Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Radarsite in the Newburyport Daily News
Local blogger Roger Gardner sits at his computer at his home on Charles Street in Newburyport. His blog, Radarsite, has received national attention, including recognition from President Bush. Ben Laing/Staff photo [click to enlarge]
Local historian's political blog is on the international radar
By Katie Curley Staff writer
NEWBURYPORT — Roger Gardner often feels like he is living a secret life.
From his apartment at the James Steam Mill, what once started as a small blog dedicated to politics and shedding light on the cultural aspects tied to the War on Terror, has caught the attention of government officials from around the world. Readers include President George W. Bush, top media outlets and casual readers.
"This has been consuming my life for over a year now," said Gardner, the father of three grown sons and seven grandchildren. "It's not really about politics but about culture."
Though battling what doctors tell him is likely a terminal cancer, the 71-year-old Gardner is light-hearted as he talks of his blog, "Radarsite," and Americans' understanding of the war and Muslim religion. And while he says his critics call him "bitter" and "cynical," it is untrue, he says — he is just an American speaking out for America.
"September 11 had an effect on me that was huge," Gardner said. "Within a few weeks of listening to the reports and opinions and hearing about Islam, the Koran and the Middle East, I realized I was willfully ignorant. I decided to study the Muslim religion, read the Koran and the great deal of supportive literature and not just believe, like everyone else, what was being told about Islam."
In the weeks and months that followed, Gardner, a veteran of the Cold War, was moved by the anti-American sentiments that spread throughout the United States. The belief in conspiracy theories and that the terrorist attacks were the fault of the country moved him to comment on various articles and come up with ideas for his own writings.
"The entries mainly come in anger and in response to other people's comments on stories, especially negative to the U.S.," Gardner said. "The Western culture is threatened, and people don't know it because the mainstream media doesn't talk about it."
The road to creator and publisher of Radarsite was unexpected at best, said Gardner, as he chronicled his early years living a "bohemian" lifestyle in Greenwich Village, N.Y. "I was a knee-jerk liberal," Gardner said. "I couldn't get any more anti-establishment, but that was the pond I swam in."
The Philadelphia-area native dropped out of high school before graduation and opted to go to art school rather than college. Instead, he read. And read.
After doing odd jobs most of his life, some of which included taxi driver and real estate agent and being married and divorced twice, Gardner came to Newburyport. He was the manager of Ten Center Street in Newburyport until his retirement in 2001.
"For 35 years I studied history really obsessively," Gardner said. "I tested myself, made a program, charts and graphs and read over 600 books on the Roman Empire and corresponded with well-known historians."
Radarsite will turn one year old this week and mark a change from 10 readers to more than 10,000 readers a day.
In addition, blog entries Gardner has penned have ended up in major publications and on other blogs throughout the world, catching the attention of universities in the Middle East as well as the Pakistan Spectator.
"It's really encouraging. The blog isn't about me but about America," Gardner said. "I've studied the country long enough to know we are the finest in the world and more generous and thoughtful than any else. There are countries which don't treat their allies like we treat our enemies."
His passion for the country he served he said was the exact reason he contacted the State Department recently after receiving an offer to be the North American correspondent for the Pakistani Spectator newspaper.
"I contacted the State Department and told them I didn't want to get in over my head or say something conflicting with American policy," Gardner said, noting his lack of credentials and that he is just exercising his First Amendment rights. "Turns out they had been following the site almost every week for a year and were watching my back. It made me proud that they are watching and are on the ball."
But Gardner now has a new battle to fight, as he was diagnosed with leukemia last month and was originally given two weeks to live. His prognosis was recently extended to three to nine months, but Gardner's energy has suffered, and he is finding he is unable to post as he had been. His diagnosis caught the attention of President Bush, who wrote a letter encouraging him during this difficult time.
"The letter signed by President Bush and Laura Bush said their thoughts and prayers were with me and that my strength and determination demonstrate the American spirit," Gardner said. "I just feel fortunate I have been able to experience all this, for somebody living on Social Security with no car but a red scooter, I feel very fortunate. At 71, I'm having the time of my life. I'm glad I lived long enough for this."
Gardner has also heard anecdotes about his articles hanging on office walls of the Pentagon, colleges and universities, and the House of Representatives.
"The average American has a voice and a place in the world," Gardner said. "Democrats and Republicans come and go, but America is what I love."