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After his suicide here, liberal's Web site lives on

Monday, April 19, 1999

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Almost three months after he shot himself to death in a Downtown office building and touched off a flurry of conspiracy theories, Steve Kangas, a seeming loner, has left behind an unexpected survivor: the Internet Web site on which he espoused liberal politics and attacked conservative causes.

An obscure former Army intelligence analyst who had quit his job with a betting company in Las Vegas, Kangas was 37 when he shot himself in the head in a bathroom on the 39th floor of One Oxford Centre -- just down the hall from the offices of one of the conservative figures he had criticized: billionaire publisher Richard Mellon Scaife.

On his Web page, Kangas called Scaife one of the "overclass," and echoed widely disseminated theories that Scaife, who has spent millions on organizations that have attacked President Clinton, was the leader of a "vast, right-wing conspiracy."

Now, the World Wide Web page that Kangas created and spent his final days upgrading is continuing without him. Despite his father's attempts to close Kangas' account with a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Internet company, an anonymous donor has put up money to keep Kangas online while newfound fans download the site's contents and get ready to put together "mirror" sites that will keep Kangas online long after his death.

To date, four such sites have gone online, carrying his "Liberalism Resurgent" as it looked the day Kangas died.

"It's a fairly popular page," said Matthew Kaufman, president of Tycho Networks, which owns Scruz.Net, the Internet service provider that hosts Kangas' page.

Kaufman declined to say who is funding the page's continuing presence on the Web but said Kangas' account at Scruz.Net was due to expire soon. Because no one has come forward with either a subpoena for records, any leftover e-mail that might contain clues about Kangas' motives will likely be lost, according to Kaufman.

One online acquaintance of Kangas, Jason Gottlieb, a first-year law student at Columbia University, said several Internet friends had e-mailed him about plans to finance Kangas' account to preserve the page. At the same time, Gottlieb has started his own Web page chronicling events surrounding Kangas' death.

"One of our first reactions was: 'Oh my God, if he's dead he's not going to pay his bill and this wonderful Web site is going to be lost forever,' " Gottlieb said.

"Steve was very, very respected among liberals, not because he was a great intellectual, but because he was trying to get out sincere activism in a very serious way," said Mike Huben, a Boston computer programmer who worked with Kangas developing "Liberalism Resurgent."

Huben's relationship with Kangas is emblematic of how relationships work in the world of the Internet. The two collaborated regularly via e-mail, with Huben critiquing Kangas' writings. They spoke by telephone occasionally. They never met face-to-face.

The page consisted of long essays and question-and-answer files that Huben said were to provide Internet discussion group users quick answers to counter conservative arguments.

Although Kangas criticized Scaife in two entries, the site shows little evidence of what Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review characterized as an "obsession" with the publisher.

One entry spun its own conspiracy theory about the CIA's role in creating an "overclass" in which Kangas included Scaife. The other repeated assertions that Scaife funded a right-wing conspiracy against Clinton.

Huben said he and several others in left-of-center groups had downloaded the material from "Liberalism Resurgent" and, the minute the plug is pulled, will put Kangas back online.

"Fortunately, we seem to be in the clear legally, since the pages have an encouragement (in writing) for people to reproduce them noncommercially, at the bottom," said Huben.

Kangas' mother, Jan Lankheet, still angry with some media depictions of her son as a probable assassin, seemed satisfied with the prospect of his Web page continuing.

"There's something to be said for that. Now that he's dead, may his work live on after him," she said.

The prospect of perennial versions of "Liberalism Resurgent" doesn't sit as easily with Lankheet's former husband and Kangas' father, Robert Esh. A self-described conservative Christian, Esh asked Tycho to close his son's account several weeks ago and said he'll permit the mirror sites only if they include a 2-1/2 page statement he has written, criticizing his son's politics and explaining his own theories of the suicide.

Those theories include a suggestion that Kangas' life spun apart because he rejected belief in God, relying instead on "humanistic psychology" that fed a combination of despair and bad judgment that led him to kill himself.

Esh, who signs the statement "The father of a much-loved Prodigal Son that never came home," said he believes Kangas killed himself near Scaife's office to saddle the publisher with an unexplained death similar to that of White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster.

"He knew this would cast a shadow over his enemies' future efforts that would never be fully dispelled," Esh writes. "In life, his Web site was not seen by many and not taken that seriously. But as of today it has drawn so much attention it's hard to log on. Could it be that he had the foresight to realize that what he would never be able to achieve in life, he would be able to hopefully achieve in death?"

Foster's 1993 suicide in a suburban Washington, D.C., park became the focus of repeated stories in Scaife's newspaper. The stories questioned whether Foster's death was a suicide, despite repeated official findings to the contrary.

The Tribune-Review, reporting Kangas' death, strongly suggested that he had gone to Pittsburgh to kill Scaife. Rex Armistead, a private investigator who worked on the Scaife-funded "Arkansas Project" that dug for negative information on Clinton, was assigned to investigate Kangas. He searched Kangas' apartment and questioned friends and co-workers in an effort to find out whether he had planned to shoot Scaife.

Esh said Armistead told him last week "there's no evidence either way."

Neither Armistead nor Scaife's lawyer, H. Yale Gutnick, returned telephone calls by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seeking comment.

The full details surrounding Kangas' final days remain murky. Pittsburgh police last month said they were continuing to investigate the death, but they have not released a report and have not sought records of his computer account in California. Additionally, Esh, Kangas' father, said he has not been contacted by investigators.

An original police report mentioned a gunshot to the left side of Kangas' head, and an ambulance report also said Kangas had a bullet entry wound on the left side of his head.

An autopsy by the Allegheny County coroner's office, however, left little doubt that Kangas shot himself through the roof of his mouth and that the bullet lodged in the left lobe of his brain. Tests on his hands for gunpowder residue later showed a small amount, most of it on his left hand, suggesting it was gripping the barrel of the gun when he shot himself.

Kangas' own family also received confusing information. Initially, his mother, Lankheet, said she was told her son had a copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in his knapsack.

In fact, Kangas had two books on American politics with him.

"I don't know where I got that idea," Lankheet said later.

A partial explanation might lie in Kangas' Web site, where he included extensive quotations from Hitler's book, all designed to debunk right-wing politics. Lankheet now thinks she misunderstood a message that her son might have had a copy of "Mein Kampf" in his apartment, where he put together his Web page.

"That was one of the ways of understanding how people were controlled," Huben said. "He read it for the same reason people read Machiavelli."

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