In the feverish heyday of the “birther movement,” conspiracy-hungry readers swarmed to a website called WorldNetDaily for the latest on the specious yet viral theory that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
The site’s founder, Joseph Farah — a former newspaperman with a dense, jet-black mustache and a cloak-and-dagger mystique — boasted in 2010 that he was well on the way to generating $10 million a year in revenue. His Northern Virginia-headquartered news site, known by the acronym WND, was having its moment by stoking rumors about Obama.
But Farah — a conservative Internet pioneer who’d once been labeled by the Clinton White House as part of a right-wing media conspiracy and was known to sport a pistol on his hip in the office—saw bigger things. Years earlier he’d launched one of the first large-scale digital newsgathering operations; now he wanted to be a player in Christian-themed movies and book publishing, churning out titles by big-name conservatives, such as anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and future House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
He was building an empire.
A decade later, that realm is being sucked into a tornado of unpaid bills, pink-slipped employees, chaotic accounting, declining revenue and diminishing readership, according to interviews with more than 25 former employees, shareholders, company insiders and authors associated with the firm's flailing publishing units, as well as a review of hundreds of internal documents, including emails and financial statements obtained by The Washington Post.