“Let the bloodbath begin.”

That was how my old friend, longtime conservative journalist and Chronicles contributor John Lofton, who shuffled off this mortal coil last month, opened the discussion at Pat Buchanan’s house in 1987 when Pugnacious Pat was contemplating a bid for the White House.

It was vintage Lofton, whom I knew during my days as an editorialist at the Washington Times, when he was a regular columnist.  By that time, he had, unfortunately, fallen under the spell of R.J. Rushdoony, inventor of “Christian Reconstructionism,” a unique take on Calvinism which demands that the penalties prescribed by Old Testament Law be applied to the modern United States.   According to this ideology, adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals should be stoned to death.

Yet I write not to bury John with this nutty theology, but to praise and remember him.  He was infuriating at times, yet he was one of the kindest and funniest men you could ever meet.

Many a day at the Times, having written yet another column asking rhetorical questions and providing the answer (“zero, zip, zilch, nada!”), the stout columnist alighted upon the mezzanine.  There, in the rarified air of the editorial page, he regaled Tony Snow’s suffering editorialists with stories and one-liners that provoked gales of laughter.  Sometimes the routine went on for an hour.

Here is a Lofton classic, to which I cannot do justice, because I can’t summon up John’s comedic and thespian powers: He and Pat Murphy, future publisher of the Arizona Republic, worked at the Coral Gables Times, a weekly owned by the Miami Herald.  Higher-ups in Miami had to see the front page each week before the paper went to press.  Upon the murder of American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell, and knowing the demographics of the area, Murphy, the editor and publisher, and Lofton, the news editor, created and sent to Miami a fake front page adorned with Nazi flags and a portrait of Rockwell, and bearing the following headline: “Nation Mourns Fallen Hero.”

Nothing was sacred with John.  He inveighed against building the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., given that the unspeakable slaughter occurred in Europe.  He gleefully bashed the Catholic Church.  With brio he derided, lampooned, and pooh-poohed the Pope.  And even worse, the Blessed Mother.  I almost socked him a few times.

John didn’t last as long as he should have at the Times, particularly given his career: editor of the RNC’s magazine Monday in the early 1970’s; nationally syndicated columnist for United Features for seven years; editor of the American Conservative Union’s Battleline and Conservative Digest; commentator on the old Mutual Radio Network.  His columns for the Times became increasingly strident, each an attack on some person or institution insufficiently zealous about Levitical mandates.  He openly challenged the legitimate authorities at the newspaper on religious grounds.  Not long after I met him, John was gone.  His newspaper career was over.  So was any salubrious influence he could have had on the public weal.  He flew to the top of conservative journalism, but he believed that he, perhaps uniquely, was on a Mission From God to convert everyone in his flight path.  Well, so are we all.  But there are ways to do that, and ways not to.

John’s columns at the Times were a way not to.  A Bible over the head doesn’t convert a man; it just gives him a headache.  John didn’t understand that memorizing the Bible no more makes one a theologian than memorizing the dictionary makes one an English professor.  The right needed John where he was.  But he tossed it all away to follow a false prophet.  John likely enjoyed his entry in The Encyclopedia of American Loons.  He was loony for Jesus.  But he was loony for Rushdoony, too.  That was the trouble.

At the end, two decades later, his widow told the Baltimore Sun he was known mostly for letters to the editor of the Sun’s weekly satellite newspaper, The Laurel Leader.  “How are the valiant fallen in battle,” 2 Samuel 1:25 says.  Except that John crashed and burned because he thought God wanted him to be a kamikaze.

As angry as John could make you, it didn’t last long.  Having insulted you on Monday, he was back on Tuesday, and you were in stitches again.  His gift of laughter easily extinguished the burning desire to break his jaw.

John Lofton, born May 26, 1941, died on September 17.  He was a good man.