a (hopefully age appropriate, or at least legal) monstrous primitive root wiener shoved down his throat.
You expect the next paragraph to be about another glimpse in high school, and then for the article to get to its main point — a hostel in Europe where he was backpacking one summer in college where he met a charming black gentleman from England who proceeded to shove his monstrous, primitive root wiener down his throat.
And, because it is Rod Dreher, it would likely end in the present day, having seen an obituary by chance, where he recognized the men and learned that he died of AIDS.
And it would be beautifully written, because the man has a way with words, and an unsettling relationship with race and class that will be both denigrating and fetishizing at the same time, referring to the man as primitive and having a working class British accent while lamenting what we more civilized folks have lost, and what is now lost forever as this man has died of AIDS.
Tell me I am wrong. Read that paragraph he opened a column with, let it sink in, and then tell me I am wrong. You can’t.
He’s always been a crank and really gets worked up about blacks and gays.
However, hopefully we’ll never hear from him again and so in the spirit of good fellowship, I will say that he is responsible for one of the best lines I ever read about major technology companies. When he moved to semi-rural Louisiana, he had a dickens of a time getting hooked up to the internet and cable. He had a daily posting on TAC covering his discussions with the “help line” call centre until the company woke up and realized that he was killing them with bad publicity.
Anyway, one day his column began with this: “I no longer fear hell for I have spent 3 days with AT&T Customer Service.”
Really said it all and said it well.
I posted over at TAC on Dreher’s blog until he got pissed at me for something or other and blocked me completely. The bulk of my comments involved events with legal issues (such as Kim Davis).
Given how Dreher had a tendency to fly off the handle about “something he had read”, then would backtrack a week later when the real story came out, it is really hard for me to believe that he was, in fact, a journalist.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
True, most homophobes/transphobes aren’t in the closet. But there’s a particular subtype that is, and Dreher just really has that vibe for me.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
A meme backed by decades of psychological experiments, which have revealed latent/subconscious homosexual arousal in homophobes.
@Gustopher: Believe whatever you want to. Disdain whoever you want to for that matter. For me the point is that I don’t care what he is or isn’t; the challenge you’re making is about ridiculing him, and I’m not playing.
@Not the IT Dept.:
DeFascist or Dreher?
@Stormy Dragon: and
@DK: Not my war. Attack whomever you wish.
I would like to settle a lawsuit with one of these clowns, I’d like to buy a swanky new house. How do I get them to defame me?
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Deny whatever you wish, but the research says what the research says.
And since being gay is not a negative trait, saying that an obsessive homophobe might have latent homosexual desire is not an “attack.” If true, it would be one of Dreher’s few positive traits, he should feel complimented not ridiculed. Compared to your average straight American white male conservative these days, the average white gay man is highly evolved. Exponentially so.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
How is thinking someone might be gay an attack?
So accusing someone of hypocrisy is not an attack?
“I posted over at TAC on Dreher’s blog until he got pissed at me for something or other and blocked me completely. The bulk of my comments involved events with legal issues (such as Kim Davis).”
I commented there for a while as well. He had to approve all comments before they posted, and had no problem with people expressing pure racism or anti-democratic points of view, but anyone on the left side of the aisle had to tread very carefully to avoid being banned, no matter how civil they were.
@charon: Why are you asking me? Ask whomever used the word hypocrisy. I didn’t.
I see it more as a form of self-harm than hypocrisy
Saying someone is a closet case, and attacks others from his closet is absolutely an attack.
I am also positive Dreher is a closet case.
Checks every box. He’s either a closet case, or really enjoys writing from the perspective of a character that is a closet case who attacks others from the safety of his closet.
Do not say that I am not attacking him!
He should be mocked, reviled and mocked some more, to disarm him among the normies. When his name is mentioned in a positive light, his weird, longing writings should also be brought up, to help destroy the possibility of him being taken seriously.
It’s like how people interject any discussion of Orson Scott Card with the descriptions of young boys showering that appear in Ender’s Game. There’s a reason Orson Scott Card believes that letting gays marry is a slippery slope that leads to pedophilia, it’s that he is at the bottom of that slope right now.
@Stormy Dragon: “Think” and “accuse” get blurred so easily in this world. As to which you are doing, I have only my impressions to go on, and they may well be wrong, but I will second @charon.
@DK: Say/imply. Potayto/potahto.
@Gustopher: Hmm. It’s been decades since I read the series but I remember it left me with a bad vibe, and I wondered about him. This was long before I knew anything about him. It left me uncomfortable enough that I never read anything else he wrote.
Reading the second in a book series now and every other chapter is written in the second person POV. Has anyone ever come across a novel length work where this worked?
@MarkedMan: Tom Robbins Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas. And as a writer, Card can’t even hold a candle to Robbins
I used to read him regularly. Got banned when I said in reply to a post that he seemed obsessed with writing about teenagers and using them to represent the true beliefs and actions of adult liberals. That was probably 10 years ago. I still read for a while but I thought he was going downhill. He got very paranoid claiming that everyone on the left was out to persecute religious people, rarely acknowledging that evangelicals had become overly involved in politics. Then he eventually completely sold out to the MAGA crowd. I couldn’t tell if he honestly believed the stuff he was writing or he figured out he could make more money and attract more viewer that way in the long run. Was getting an occasional link to his Urban stuff but its pretty clear he was being paid to write what he wrote.
“The Edge…the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” -Hunter S. Thompson.
Dreher has always been weird. He is triggered by gay; he is super triggered by trans.
I gave up in 2014. His shtick and thing was something I decided I did not want in my life anymore, so I unsubsidized.
The only insightful thing about him was his commenters calling him out on his bullshit.
Isn’t he now Viktor Orbans useful idiot?
He will be very surprised when Orban’s favorite lapdog gets disappeared when his usefulness is done.
Dude is toadying up to a neo-fascist authoritarian strongman. Didn’t he pick up and move to Hungary? That is beyond fucked up.
Imagine being so intellectually bereft you decided to move to another country so you could more directly bask in the great leader’s wisdom. He moved to Hungary on purpose. To be scribe to a wannabe dictator. And he doesn’t even speak the language. He went there on purpose specifically because of Orban. Oi! I have no words. The act speaks for itself. Wow!
Words cannot describe how icky that feels. Dreher is one profoundly fucked up individual and always has been.
My spell check ai decided that “unsubsidized” was what I meant instead of “unsubscribed” by ignoring all context. Thanks, fucker!
I apologize for not proofreading better. Proofreading is on me. The failure is on me.
@de stijl: Yes, it’s always amusing running into expats who “absolutely adore!” the country they’re living in but who don’t speak the language. Then they live there longer, start interacting with the REAL country, get upset, and then leave.
This is ridiculously common over in Japan with gaijin, to the point that it’s a trope.
I just wonder how long it’s going to be before Dreher discovers that his “wonderfully traditional Hungary” isn’t going to remain such when the younger individuals decide to vamoose off to other parts of the EU and different lifestyles.
And it wasn’t just that, that was off. His writings about his marriage kinda reinforced the weird vibes I got. IMHO. That’s not to condemn him as a hypocrite, which implies that he believes what he says is false, but to wonder how blinkered or cynical his employers were and how they used him to beat on others.
That TAC also turned into a den of Trumpian apologists is just QED.
My late wife was a regular (dare I say religious?) reader of Dreher. Not because she agreed with him, but she was fascinated by how this adherent of an idiosyncratic, conservative version of her former faith, Catholicism, was evolving. He definitely had principles: for example, he was deeply disturbed by the clerical pedophilia scandals. But he had a particular Dreher-esque spin on it. Here’s how it figured into his reasons for leaving the Catholic Church:
He never felt that he could live comfortably in the modern world, so it’s no surprise that he rejected the modern Church. Once you convince yourself that purity demands isolation (Dreher’s “Benedict option”), you take huge risks of succumbing to what that self-proclaimed purity and splendid isolation might do to you. Things can get scary fast.
One version of Christianity tells us that we need each other, that fellowship is essential to a Christian life. We can easily go astray without realizing it, so we need patient, humble engagement with other people. Democracy also is founded on the belief that we can be wrong, and we need other people to tell us when we are. When you’re an iron rod of certitude, standing alone in a desert of judgment, it’s easy to fall into all kinds of disturbing beliefs, including authoritarianism. Other people, after all, are sources of corruption, so you don’t want to depend on them. They just mess up the pristine qualities of the arid landscape. You want an even bigger rod of rectitude, casting an even bigger shadow. At least that’s how people like Dreher see things.
In this case, the word “weird” obscures more than it reveals. Dreher’s thinking followed a particular logic that led him astray. As James said, it’s not that a switch suddenly flipped. We could see where Dreher was headed for a long time.
@Stormy Dragon: “Everything about Rod Dreher just screams closeted self-hating gay man to me. From his “conservative metrosexual” crunchy con phase, to his obsession with writing graphic descriptions of penises and gay sex, to his seeming need to spend as much time away from his (now ex-) wife as possible.”
Somebody phrased it beautifully: “I’m a gay male gay-married to another gay male, and we have lots of gay male sex. And Dreher *still* thinks about gay male sex more than I do.”
Dreher has also drifted from the ‘Benedict Option’ to flat out fascism (he supposed Putin until Feb ’22, and then went quiet after it became problematic).
He was all about the Benedict option, but the notion of cozying up with authoritarian governments to craft a state sponsored Christianity seems a bit …odd. More like he wants to feel ‘safe’.
@Kingdaddy: Once you convince yourself that purity demands isolation (Dreher’s “Benedict option”), you take huge risks of succumbing to what that self-proclaimed purity and splendid isolation might do to you. Things can get scary fast.
I grew up near Amish and Mennonite communities. It can be fine. Then again, the Amish don’t go gaga over outdoor cafes with fine wine, artisan cheese and cured meats, or worry what it is like to be deprived of such delicacies if living their religious lives make those harder to enjoy.
Sometimes, shoo-fly pie and scrapple is enough if you’ve got the conviction to live your beliefs inside your community.
If course, religious utopian communities have a more dismal track record.
Sorry. My quotation tags were wrong. The first paragraph was Kingdaddys
Count me as another “I used to read Rod Dreher but gave up on him”. He used to make an honest effort to engage and understand adversarial positions. What really strikes me is that he has said often that he was wrong about supporting GWB’s war in Iraq. RD wanted vengeance for 9/11, yadda yadda yadda, then came to see he was wrong to have trusted those who wanted war.
You’d think this would lead to a little humility … If I was wrong then, might I be wrong now? I really gave up on him after January 6, 2021. “Sure, that was bad, but look over there! Drag queen story hour! That’s the existential threat to society!”
The guy was a mass of contradictions. Family is important but he moved away, spent lots of time away from his immediate family and ended up divorced. Community is important but he moved away, came back for a few years then moved away again. He wrote Live Not By Lies then is a paid writer for Orban repeating whatever lies he is asked to repeat. Now to be sure, we are all full of some contradictions, but he put himself in the position of telling other people how they should live and what they should believe. Early on it seemed like he had actual principles and a sense of integrity but over time it became clear those largely didnt exist and he was in it for the money or was simply trying to find ways to turn his personal or cultural beliefs into something congruent with his idea of religion.
@MarkedMan: “…he often engaged honestly with his critics.”
He was playing that ‘my anonymous source says’ game for a long time.
@Argon: That’s how Dreher goes through life: desperately looking for something to believe in.
For someone who squawked so loudly about tradition and sticking to it, Dreher ran away from his family’s religion twice (from Methodist (IIRC) to Catholic to Orthodox). And he was just as arrogant and sure about the righteousness of his positions as a Catholic as he was as an Orthodox. Note that it wasn’t a shift where he wasn’t able to live up to the demands of the religion–in all cases his attitude has been that the religion has failed him.
As someone who has jumped ship so many times, you’d think he’s be a wee bit more hesitant about his “revealed truths” and NOT shoving them down people’s throats or remaking the world According To Rod.