[note:  some of this concerns discussions I’ve seen in passing on twitter or conversations I’ve had in my personal life, so this will have less direct documentation and links than my usual essays.  This essay is less about Rittenhouse’s actual guilt or innocence-I’m not going to be discussing the minutae of the trial much-and more about the lessons that should be taken from it.]

This week the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict came out in his trial related to shooting three people during a Black Lives Matter protest last Augst:  not guilty on all counts.  Reaction from across the political spectrum has been incredibly polarized, usually along partisan lines.  People on the left (with a few exceptions, such as Glenn Greenwald and Jimmy Dore) are generally appalled and disgusted, screaming racism, judicial impropriety, and accusing Rittenhouse of crocodile tears during his crying in court.  On the other side, the right and a LOT of libertarians (often but not always Mises Caucus types, and some of the state affiliates) have come out in favor not only of the verdict, but of Rittenhouse’s actions.  He has been praised as a hero by many, as a picture of cool and collected self defense in a crisis, and as an antidote to violent rioters and the woke mob.

It seems like both sides have made some critical errors in reasoning, desperate to find either a hero or a villain in a mess that left two people dead and one seriously injured.  And the all or nothing arguments have obscured the reality of what happened and what it means in context.  At the same time, both sides have made some good points about the reality of our justice system and our society, and its flaws.

On the left, the argument that Rittenhouse crossed state lines never really held water, and was shredded in court.  Same for being too young to possess a firearm.  While the idea that if minors can’t consent and aren’t legally responsible they shouldn’t be allowed the full exercise of the natural rights of an adult has merit (and opens up a much bigger debate beyond the scope of this essay), under Wisconsin law he was probably ok.  And if he was old enough to fully exercise his right to bear arms, the geography shouldn’t matter.  Rights are rights, wherever you are.  Certainly the law as written, along with the prosecution’s failure to have the gun measured (since the relevant portions hinge on short barreled rifles vs. long guns) is ambiguous enough to make him legal on that aspect of things.  And likewise characterizing the AR-15 as a “high powered rifle” is a bit of a misnomer.  Anything more powerful than a BB gun can be lethal pretty easily.  They’re not designed to be squirt guns. 

More seriously and more defensible, friends of mine have raised the contention that self defense laws as written, combined with a still too racist society, give people open license to murder minorities as long as they can scream self defense afterwards.  They cite numerous examples of cops “fearing for their lives”, along with George Zimmerman.  They argue that this case shows the need to reform self defense laws, and that it will have a chilling effect on protests.  While I can see why they’re concerned, I don’t think this is a completely fair comparison.  Rittenhouse was being attacked right before at least one of the shootings, and was definitely on the opposite side (of the issues) of most of the protestors.  More knowledgeable people than myself have waded through the minutae of law (you can read the relevant WI statues here) and made the case that legal innocence rested on whether Rittenhouse had moved back into the legal prerequisites for self defense for each shooting, regardless of what brought him there .  I’m not a trained lawyer, and this is more complicated than simply saying to the typical politician “hey asshole, follow your oath of office!”, so I can’t comment on the validity of this line of reasoning.  But what I can say is there’s enough there there to make it a real question. 

I don’t think this trial raises huge implications of law.  Wisconsin self defense statutes include a duty to retreat and specify that only life can be defended with lethal force, not property.  And I think no matter how self defense law is written, there will always be situations that are very clear cut, and some that are ambiguous enough to be matters for a judge and jury.  In that regard, at least, the system worked as it should.  Likewise, I don’t think there’s any real implication for gun laws either way here.  Rights come with consequences, and sometimes people use their rights really stupidly, to the point where they need to be punished for it.  Whether that punishment comes in a court of law or the court of public opinion depends on the nature of the stupidity, of course, but both are valid and necessary.  Here while you can certainly argue that there wasn’t enough consequences in either court, Rittenhouse was arrested and at least faced the threat of serious consequences for his actions.  The system churned on him rather than simply ignoring him.

On the other side we have a number of errors as well, and since this side includes a lot of people in my camp I find their errors a lot more disturbing and/or infuriating.  Let’s start with “he was just there to protect property”.  If that was the case, how come we had an entire year of Black Lives Matter protests that often had Redacted Bois guarding property and supporting the protestors with essentially no incidents that I know of, except for Garret Foster (RIP) getting run over by a counterprotester.  If he was there to defend property he did a crap job of it, and given that it wasn’t his property it didn’t justify lethal force to defend.  Holding Rittenhouse in the same light as Kenneth Walker (and by extension capitalizing on Breonna Taylor’s death) is not a good look.  Walker and Taylor were in a private residence, assaulted by agents of the state acting in bad faith under laws that should never have existed in the first place.  Rittenhouse…far more questionable (more on that later).  Bringing up the criminal pasts of those that were shot is simply idiotic; however horrible they are (and they’re not good) either Rittenhouse had no way of knowing who/what they were beforehand or he went to the protest to shoot those three specific people.  One assertion is dumb and insane, the other is simply dumb and irrelevant.

Most important is Rittenhouse’s character.  He was not, to put it mildly, a moral exemplar.  It came out pretty quickly after his arrest that he was a cop worshipper, and then he partied with Trumpers after his release.  Partying with Trumpers perhaps doesn’t automatically make one a racist, but it’s certainly strong evidence in that direction.  When I’ve made this argument in online discussions the response has usually been Biden whataboutism or pointing out some of Trump’s policies and reforms, which did include some minor criminal justice reform.  Here’s the thing though-both Trump and Biden said a lot of horribly racist things and implemented a lot of horribly racist policies, usually connected to immigration, empire, and the drug war.  @#^! them both for it.  But it was only Trump that had a large number of avowed racists and nationalists among his supporters.  Trump voters may not have all been racist, but they joined the fandom with all the racists and were ok with that.  It tars anyone still in a MAGA hat with an ugly brush.

This is not to say that all of the keyboard pounds spent on this haven’t gotten anything right.  The allegations of judicial bias and prosecutorial incompetence ring very true.  Introduction of evidence painting Rittenhouse as a racist was disallowed, and that could have gone strongly to motive, which would seem to be important in relation to a claim of self defense.  The prosecutor pointing a potentially uncleared weapon, with his finger on the trigger, at a jury (although the details are disputed) was insane.  On the other hand, a defense lawyer acquaintance of mine has argued that the public eye on the case forced the judge and prosecutor to do their jobs, and that most prosecutors are generally incompetent, but are granted wide latitude by judges.  Also, this slate article characterizes judge Bruce Schroeder as generally pro-defendant-this time the defendant happens to be white and high profile.  I would guess that most of the people yelling about Klan robes under Schroeder’s judicial one would probably agree that the justice system tends to railroad the accused and favor incarceration over conviction.  There is a potential disconnect here.

The comparison with women in jail for killing their abusers absolutely has merit.  The immediate solution would be jury nullification, but over the longer term carving out exceptions in self defense law specifically to cover this is probably a good idea.  How exactly to word this I’m not entirely sure, and I welcome suggestions.  Many of these situations would most likely still be matters for a jury, but given how insidious and long lasting domestic abuse can be, and how destructive mentally and physically it is for its victims, protecting them from punishment for defending themselves seems like a necessary thing.

Finally, there’s one more bad argument that brings me to the two things at the heart of what bothers me about all of this.  Many on the pro-Rittenhouse side have asked “how can Rittenhouse be racist?  His victims were white!”.  There’s been a lot of screaming about the woke mob, and how Black Lives Matter is this evil communist group (that one is an easy refute, and I’ll take it on again later in this essay), and how it wasn’t really a “peaceful” protest.

All of that misses context, and context matters here.  Ultimately both sides are so focused on what they want to see that they can’t see the full picture.  The left can only see how Rittenhouse fits into the broader social and historical narrative, while Rittenhouse’s supporters can only see his actions in microcosm and isolation during each specific shooting.  One misses the points of law and what may have been legitimate actions of self defense, while the other doesn’t ask the important questions of how this happened in the first place.  What started this all?  Sure, it was a riot.  Protests aren’t always peaceful, which begs the question why were people pissed enough to riot in the first place?  2020 was the year of Black Lives Matter protests across the country as a lot of people got very pissed off at years of police murdering people, usually not white people, and facing zero repercussions for it.  These shootings ranged from people who may well have been guilty (and had criminal pasts) to children, and were never about situations where officers were being fired upon.  Much of this happened in the context of the drug war, which is arguably the most horrible thing that government has done to its own people post-slavery.  For libertarians, I have to remind too many of us again that we’ve been opposed to the state murdering people since before our movement had a name.  We’ve also been arguing for the moral legitimacy of violent revolution and shooting back for just as long, even though most of us hope that such times never come to pass and that real change can come either through the political system, building competing institutions, or both.  Sure, we can be dismayed that a lot of the rage tends to be directed at private businesses and residences rather than police stations and legislative headquarters, but it shouldn’t be any kind of stretch to understand why the rage exists in the first place.  Yes, much of the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement came from the left, including some outright communists.  So?  They’ve also done more to bring attention to a core libertarian issue in a year than our movement has done in three decades.  While the contention that the Black Lives Matter movement has been co-opted by the Democratic Party is very valid (and a hell of an argument for voting third party), dismissing a whole group of people that are angry about some of the same big things we are because they started from a different point on the Nolan chart is stupid.  

One commenter argued that Rittenhouse’s cop worship can be dismissed at the naive beliefs of a young kid.  This is fine as far as it goes, but lots of kids draw tanks and planes as a kid, or dress as a cop for Halloween before growing out of it as they get older.  Most of them, however, don’t actually steal a tank and run over people with it, or go out and shoot people thinking they’re helping.  He may well be young and dumb, but his actions crossed big lines into serious consequences and went a lot farther than the usual young and dumb sort. 

It’s easy enough to dismiss conservatives as simply pro-cop, racist to one degree or another, or both.  I think libertarians, on the other hand, are so concerned about gun rights and the right of self defense that we often can’t see anything else.  It’s like our version of one of the great moments from The Boondocks.  To riff a bit on Huey’s speech towards the end, not every person with a gun made a heroic last stand against a rape gang!  Yes, the government does conspire to put a lot of people in jail (or straight up kill them) for acting in self defense, and yes the right to bear arms is still under constant legal and legislative assault.  But just because someone has rights doesn’t mean that every use of those rights is smart or moral.  Rights should not mean freedom from consequences when those rights are abused or otherwise used stupidly.  Again, those consequences can come in a court of law or the court of public opinion, depending on the nature of the stupidity, but we can’t be so zealous in our defense of rights that we’re blind to the context of their use.  If we can’t defend someone’s right to do something while also acknowledging that what they did was terrible, or supporting terrible people, or just really dumb we’re doing it wrong.

I think that’s at the heart of it all.  The ex-Republican chunk of the libertarian movement is so suspicious of anything that smacks of communism, and so paranoid about gun control (and not entirely without reason) that they can’t see that even if he was a dumb and naive kid, Rittenhouse was a cop worshipper and probably a racist on the wrong side of a protest against state murder.  Yes, he had the right to be there.  Generically speaking, he had/has the right to defend himself, and in the moment it’s very arguable that he was defending himself.  Even if he was legally right, which he may well have been, he was morally wrong.  He should have been allowed to be at that protest, but he shouldn’t have been there.  He should be allowed to hold his beliefs, but his beliefs are wrong.  He has the right to defend himself, but he shouldn’t have been in the situation where he needed to in the first place.  To hope for his acquittal is defensible.  To hold him up as any kind of hero, anything other than either a piece of crap or young and dumb is deplorable.

Finally…I wish this wasn’t a footnote, but unfortunately it fits.  The country has spent several weeks talking about this dumb white kid, which has sucked all the metaphorical oxygen away from what the protests were about in the first place.  People are still being shot by police.  Gods help you if you’re mentally ill and have a runin with the cops.  The drug war is still a thing, with too many people in jail for bullshit as a result.  Occupational licensing that stifles the poorest from working and holds convicted felons back from better jobs is still all too prevalent in our country.  The bigger structural factors behind poverty and racial injustices are still there.  What those factors are can and certainly is debated between, say, the left and libertarians, but either way they’re still there.  Where is the outrage over any of that?  Electing a Democrat (especially the particular Democrat) didn’t fix any of that.  When will there be enough anger again to truly change things?

Two days ago a bunch of pro-Trump people stormed the US capitol, thrashed some offices, and generally tried to disrupt the final certification of the electoral college vote and the confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.  Since then social media has been abuzz with the talk about the details and the implications.  There’s been a combination of frustration, hand wringing, disgust, anger, confusion, and a lot of other things besides.

Suffice to say I have Some Thoughts on the matter.

First off, this was a disgusting action by a bunch of pro-tyranny, often horribly racist idiots pissed that their tyrant didn’t win. 

This was not any great day for freedom or righteous assault on a terrible place.  Had it escalated the worst possible outcome was a civil war with no good sides, rather than a good side and a bad side.

This was not the work of antifa or some false flag operation, and to say so is some of the most ignorant, delusional, and rank stupidity I have ever heard in over 20 years of being politically aware.

Spike Cohen’s call for understanding is admirable, but in one of the few times I disagree with him I think it’s wasted words on people full of hate, bile, and blind cult worship.

This is not a great opportunity for the libertarian movement either.  It’s probably the optimistic minarchist in me, but the combination of a return to more banal, functional evil and a LOT of newly energized people from the Jorgensen campaign ready to run for city council in 2021 is a powerful one.  Massive chaos at the top and an almost inevitable crackdown won’t help advance our cause.

The argument that if the protestors had been black or brown they would have gotten their asses kicked by police rather than allowed to waltz in almost entirely unopposed has a lot of merit.

The whataboutism being drawn by some people over the Black Lives Matter riots this summer is false equivalency.  Black Lives Matter had and has a completely legitimate and gigantic gripe, namely that the state really shouldn’t be murdering people, especially those that aren’t pale skinned.  While I do wish that more of the rage had been directed specifically at the state rather than everywhere, as much as I can I understand that level of frustration, anger, and desperation.  It’s palpable, and real, and justified.  How you can listen to this, for example, and not be moved to tears or blind fury (or both) is beyond me.  The Trumpians’ gripe, on the other hand, is complete bullshit.  Every allegation of fraud was either shut down, often by Republican election officials in states Trump lost, or defeated soundly in over 50 lawsuits, often in front of Republican appointed judges.  And as Legal Eagle pointed out, the gap between what Trump’s legal team said in public vs. what they actually said under oath was staggering.  Black Lives Matter went to war for an ugly truth.  Trump’s cult went to war for a lie.  And contra Slim Charles, fighting on a lie only destroys.  There are serious systemic problems with how we do presidential elections, including precinct consolidation, gerrymandering, the Commission On Presidential Debates, and stuff like I covered here.  But under the rules as they stand Biden won fair and square.  Trumpers need to suck it up and deal, and run a better candidate next time.

The LP’s public statement on the matter, contra the Mises Caucus, were right.  The why, the how, and the who matters.  There are scenarios I can envision where a group would have charged the seat of power like that and I’d cheer.  But again, a bunch of racist wackadoos whining about their cult leader not winning over the other cult leader?  Nothing righteous about it.  And unless you’re really prepared for civil war, with all of the blood and pain that would result AND the highly uncertain outcome, maybe it might be a good idea to let a combination of political reform, growing our movement, and building competing institutions like alternate currencies, direct primary care providers, private education do its thing.

My opinion of the federal government and most of its actions ranges somewhere between my opinion of syphilis and AIDS.  It remains a horrid, murderous, thieving monster that should be opposed whenever possible.  But one of the few things it does well is relatively fair and open elections, with plenty of systemic problems but almost no retail level fraud.  And yes, democracy has its own problems, but those elections still represent a real avenue for potential change and societal improvement.  They shouldn’t be left to the violent whims of easily deluded racists begging for a new king.

My twitter feed (which you should follow) is still abuzz with angry words about Kyle Rittenhouse and the Covid crisis, especially where lockdowns are concerned.  I’ve already touched on both of them here, here, and here in long form.  In all of them I’ve made rare calls for nuance, and yet for some reason my blog with readership measured in the 10s of people on a good day hasn’t resulted in making the screaming stop.

I think I know why people are still so intense about it on both sides:  the legality and the morality of both situations don’t line up neatly with each other.  In the case of Rittenhouse he may well be legally innocent, he may well have acted in self defense, and he may go free.  Given that two people are dead and another is seriously wounded behind it, it’s an ambiguous situation and exactly why we have courts.  Even in ancapistan there would nigh certainly be a referral to one, if not several private arbitration services about this, and they might not all come back with the same ruling.  BUT…why people on the other side are so pissed is that he was on the wrong moral side of the issue.  In a year where anger over the state murdering people boiled over in many public ways, Rittenhouse was on the side of…the state.  He brought a gun to the wrong side of a protest and wound up shooting protestors.  Even if he was legally in the right in the moment, he was morally wrong and put himself in an incendiary situation. 

In the case of Covid, libertarians, including a lot of people I have great respect for, and Trumpers are screaming about lockdowns, business shutdowns, school closures, and curfews like it’s the greatest abuse of power since the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II and a permanent mental crippling of our youth.  On the other hand, just about everyone who’s had the virus, along with the bulk of the center and left is flat out saying @#^! you to anyone who won’t wear a mask, or who protests, or who threatens to have Thanksgiving with their family.  And the thing is…both sides actually have a point.  Yes, government mandated lockdowns and curfews (although not, I’d say, shutdowns of government specific services, such as schools) are unconstitutional and awful, and they set a terrible precedent.  Yes, entire sectors of the economy have been tanked by this intervention, and way too much corporate welfare has been given to large businesses at the expense of small.  Yes, school closures are absolutely taking a real toll on our students, depriving them of experiences they will never get back.  But the flip side is that the virus is real, and the low risk is still a lot higher than other diseases (such as the normal flu), along with much longer lasting after effects and a much higher death rate.  The appropriate legal thing to do is to not come with 100 miles of government with a mandate, but the right moral thing to do is chill out for a minute, stay home at least through regular flu season, and let’s get through this.

Herein lies the problem.  For libertarians especially, most things are pretty cut and dried, and most things are so long overdue and so wrong that quick, decisive, drastic action is called for.  Ending the wars, ending the drug war and pardoning/exonerating people.  Declassifying files on US war crimes.  Ending corporate welfare.  Ending the war on guns.  Ending the war on immigrants.  And we love to be contradictory almost for its own sake, which most of the time makes sense because the status quo answer sucks.  But some things actually are complicated, and need to be treated as such.  Yes, Rittenhouse may have been acting in self defense, and no, you don’t always get to pick the people that you should defend (Clive Bundy, anyone?), but that doesn’t mean we should hold him up as a hero, or that we should hold him blameless, or that we should blindly stick up for him without acknowledging context.  And we should especially recognize that in a summer of very visible public murders by police, which, yes, fits inside a longer history of police abuse and racism in the United States, people are going to take the shooting of protestors as more evidence of the racism of our society, no matter how legally justified he might have been in the moment.  For the lockdown yes, kids can’t recover from mental health issues if they’re dead, but the toll that months of isolation and missing important events and rites of passage is still a very real toll.  No, governors shouldn’t be trying to lock people down, but it would be really nice if we the citizenry would actually chill out for a minute on our own. 

Or in other words, most of the time we should fight hard and take no prisoners.  But sometimes?  We need to calm the @#^! down and acknowledge the other side has a point.

Thankfully, after a bit of arguing about it in the early 00s, libertarians seem to have come back around to a pro-immigration, more or less open borders consensus, assuming minarchy rather than ancapistan.  Why, you might ask?  Because immigration both satisfies important parts of our principles, and produces dramatic net benefits economically, and because immigration enforcement produces a horrible human cost.  It is a win-win, or a complete lose.  Let’s look at these in some detail-

First, the practical effects of immigration.  A quick google search reveals a multitude of studies on the economic effects of immigration, from groups across the ideological spectrum ranging from the Cato Institute  to the Center For American Progress, and almost all of them agree that even with our welfare state factored in, immigrants are a net benefit to the United States economy.  And since it factored into the Brexit debate, I also looked up the impact of immigration in the UK, which has a much bigger welfare state than ours.  Turns out that most studies agree that immigration has a positive impact on their economy too.  Moreover, immigrants start businesses at much higher rates than native born Americans, providing more jobs, more value, and more prosperity for the entire country.  Immigrants are also, contra Trump and his ilk, less likely to commit crimes than native born.  And, just in case anyone tries to pull the Islamic terrorism scare canard, I always love to point out Dearborn, MI, which has the highest percentage of Arabic immigrants in the United States…and a crime rate that’s actually a bit less than cities of its size

Beyond the statistics, what about the contribution of immigrants to our country?  What about the inventions from immigrants, ranging from the telephone to rechargeable batteries?  What about the music and entertainment, from Neil Young and Rush to Idris Elba and Salma Hayek?  And what about the food?  If you eat in America, thank an immigrant.

Second, there’s the effects of immigration enforcement in the modern era.  Our immigration system is byzantine, overregulated, and takes an astoundingly long time to get anything doneHundreds of people die  trying to cross the border every year, all for the “crime” of wanting to work.  Children who came here at a young age often face deportation to countries they never knew.  Native people are separated from their families and from sacred events.  And most publicly there’s the way that children are pulled from their families…resulting in some separations that might be permanent.  Beyond the human cost, there’s also the immense environmental destruction that building a full border wall would cause, and the bill for it all.

And let’s not even look at how US intervention, such as in Latin America and the Middle East, created so many refugee crises in the first place.

Where’s the morality in any of that?

Some will respond that sovereign states have the authority to regulate their borders, and, again assuming minarchy for a moment, I agree.  However just because someone or some entity has power doesn’t mean they need to wield it.  The United States did just fine without any immigration restrictions for the first 120 or so years of its existence, until the Chinese Exclusion Act-which by its very name should be obvious that it was racist as hell.  And every immigration law since has been tinged with that racism, that fear of the unknown, the fear that the foreigners will take our jobs and destroy our country…when the history doesn’t support it at all.

Finally, as valuable as the arguments from data, hunger, and humanity are, there’s the arguments from principle, which in my view are far more important.  As Ron Paul said, any wall that can be used to keep people out can also be used to keep people in.  That should be terrifying in any time, but especially in the current moment, when the United States government has become much more brazen about waging war on its own people, we should all be suspicious of any effort to pen us in. 

Most importantly of all though is this:  free people should be allowed to move freely, and free people have nothing to fear from new people and new ideas.

Open the borders.  Bring on the next wave of what’s truly made America great.

This is not my post-mortem on the Jorgensen campaign.  That will come after election day, and after the winner of this election has finally been decided.  No, this post is about addressing one of the most persistent criticisms of Jorgensen, usually from the more socially conservative wings of the libertarian movement and/or Republicans on the fence, namely that she’s been coopted by Black Lives Matter and antifa, and that she’s somehow a secret commie, a collectivist, diluting the message, or Not A Real Libertarian

Let’s put aside that she was Harry Browne’s first running mate for a minute and as such has almost 30 years of party activism under her belt.

Instead, let me tell you a story, about me.  I got involved in Libertarian Party politics in the very late 90s.  At the time we were talking about many things-war, corporate welfare, taxes, censorship (oh, the days of the Communications Decency Act)…oh, and the drug war and police murdering people.

The drug war, to the extent that it was mainstream, was wildly popular.  The idea of police killing people for no reason was farcical to most people that weren’t black.  And yet here were the libertarians, saying over and over that the drug war was a bad idea, that it was contrary to human liberty, that it led to mass incarceration and the rise of gangsters a la alcohol prohibition, that it had destroyed minority communities, and especially in the case of marijuana prohibition had denied countless people access to real and effective medical treatment for a whole host of ailments-not to mention all of the industrial products that could be made from hemp.

Standard libertarian stuff so far, right?

The libertarians were also the only ones (barring of course a few commies and conspiracy theorists, although I didn’t really know much about them at the time) screaming about the state killing people without any due process.  Read through just about any Vin Suprynowicz article from the time, for example.  The names and events that rang out the most for us were Amadou Diallo, Don Scott, Peter McWilliams, Ruby Ridge, and Waco.  Regardless of whether any of the folks killed were personally likable or not, all of them were brutally murdered by agents of the state, and the entire gamut of libertarian thought at the time, from Cato to Lew Rockwell to anti-state.com (RIP), was uniform in condemning them.

And let’s look back further.  As a movement and a philosophy we look to many places that explicitly sanction the right of rebellion, and vigorously protest the brutalization of the individual by the state, such as the radical abolitionists and Thomas Jefferson (I know, it can be odd to see the two mentioned in the same sentence.  But they’re both part of our tradition).  We count William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman as some of our heroes.  We’ve been against police brutality since before there was a Libertarian Party.  And all of this is before we start on the brutalization of the individual that is war, which libertarians have an even longer and prouder history of opposing.

Hopefully all of this sounds familiar to anyone who’s been in the libertarian movement for more than five minutes.

Which brings us to the present day.

Over the last few years there have been a number of high profile shootings and killings of black individuals by police-Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, George Floyd, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, and many others-along with some white folks that were also brutally killed by police, such as Kelly Thomas, Duncan Lemp, and Ryan Whitaker.  The (accurate or perceived-it’s actually not really relevant here) feeling that many-even most-black people have had for decades about being under siege from police, and facing a real risk of police harassment or violence every time they leave the house, and even moreso if they go into the wrong neighborhood-is finally mainstream.  The chant of “Black Lives Matter!” has rung out now for months in response to the fear, the anger, and the frustration of real people.  While I think that the best solution-that of repealing terrible laws-has gotten lost in favor of addressing the immediate problem of Not Being Killed, the fact is they’re voicing the same concerns that the libertarian movement has been shouting to the rooftops since its inception, and before.  Sure, some of the people angered by this are professed Marxists.  So?  When did libertarians get a monopoly on being offended by murder?

One of our biggest issues is finally mainstream.  The violence of the state is laid bare for all to see.

And along comes Jo Jorgensen, longtime Libertarian activist, and Spike Cohen, a slightly less longtime activist.  Jorgensen is at a Black Lives Matter rally within a day or two of George Floyd’s murder, and she eventually went on to also visit the site of the Tulsa massacre.  Spike Cohen has been to several Black Lives Matter events on the campaign trail, including the Get The Strap rally with Black Lives Matter 757.  They’ve called repeatedly for ending the drug war, pardoning and exonerating its victims, ending qualified immunity, ending civil asset forfeiture, and ending the war on guns.

And somehow this makes them communists?  Panderers?  Secret collectivists?  Democratic plants?  All charges I’ve seen in various threads, believe it or not.  Nevermind, of course, that the commies have been the ones getting their asses kicked fighting the state…  No, Harry Browne’s running mate is the sellout somehow.

Not on your life.

The only difference between what Jorgensen and Cohen have done vs. any other Libertarian candidate is they’ve actually gone to the people affected and heard them out.  Libertarians, as I’ve said in this entire essay, have been saying “The state murders people, and that’s a Bad Thing” for as long as there have been libertarians.  Our presidential ticket has now had the audacity to say “The state murders people, and that’s a Bad Thing” to people who are saying “The state is murdering us, and that’s a Bad Thing”.

That’s not pandering.  That’s consistency.  And for whatever else they’ve done as candidates, Jorgensen and Cohen were both completely right to do so.  They are right for themselves, for the outreach to communities where Libertarians have traditionally been absent or perceived negatively, and they’re right as a part of a continuation of one of the proudest parts of our tradition.

Liberty in our lifetimes.

Black lives matter.



A bit over two months ago, the state claimed another victim.

A bit over two months ago, George Floyd was murdered.  It was not the only such murder in recent memory, but it was the final straw for many, many people.  Shortly thereafter protests erupted all across the country under the banner of black lives matter.  Some of them turned into full on riots for a while, and then settled back down into more peaceful protests.  In Portland, Oregon, on the other hand, the demonstrations never really calmed down, and local police kept escalating over a period of several weeks.  Reports from on the ground detailed near constant use of tear gas and other heavy handed tactics that, in time, affected nearby apartments, not just protestors in the street.

And then the feds got involved.

A few days ago unmarked federal officers, later revealed to be US marshals and DHS agents, showed up in Portland.  Among other things they’ve fired huge amounts of crowd control munitions into protests and straight up kidnapped people (a tactic now being emulated by local police in New York City).  Portland has become a flashpoint for the frustrations of the body politic in many ways, with armadas not just of leftists, but of moms, teachers, veterans, and others showing up in solidarity.

And across social media, libertarians have been trying to figure out exactly what to make of all this. Many libertarians, including members of the dreaded boogaloo movement, have been out in force at many black lives matter protests, although we do seem to be less present in Portland in particular.  Our presidential and vice presidential candidates have both spoken out strongly in support of the protestors, but when they do while most voices are supportive, a substantial minority condemn them. Some prominent libertarians have engaged in a considerable amount of hand wringing about the matter, citing Marxist influence among the protestors and communists being involved more generally, and claiming everything from “the enemy of my enemy is not my friend” to “you were calling for our heads, and now you’re calling for help” to simply saying that the protestors should obey the law and go home.

What, then, should we be doing?  How should we as libertarians feel about this?  I say we should unequivocally support the protestors, and we should be out in force with them.

Don’t get me wrong-I understand at least some of the arguments. The legal argument is completely weak sauce mind you-first off, when did libertarians suddenly start conflating law with morality? And even if we are going to argue the law, the law does not seem to be on the side of the feds-see the relevant Oregon legal code here, the graffiti charges used as a pretext here, and the good ol’ first amendment is here.  I do, on the other hand, understand the frustration with the left.  I’ve seen the same posts you have bashing libertarians, blaming us for all of the world’s ills, arguing for more government control, thinking we’re crazy when we were angry about the bailouts, saying we cost one bastard or another the election, and so on.  I still think Marxism is a terrible ideology, built on a theory of value that doesn’t hold water and used as justification for some of the worst regimes in human history.  And to borrow from the left, the emotional labor of having to explain that taxation is extortion, that war is government sanctioned mass murder, corporate welfare isn’t any better just because your side does it, letting an armed gang run your society is probably not the best of ideas, and both major parties have a terrible track record of nominating awful people as candidates, which is not the fault of third party voters AGAIN gets really old.  And yes, whatever we might agree with commies on, we took a very different thought path to get there and we will wind up arguing about 12 other things in short order. All of this is true and understandable.

But let’s look at the other side of this. Most libertarians, I think, are motivated by outrage over abuses of state power. The abuses that happen to us, and the abuses that happen to others.  The abuses that are inherent in the system. 

We are all victims of the state-its rapaciousness, its incompetence, and its violence. We’ve certainly been going on about it for several decades now, if nothing else. Can we agree though that while they all suck, certain abuses are more serious and more pressing than others? And if so, would it be reasonable to say that murder is, if not the most serious abuse of state power, then at least least in the top two or three? If so, that leaves war and police abuse as the most pressing concerns…and guess what’s been in the news lately.

Libertarians-some of us anyway-seem to have this intellectual blind spot that says that any idea that didn’t come from our camp-even when it agrees with us-is wrong. To hold this not only is intellectually narrow minded for its own sake, but it also severely limits our choice of allies on any given issue, which means that we will continue to be politically irrelevant and ineffective, no matter how right we are. I’m fortunate enough to count many lefties as friends, from garden variety milquetoast Democrats to card carrying Trotskyists. Guess what-all of them have arrived to their worldview through much the same process of research, reflection, caring, and frustration that we did, and, what’s more-the progressives and far lefties share about 80% of our concerns. 10% of our solutions, to be sure, but there’s a lot of common ground and a lot of agreement about what’s messed up. We don’t have to nor should we work with them all the time.  But we should have the intellectual honesty to recognize when someone other than us is on the right side of a particular issue.

Just as an example, watch this documentary about the Black Panthers.  I know, it’s a little long, but it’s a fascinating piece of history with a great soundtrack.  Yes, ideologically they were Marxist. But if you look at their actions, almost everything they did are things libertarians should cheer. They were armed, they took on the police and held them accountable-and shot back when it was necessary. But more importantly they were the private organization that provided charity and important relief to make their community better without a dime of government money or intervention. Their breakfast program fed over 20,000 people at its height.  Whatever they might have been thinking, in their actions they did not confuse society with government, and they actively worked very hard to make society better.  They actually did everything libertarians have been saying people should and will do for as long as I’ve been in the movement. Are we really so blind as to dismiss this as simply the raving of communists?

I’m not calling for across the board bottom unity, because there’s plenty we disagree on and plenty of things to oppose the left on. But what I am saying is that we dismiss the intelligence of people other than us not only at our peril, but at our loss. The more perspectives we have, the more we understand the experience of the people we’re trying to reach with our message, and the more chances we have to get good ideas.

So…about those protests. Libertarians have been raging about cop murder and police abuse for all 20 years that I’ve been in the movement. As this reason article will tell you, we’ve been raging for a lot longer than that. We’ve been warning of the encroachment of the police state, of the death of the right to protest, of a tyrannical government for just as long. We’ve also been talking a good game for decades about the second amendment being about the right of rebellion against one’s own government.

Cop murder is now in the public eye in a huge way. It’s in focus in a way that it wasn’t in 1992 after Rodney King, it never was in the late 90s, despite Peter McWilliams, Amadou Diallo, Waco, Ruby Ridge, or any number of abuses, and it wasn’t even this in focus after Ferguson. It’s triggered a moment of reflection about very uncomfortable truths about our country’s past and present-I hope it’s the moment of reflection, but it’s more likely a moment of reflection. And people are rebelling, rising up to demand something better, and the federal government is doing everything it can short of outright killing people (yet) to beat them back them down into submission.

We weren’t the ones who were able to get these issues in the public eye in a huge way. We were ahead of our time, ignored, and maligned.

So what?

We got to the same idea through a different set of principles and reasoning.

So what?

We may even disagree about what the long term solutions are (personally I think that repealing bad law such as the drug war is much more fundamental to the problems, while the mainstream seem to mostly just be focused on the bad behavior of the enforcers).

But again, so what?

Prioritize the issues. Yes, repealing the income tax would be great, but it’s not going anywhere any time soon. Corporate welfare is still terrible, but it isn’t kidnapping anyone just yet. Gun rights are holding steady at the federal level, and despite notable exceptions like my state of California, the trend is actually generally positive at the state level. Right now what is a threat is police, the enforcement arm of the state.

Right now the commies are on the right side of the most pressing issue of our day. Right now they, along with moms, veterans, teachers, and ordinary people who can’t stand at least one major aspect of state evil anymore are getting their asses kicked for being on the right side of that issue. Right now they look like this.

But they’re also resisting. They’re doing more with bike helmets and cardboard to beat back the feds, stop abuse, and demand better until they are heard than most boog bois can dream of-see here and here, for instance. They are so much of what libertarians have talked about for 40 years and more in theory put into reality.

If we’re going to keep saying all this, it’s time for us to put our money where our mouths are.

They’re out in the streets, standing up to that tyrannical government.

Where are we?