John Stokes returned to the radio last week and, according to the controversial conservative talk show host, his newly resurrected program has at least one listener: his dog.
Stokes rekindled his usual sociopolitical rants on Aug. 23, nearly 11 months to the day since the Flathead County Sheriff's Office shut down his Kalispell radio station, KGEZ, in mid-broadcast. He offered little commentary on the reasons for his absence from the airwaves—namely the 2008 defamation suit filed by his neighbors and the mounting debts that prompted U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Ralph Kirscher to seize his assets, including KGEZ—and instead focused his first broadcast on the future.
"That's a long story and I'm not going to get into that court case at all," Stokes said on air during his show, "The Edge." "We're going to move on and do positive things down here."
The shock jock's return comes courtesy of the Rense Radio Network, a collection of right-wing and conspiracy theory programs broadcast via Internet and satellite radio as well as a few select AM affiliates like KLAV 1230 in Las Vegas. Stokes is the latest addition to a lineup that includes conservative commentator Devvy Kidd, nationally syndicated talk show host Jack Blood and the network's founder, Jeff Rense, whose show addresses topics like "paranormal phenomena," "secret technologies" and "the New World Order," according to his website.
The Independent called Stokes' Bigfork home repeatedly over the past few weeks seeking comment on his decision to join Rense Radio, but messages left with his wife went unreturned. He also did not respond to numerous e-mail messages. Instead, Stokes addressed the interview requests on air during the second hour of his Aug. 27 program.
"For the reporter from the Missoulian (sic) Independent, please quit calling," he said. "I'm not going to grant you an interview. The newspaper has—if you want to call it a newspaper, it's one of those college things they hand out for free—I'm not going to do it. You've never written anything favorable about me, I don't expect you to start now. So please just quit calling. You're going to write your article anyway without me, so, you know, trash me all you want. I don't care. But quit wasting your time calling me. It's annoying."
The tone came as no surprise given Stokes' history with the Independent. In 2007, a reporter with the paper sought comment from Stokes as to why he'd recently put KGEZ up for sale. The subsequent story quoted a portion of Stokes' e-mailed response, which included no answers as to what he planned to do with the station.
"How much you want to bet I'll be your fornt (sic) page story tomorrow?" Stokes wrote at the time. "You guys are such homosexual pussy men pukes. You never interviewed me at all fo (sic) this story."
Prior to that story, Stokes made local and regional headlines for various stunts. In 2001 and 2002, he burned wooden green swastikas to symbolically destroy "Green Nazis" at "anti-Earth Day" rallies. When the Human Rights Network arranged for a Holocaust survivor to visit Kalispell and speak with Stokes, the radio host called him a "cheap whore" and suggested he "get over it."
Stokes appears to be refraining from any personal attacks on his new network, instead talking about pesticides, chem-trails and the down economy.
The focus comes as a relief for Todd Gardner and his father, Davar, who co-own a recreational vehicle auction barn and store near Stokes' original KGEZ station. The Gardners successfully sued Stokes for defamation of character in 2008 after roughly seven years of repeated abuse on "The Edge."
Todd Gardner says he and his father were content to let the on-air harassment slide for quite a long time. But the attacks gradually escalated, and Stokes began dragging Todd Gardner's mother into the fray, prompting the family to file the defamation suit.
According to records with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court's Montana district, Stokes accused the Gardners on a February 2007 broadcast of lying under oath during previous courtroom proceedings. That September, he further claimed on the air that the Gardners had committed bank fraud and had submitted a false affidavit to the court.
"Just because you have a microphone doesn't give you the right to attack people and lie about them and spread untruths," Todd Gardner says. "Once it crosses the line going into accusing people of felonies, you have to be accountable for that. We asked him to quit talking about us. We wrote him letters asking him to retract his statements about us, and it just fueled the fire, made him worse, made him attack us more."
The Gardners were awarded $3.74 million in damages in December 2008. In light of Stokes' mounting debts and the liquidation of his assets, Judge Kirscher offered the family a reduced purchase deal for the KGEZ property, radio tower and station license this July in lieu of the damage payment. Todd Gardner says the family purchased the land this month for $875,000 and is awaiting transfer of the station license from the Federal Communications Commission. He says the family has no interest in running the station, but "several people" have expressed interest in buying or leasing it.
As for the past attacks, Gardner says his family is just relieved to have the legal mess behind them.
"We just hope it's completely done," Gardner says. "With him, you never know."
Judging from his latest broadcasts, Stokes has moved on. He's too busy railing on the Federal Reserve System and promoting new advertisers. As he put it during his first hour last week, "One door closes, another one opens."