If not for John Altevogt, an Edwardsville real estate broker, many of the people who became outraged by Kansas University professor Paul Mirecki's comments might never have learned of them.
Altevogt, 60, is the conservative activist and Internet discussion board contributor who compiled and spread Mirecki's remarks across the online Kansas Conservative Network mailing list.
Within hours, conservative Kansas lawmakers were raging. Some called for public hearings about Mirecki's plan to teach a religious studies course on the controversial topic of intelligent design. Mirecki pledged to teach creationism and intelligent design as mythology.
"John is very effective at what he does," said Cindy Duckett, founder of Kansas Conservative Network. "I think he has voiced an opinion that is shared with very, very many on this particular issue."
Supported, reviled or ignored, Altevogt is a controversial character on the Kansas political scene. He said he views himself as both a populist and a gadfly.
To Altevogt, stirring up the Mirecki controversy was one of his many "research projects." He simply compiles reports, puts the information in the public domain and hopes somebody sees it, he said.
For him, the Mirecki issue never had anything to do with intelligent design. He couldn't care less, he said. His attention to the subject was partly due to Mirecki's hateful approach, he said.
As researcher and activist, Altevogt has taken on former state senator and unsuccessful attorney general candidate David Adkins, writing blistering columns about what he saw as questionable grants awarded to a nonprofit corporation run by Adkins' wife.
In 1999, when the Department of Administration investigated the Kansas State Lottery following allegations of sexual harassment, Altevogt distributed a photograph of director Greg Ziemak with four female workers wearing bras on their heads.
Altevogt is a frequent contributor to the Kansas Conservative Network, a discussion board for conservatives, and other Internet chat groups.
His words can be inflammatory. When Mirecki proposed the course on intelligent design, Altevogt called the professor a "bigot" and said the course would be like David Duke teaching about race relations or Fred Phelps teaching about homosexuality.
Duckett said she's not that fond of Altevogt's direct language, but that his acerbic style can be effective.
Evolution in Kansas
- 6News video: Some question group's move with elections nearing (07-08-06)
- 49abcnews.com video: Discovery Institute starts ad campaign weeks before elections (07-07-06)
- 6News video: Film explores evolution circus (01-03-06)
- 6News video: Group takes shot at Mirecki through postcards (12-15-05)
- 6News video: Mirecki resigns from KU department post (12-07-05)
- Education board to revisit debate over evolution (02-11-07)
- As old board departs, new evolution stance takes shape (12-14-06)
- Biologist speaks for intelligent design (12-08-06)
- Cultures clash in Democratic primary (07-06-06)
- Education department spokesman leaves job (06-15-06)
- Evolution, religion comments put heat on department spokesman (05-26-06)
- KU profs support evolution skepticism (02-21-06)
- Science teachers pan new standards (02-14-06)
- 'Dodos' circling around I.D. (01-04-06)
- Attorneys in I.D. case spread message (01-04-06)
- Professor blasts KU, sheriff's investigation (12-10-05)
- Kansas ranks last in science (12-08-05)
- Discovery Institute
- Evolution timeline: Events related to the Kansas controversy
- U.S. District Court Ruling in Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District (PDF)
- Center for Science and Culture: A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism
- Parody: Intelligent Design Society of Kansas
- Mirecki press release (.pdf)
- More evolution coverage
- LJWorld.com's Evolution in Kansas coverage
"He's very good at getting people's ear," she said. "He does carry a lot of influence, a lot of respect."
But not with everyone.
Dick Bond, a moderate Republican, former state Senate president and member of the Kansas Board of Regents, said he pays no heed to Altevogt.
"He has been a major gadfly," Bond said. "He is not on my radar, nor am I going to put him there ... I haven't heard about him in a long time."
Roy Teicher, former managing editor of The Kansas City Kansan, said many people try to marginalize Altevogt, but that's dangerous.
Teicher, spokesman for Minnesota Senate candidate Patty Wetterling, a Democrat, said people like Altevogt prevent issues from coasting along and being controlled by a powerful few.
"It's important to listen to all the John Altevogts of the world out there," he said. "I just think those voices are so, so critical."
Altevogt grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind. He said he attended the inner-city Fort Wayne Central High, a school that was about 90 percent black at the time.
There, he said, hanging out with black friends in front of the bowling alley, he saw racial bigotry firsthand.
"There was a look that you would get - just a look of hate," he said.
He wasn't a very good student.
"I just had a good time," he said.
He has attention deficit disorder, and as a teenager never followed the rules. He dropped out of high school and later received his GED.
He enrolled at Indiana University-Fort Wayne intent on becoming a teacher. He fell in love with sociology instead. At Indiana, he met Saul Alinsky, the Chicago activist considered to be the father of community organizing. Altevogt calls Alinsky one of his heroes.
"This is just a guy who cared about neighborhoods and taking care of people in those neighborhoods and letting the common guy have a voice," he said.
Altevogt said he sees himself as giving voice to conservatives who he said are often painted as lunatics or idiots.
Altevogt went to graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"I really have never had much to do with the Democrats," he said. "They just have never impressed me as a party."
Liberalism, he said, is associated with authoritarianism, bigotry and corruption. Altevogt said he found a home among religious conservatives because he is a person of faith and he was impressed by what others in the group were saying.
On the sidelines
Altevogt attended KU in the 1990s, pursuing a doctoral degree, but he turned away from academia.
In the late 1990s, he contributed to The Kansas City Star's op-ed page, but his political views ultimately put him crosswise with the newspaper's management, he said.
After stints as a Christian radio host, Altevogt has settled into a routine he said enables him to be free of any conflicts of interest in his writing.
"I've arranged my life so I don't have to get along with anybody other than my wife," he said.
His political and social wrangling are a small part of his life, he said. He plays bass in the blues band Cotton Candy & So Many Men.
"I actually spend a lot more time doing music than I do politics," he said.
And he hasn't done any more digging into Mirecki, he said.
"I'm sort of watching the world go by at this point," he said. "I have no desire to become a part of this story."