Monty Johnson was heading home with a cooler full of catfish when he learned his new neighbor had turned him into a minor celebrity.
The first calls on his cell phone came from two lawyers asking to represent him in a slander case. Elizabeth Edwards, they told him, had called him a “rabid, rabid Republican.” That wasn’t all. The Democratic presidential candidate’s wife also told The Associated Press she didn’t want her children near Johnson because, she said, he once pulled a gun on workers investigating a right of way on his property.
Johnson, a 55-year-old retired landscaper, said he’s not interested in suing.
“I’d just like to know why she has such hard feelings to me,” he said. “They say they’re for poor people.”
The Orange County Republicans sent out a release denouncing Edwards’ remarks. Newspapers from as far as Ireland have picked up the story. On Tuesday, “Inside Edition” sent a film crew to his single-wide trailer in rural Orange County that sits near the Edwards’ $6 million, 29,000-square-foot estate.
Johnson didn’t rebut Edwards’ comments. He’s a proud member of the Grand Old Party and owns a 9 mm handgun he said he’s not afraid to use.
What got his goat, he says, was Edwards’ calling his 42-acre property “slummy.”
Johnson rents one of the two buildings at the front of his property to a mechanic. The gravel lot is strewn with cars waiting to get fixed.
Johnson thinks the Edwardses don’t like him because he put up a sign along Old Greensboro Road that reads: “Go Rudy Giuliani 2008.” The couple has to read it every time they pull into their winding driveway.
He also left an abandoned house facing their property. But he said he was born there and doesn’t have the money to fix it up or the heart to tear it down.
Still, he said he doesn’t know why Edwards, who recently announced her breast cancer had recurred, would badmouth him.
Johnson, standing beside his Ford F-350 that’s “just like George Bush’s,” said he doesn’t care much for his newfound fame or his neighbors.
The day they looked at their property, the couple and several Secret Service agents parked on his land and walked across the street into the woods.
Johnson approached the agents and asked what they were doing on his property. “The Secret Service let me know it wasn’t my concern,” he said.
Since Edwards made her remarks, Johnson’s phone has been ringing off the hook with interview requests. Augustus Cho, chairman of the Orange County Republicans, sent a release, saying Edwards does not support the First or Second Amendments and extended an invitation to Johnson to join his group.
“The Republican Party is welcome to all who ascribe to personal freedoms, property rights, individual responsibility and less intrusive government,” Cho said.
On Tuesday, “Inside Edition” turned up.
A producer and a videographer told Johnson to go in his trailer and then come out carrying his gun. They told him to describe it as the “weapon of mass destruction” that Edwards referred to, and talk about it as “nothing more than a squirrel gun.”
“This is my weapon of mass destruction,” Johnson said, looking into the camera.
But Johnson and his wife, Vanessa, are getting out. They put their land on the market for $1.6 million — before Edwards’ remarks, Johnson said — because the couple can’t afford the property taxes and don’t like all the growth around them.
“Whoever buys it can have it,” he said, adding he’ll sell it to the Edwardses if they want it.
In the meantime, Johnson said he doesn’t have hard feelings toward Edwards, but he does expect her to say she’s sorry.
“I think she owes me an apology,” he said. “And I won’t feel right until I get it. If this is how they treat people in the White House, America is in for a helluva time.”
Raleigh News & Observer