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How lone blogger Andy Towle and his thousands of readers took on religious fanatics and brought online giant Manhunt to its knees.

"i'm normally not a very opinionated blogger," says Andy Towle. But during the lazy days of August, at least two things seriously pissed off the mild-mannered Web pioneer. Combined, the instances positioned Towle as both attacker and the attacked and underscored the influence of Towleroad, a site he started five years ago primarily to keep in touch with friends.

On August 18, the antigay Catholic League complained to the Democratic National Convention organizers that Towleroad (pronounced "toll road") was "anti-Catholic and obscene" -- and requested that the site's press credentials for convention coverage be rescinded. A press release from the Catholic group complained that the blog "shows men in jock straps and underwear" and that it takes the pope "to task for wearing a cape with ermine." To which many gay Democratic Party staffers most likely replied, "Of course it does." After all, those posts are partly what draws such an active audience to the site, which logs a very healthy 4.5 million page views per month. As one visitor responded to Towle's write-up about the Catholic League press release: "Oooh, It is ON!"

A few days earlier Towle was really ticked off -- and the crowd went wild.

A story by Michael Joseph Gross in the September issue of Out magazine, which identified a cofounder of the popular gay hookup website Manhunt as a Republican, prompted Towle to link to an item from The Huffington Post saying that the same cofounder, Jonathan Crutchley, had donated the maximum amount allowed by law, $2,300, to John McCain's presidential campaign.

Towle railed against Crutchley for "collecting money from thousands of gays and donating it to a presidential candidate who would deny them status as equal citizens." And his readers roared back; more than 250 expressed their outrage at Manhunt and Crutchley in the blog's comments section, and many of them promised to cancel their Manhunt memberships in protest.

Just two days later Larry Basile, Crutchley's longtime business partner, released a statement saying that Crutchley had stepped down as chairman of the parent company's board.

Look out, Andy Towle!

Now, Basile didn't say that Crutchley relinquished any ownership of the corporation -- which is called Online Buddies Inc. -- or that Crutchley would not retain any other position. And it's not clear how many -- if any -- people canceled their Manhunt memberships in response to Towleroad. But the whirlwind of activity invigorated Towle as he flew into Denver to cover the convention. "I didn't fully understand the broad simmering level of anger that was about to set the Manhunt revolt in action," he says. "I'm continually amazed at the viral power of blogging."

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