When a friend asked if I had heard of the journalist who was murdered in Philadelphia, I told her I hadn’t.
She then told me that the murdered journalist once wrote for City Paper and was shot and died on the sidewalk in front of his house. I asked if the victim was gay and she said he was.
A lot of names went through my mind at that moment.
A gay male writer who wrote for City Paper? That wouldn’t be many writers at all. I wrote for City Paper. Lawrence Richette, the son of Judge Lisa Richette, wrote for City Paper before his death in December 2013. David Warner, an editor of CP for many years — also gay — had moved to Tampa Bay in 2018 and no longer lived in Philadelphia.
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The rolodex of names flipped through my mind with amazing speed. Who else? After all, the majority of other gay male writers in the city wrote for Philadelphia Gay News. City Paper, when it existed, wasn’t an option for many of them, just as the Welcomat (later to become Philadelphia Weekly) was also not an option. People make their own decisions when it comes to getting published.
Then I thought of Josh Kruger, a rider-in-the-storm type of journalist who had an edge that more conventional journalists didn’t. He was the good-looking guy I exchanged emails with years ago when he was starting out as a journalist. He told me that he had always liked my Welcomat column, “Different Strokes,” the first out-gay column in a mainstream nongay newspaper in the nation. I forget the exact nature of our emails. I searched my archive of saved emails but couldn’t locate them. It was just too long ago.
I do remember that I liked him and that he was easy to talk to.
Yet when Josh Kruger and I were emailing one another, the way I thought about political issues was already changing.
I was becoming more conservative politically, much to my own chagrin (if that makes sense) because I was feeling out of step with former colleagues who always knew me as very left-wing. After all, 99 percent of Philadelphia journalists are progressive Democrats, and if you’re gay and hope to get anywhere in this town in the written word department — just look at the booked author programs at the Central Parkway branch of the Free Library — it’s practically required that you follow a progressive line in your writing.
If you don’t do that, you risk suffering the consequences, like not getting your book reviewed at certain outlets or getting your picture taken by roving press photographers who work the crowds at notable city press events.
Two days after Josh Kruger was shot seven times and killed in his home in Point Breeze, I heard from another friend, a published author who used to write a column for the Inquirer.
She told me that a friend of hers from Vermont had emailed her and asked, “Have you heard about the murder of a gay journalist in Philadelphia?” My friend said her heart stopped for a moment because she thought it might have been me. No, I replied, but it could have been, because when I first met Josh Kruger I felt an identifying “something,” a connection I can’t explain. Perhaps this was nothing more than our common German ancestry and association with (and belief in) Christianity. Kruger was Anglo-Catholic and went to church regularly, a rare phenomenon in the world of “LGBTQI queer” journalists who generally take a dim view of religion.
Celebrating someone’s death with whom we don’t agree is one of the nastiest examples of inhumane humanity.
In February 2020, I was researching an article on the city’s homeless population and emailed Liz Hersh, the Director of the Office of Homeless Services for the city. Josh Kruger, who was the Director of Communications there, emailed me back and helped me arrange the interview.
Kruger was fast and efficient. I was amazed at how quickly everything came together.
Around this time, Josh Kruger was also working for the city in other capacities, including in the mayor’s office, when the Philadelphia Weekly announced it was reinventing itself as a conservative newspaper. This was breaking news in this little town: PW would go alt-right where it had once been alt-left.
But PW’s shelf life as a conservative publication didn’t last long. Its rocky history didn’t help.
In the 1990s, a newly hired PW editor from New York was sacked in an overnight coup that had him fired on the spot, a bloodless revolution that saw the ouster of several writers and columnists (me included) in a purge as cold and calculating as any communist revolution. The newspaper changed considerably after the coup; it ended up taking a sharp turn into the land of blazing rhetoric, sensationalism, and easy-to-place sex ads.
Josh Kruger, returning to journalism, was appointed editor after PW’s failed conservative hiatus. He was the last editor of that newspaper, which is now just a barely functional website.
At that time, Kruger told Philadelphia Magazine:
“It’s important to note that the recent hard right turn the Philadelphia Weekly took represents a fraction of the publication’s decades-long life as a local institution. A huge part of my work is to rebuild trust across the city with Philadelphia Weekly as a local journalistic brand and to right any kind of situation that wasn’t handled with sensitivity or decency.”
The truth is that PW was never really hard right, although to a politically progressive Philadelphian that may have seemed to be the case. To a real conservative, the paper was neither here nor there.
After PW got sold once more, there was an issue with the new owners getting involved in editorial decisions, something that ordinarily doesn’t fly in newsrooms. The owners, it was said, avoided publishing anything too controversial for fear it would have a negative impact on the publication’s Google rankings.
“If I had any concerns about the publisher interfering with the editorial independence of the Philadelphia Weekly or journalistic integrity of the institution, I wouldn’t attach my name to it,” Kruger said. “I’ve lived in poverty. I’m a Philadelphian. I’m gay. And thanks to these qualities plus, I suppose, DNA, I have a pathological inability to not speak my mind in the face of something wrong.”
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Many conservative outlets published reports of Kruger’s death as “exhibit A” in the irony department, meaning: here we have the shooting death of a left-wing writer who criticized conservative writers in print for insisting that Philadelphia is plagued by crime.
In one Tweet regarding crime, Kruger wrote:
“Today, I learned there is apparently a ‘crippling crime wave destroying all cities’ according to Stephen Miller, which includes presumably Philly. My house is not on fire and chaos is not reigning in the street. I saw a man get a parking ticket yesterday. My trash got picked up. “
After his death, some conservative news outlets wrote about a video that Kruger posted to X (formerly Twitter) in August.
Having experienced a fair share of homophobia in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the 1970s, I found something to appreciate in Kruger’s advice to straight people in that video when he says, “Unclasp your goddamn hands for a second so your opposite direction sidewalk neighbors can traverse the highway without being tossed by your beastly partner into the gutter.”
“Share the road, straights,” he said.
There were a lot of mean tweets about Josh Kruger after his murder. (1) “Oh well, the very thing that he voted for is what killed him.” (2) “He mocked people who were concerned about how dangerous Philly is.” (3) “One less propagandist.” (4) “Hillary Clinton did it.” (5) “The murderer was probably out on signature bond for some other violent crime in Leftist Larry Krasner’s Philly.” (6) “Another liberal owned.”
The mournful, respectful comments outweighed the negative, with Mayor Kenney and Larry Krasner himself weighing in. John Fetterman commented, “A devastating loss.”
Celebrating someone’s death with whom we don’t agree is one of the nastiest examples of inhumane humanity. Yet conservatives get pummeled too when they pass away with comments just as heartless and vicious. This is not about one side being uglier than the other. With Kruger, however, a lot of the comments centered on his niceness — that “something” in his personality that somehow set him apart from an ideological leftist who might not be so nice to someone with whom he disagrees.
Yet Kruger, I believe, was a leftist in transition to something more middle-of-the-road, perhaps even conservative.
I say this because in reviewing some of the articles he wrote for the Philadelphia Citizen, I was struck by a piece he penned on homelessness, specifically the dictum from the leftist language police that the term “homeless” was no longer acceptable in describing “people experiencing homelessness” (the correct phrase).
In that Citizen piece, he wrote:
“Encampments might foster a sense of community, but this is hardly what makes a home. Shared experiences, even traumatic ones, can unite and create identifiability, trust, and support. This doesn’t mean we should view trauma or misery as a model worth replicating when creating our own communities. We can do better.”
Kruger then begins to question the woke language war concerning definitions of homelessness:
“Here’s the thing: We either have a crisis or we don’t. If we normalize it with supposedly softer language that makes it sound less alarming and more acceptable, then where will we be in ten or twenty years? Should we stop calling poverty what it is? Disease? Bigotry? Where does this end?”
“Where does this end?” is the key phrase here, because it questions the Left’s status quo. Call it a conservative glimmer or a new root beginning to take shape in Kruger’s head, but there it is.
What is certain is that no hard-core ideological leftist would ever question a new language directive from their controllers: they would just close their eyes and OBEY.
Rest in peace, Mr. Kruger.
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, and Frontpage Magazine. He is the author of fifteen books, including “Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” His latest, “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” was released in May 2023.