When legions of reporters began besieging her once quiet Columbia home, Linda R. Tripp put sheets over her windows and hunkered down, watching countless hours of cable news programs devoted to the White House sex scandal her secret tape recording helped expose.
She was upset. The world seemed to hate her. Paparazzi were camped in cars outside her house with camera lenses that she said looked like "medium-sized tree limbs." Some reporters even asked her children out on dates.
Where to turn for support? Where could the Pentagon staffer -- who was indicted on felony wire-tapping charges ("Felony has such a horrible ring to it, associated with my former good name," she says) -- find friends of her own?
Tripp went where everyone seems to go these days: the Internet. In particular, to a conservative Web site, freerepublic.com, that advocates such positions as repealing the income tax and abolishing the popular election of U.S. senators.
At a conference sponsored by the South Carolina chapter of Free Republic on June 3, Tripp spoke out for the first time in more than a year to about 75 spectators, who each paid at least $50 to hear her hourlong address. Though she would not allow tape recorders into the event, her speech was broadcast live over the Internet and tape-recorded there. As of Friday, you could find audio of the speech at www.freerepublic .com/forum/a393a1cf9149e.htm.
"This forum has made such a remarkable difference during these past two years," she told those assembled, many of whom she had never met but already knew from her online forays.
Sounding like a celebrity endorser on a late-night infomercial, Tripp said: "Before I knew about the Free Republic, I was living essentially in a bunker."
Tripp admitted to being "an addicted lurker," someone who scans the Free Republic posts but rarely replies. She bantered with the crowd, trading inside jokes and thanking members by their screen names for their insights and support.
While spending much of the speech denouncing the media and the White House and lauding Free Republic, Tripp also revealed a side of her post-Clintongate psyche.
She cried when she entered the banquet hall, as "Wind Beneath My Wings" played over the loudspeakers and the assembled began chanting, "Linda, Linda, Linda!"
Her fans, who also presented Tripp with a bright orange poster that declared her a patriot, were clearly excited to see the woman who secretly taped intimate conversations with her young friend, Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern, and exposed Lewinsky's sexual relationship with Clinton.
Tripp returned the favor, offering intimate details behind her decision to tape, and bashing the group's two favorite enemies: the press and the Clintons.
She decided to tape Lewinsky, she said, after approaching her stepfather, a U.S. history professor and "the most wonderful human being I have ever met," just before he died in March 1996.
She began sharing her "concerns" about the Clinton administration with him. He told her she sounded like a conservative but added that what she was saying didn't have anything to do with political ideology.
"What you are witnessing is wrongdoing at the highest levels of government," Tripp quoted him as telling her. "So what you need to be thinking about is whether you have the intestinal fortitude to share that with the American people."
Of course, Tripp did share. Then after the story "exploded on my front lawn," Tripp said, she was besieged by reporters and photographers from the first days of the scandal. They camped on her street, and some even used "night vision" equipment to spy on her, she said.
She couldn't drive her own car for more than a year, she said, and needed lawyers and "protectors" with her at all times. Tripp took special umbrage with her hometown paper: "My house is a tourist stop, courtesy of The Baltimore Sun, which published my exact address in the first weeks of this scandal," she said.
In the scandal's early days, Tripp said, she was kept in a safe house, "removed from my family, a virtual prisoner." Later, when the scrutiny became too burdensome, she said, she would "don the dark wig bought for me" by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's office.
But despite reporters' constant presence outside her home, Tripp said she was drawn to the press coverage, especially that of the cable news shows.
"I was taking in MSNBC all day long," she said. "Every show. CNBC, anything that had anything on it."
But soon even that became too much for her, she said, and she developed a twitch from shaking her head at the television screen so often at the "lies" and errors.
"I thought it was a neurological problem," she said, but then quickly realized the real source of the twitch.
"Immediately, I said, 'Ah, the Clintons have somehow done this to me.' "