Tripp arrives to a hero's welcome at S.C. Free Republic conference

Taping charges dropped, she'll thank supporters

June 04, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

CHARLESTON, S.C. - More than 100 people greeted Linda R. Tripp yesterday at a coming-out of sorts for the woman they consider a hero: Linda R. Tripp, whose illicit tape-recording exposed a sex scandal in the White House and led to President Clinton's impeachment.

Tripp was scheduled to address the group last night at a conference organized by members of the conservative South Carolina chapter of, a Web site that operates a discussion forum and advocates such positions as abolishing the income tax and the popular election of U.S. senators.

Tripp essentially closed her speech to the news media and kept a low profile during the afternoon. One of her attorneys said she was speaking to the group because they supported her throughout her prosecution in Maryland on wire-tapping charges.

About 5 p.m., she entered the conference center wearing a black suit, white shirt, black hat and black-rimmed sunglasses. Escorted by an attorney and several members of the Free Republic, she scoped out the site. She giggled when she looked at some Free Republic merchandise poking fun at the Clintons. Members of the Free Republic then closed the center's doors.

Her appearance drew many people who ordinarily wouldn't have traveled to Charleston for a conference that dealt mostly with expounding the Free Republic's message of conservative values.

Susie Graham, 48, of Texas decided to fly here Thursday because she wanted to thank Tripp for exposing Clinton's misdeeds. Tripp's taping revealed a sexual relationship between former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and Clinton.

Graham said she went to a local restaurant and was suddenly embraced by Tripp, who told Graham that she had read her many posts on

"She grabbed me hard and hugged me," said Graham, whose screen name is Yellow Rose of Texas. "She said she reads my posts. I was the celebrity, not her."

Tripp had scheduled the speech months ago, but interest swelled after Maryland prosecutors dropped their criminal case against her last month.

Tripp did not attend speeches by other conference speakers yesterday.

She would not allow news media representatives to attend her speech unless they paid a $50 admission charge imposed by the Free Republic and would not allow anyone to tape-record the event. Her attorneys said they weren't sure what they would do if someone illicitly taped their client's remarks.

"We don't know about the law in South Carolina," said her lawyer, Joseph Murtha, who held a brief news conference.

It would be hard for Tripp to find a more receptive audience in the United States. Even Murtha drew repeated applause from Free Republic members during a short address.

On a table outside the main conference room, organizers were selling computer mouse pads, T-shirts and coffee mugs, all with anti-Clinton stances. One mouse pad shows a presidential seal with an unfastened zipper. Another shows Clinton wearing inmate stripes, behind iron bars. Yet another resembles a stamp - worth 0 cents - that portrays Hillary Rodham Clinton wearing a royal crown (decorated with the former Soviet Union's sickle and hammer) with the text: QHI (Queen Hillary I). Free Republic boasts more than 25,000 registered users, who post articles and comments. Many members have not met but seem to know each other well, laughing at inside jokes that refer to their Web site. On name tags, many list their screen names - Exit 148, Requiem for Truth - and their real ones.

To Freepers, as they call themselves, Clinton violated America's trust and Tripp exposed his corruption. She refused to lie, they say, and is a hero.

Some traveled from as far as California to meet the Columbia resident, to shake her hand, to say thanks, to agree with her famous "I'm you" speech on courthouse steps in July 1998. Yes, they said, "we are you."

Judy Busch of California decided Thursday that she needed to fly to Charleston and tell Tripp that she supported her actions. Unlike most of the others here, who post messages on, Busch is a "lurker," someone who watches the threads of conversation but does not participate. "I just want to thank her," Busch said between speakers. "I just want to see someone who has that much courage."

Busch and others say they don't think Tripp betrayed a friend. They say she needed to protect herself, especially after Lewinsky asked Tripp to lie if questioned by lawyers for a woman suing Clinton for alleged sexual harassment. Most attending the gathering are older, and many are retired. Some decided to show up because they wanted to meet Free Republic's founder, Jim Robinson, a Fresno, Calif., software maker who runs the site.

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