When one William Kostric walked into a protest outside a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at which the President of the United States was present, carrying a loaded gun—“Of course it was loaded,” he told Chris Matthews later, “what kind of fool would carry around an unloaded gun?”—he and the movement he purports to represent walked straight into a well-laid trap.
Let’s put this in context. For weeks, the mainstream media had been going on about the rising danger of “right-wing extremism,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a well-known smear outfit that specializes in trying to marginalize legitimate expressions of dissent from liberal orthodoxy, had issued a “report” on the alleged revival of the so-called militia movement. For weeks the liberal media—notably MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow—had been hammering away at the alleged threat posed to the president by an alleged upsurge in “racist” and extremist violence, pointing to the attack on the Holocaust Museum by a deranged “white nationalist,” and the killing of an abortion doctor by an equally deranged nutjob. The “radical right,” they screamed, is on the march, with the strong implication that these dangerous militants won’t be happy until Obama is six feet under.
Given these circumstances, one has to wonder about the motives for Kostric’s action. This, after all, was a town-hall meeting called to discuss healthcare, not gun control. It seems, at best, a non sequitur, and, at worst . . .
Well, then, what was his stated intent? What was he trying to accomplish? When pressed by Matthews on MSNBC, Kostric made vague statements about how a right is lost if it isn’t exercised regularly, presumably meaning the right to bear arms. He also tried to make the argument that, well, if everybody was armed, there would be a lot less crime. You know the drill. The idea that everyone is always walking around armed in a free society—like so many other notions that don’t seem particularly “libertarian” and yet are held by many self-proclaimed lovers of liberty—sounds more like a Robert Heinlein story than real life.
Yet Kostric never answered the question, which was and is: Why come armed to a political meeting, particularly one ostensibly called to discuss healthcare? The whole point of even attending such a gathering, or, indeed, any sort of rational discussion about anything, is that we leave our guns—embodying the possibility of coercion—outside the door. We forsake force, and rely solely on our persuasive powers to get our point across. Why it is necessary to point this out to self-avowed “libertarians,” whose entire political philosophy is derived from the non-aggression principle, is beyond me.
It is disingenuous, to say the very least, for Kostric to claim that he was dramatizing the importance of gun rights, because that wasn’t the subject at hand. No, his point had nothing to do with healthcare, or even defending the Second Amendment. So as to make his intent unmistakable, he carried a sign that day which proclaimed it to all and sundry: “IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY!”
This was widely interpreted as a not-so-subtle threat to the President, personally. And I fail to see how it could be understood in any other way. To carry that sign in one hand, and a gun in the other, is a declaration of war. A war, I hasten to add, that Kostric and his fellow revolutionaries cannot possibly hope to win.
Kostric is a member of the Free State Project (FSP), which was founded by Professor Jason Sorens and like-minded souls, as an alternative to the Libertarian Party (LP) and the longstanding educational efforts that have characterized the mainstream of libertarian activism to date. Impatient with the frustrations and setbacks that have characterized the history of the LP, and not content with educating the non-libertarian public, the FSP’ers have decided to “live liberty,” and take over their own state, choosing New Hampshire no doubt on account of its “Live Free or Die” spirit—a motto that Mr. Kostric seems to have interpreted quite literally.
Professor Sorens, I note, has yet to actually move to this budding libertopia: Perhaps he’s not quite ready to give up his post at Yale for the cause. Then again, very few real-world people, that is, people who are gainfully employed and have extensive roots—family, friends, a history—in a specific area can just get up and go. While the luftmenschen (“people of the air”)—as Murray Rothbard, the founder of the movement, characterized all too many of his comrades—go where the winds take them, and Kostric soon found himself in Keene, New Hampshire, epicenter of the libertopian colony.
The rapid influx of outsiders—some 500-plus, according to most accounts—has caused some friction, most of it caused by the tendency of some prominent FSP-ers to engage in “civil disobedience.” They refuse to pay traffic tickets, they openly smoke marijuana, they disrobe (whilst packing heat, of course!), and some are no doubt engaged in more substantially illegal activities that I don’t even want to know or speculate about. The most popular category on the freekeene.com discussion forum is labeled “Civil Disobedience, Noncooperation, and Jailed Activists”: It is filled with news of the latest charges and court dates, pleas to show up in court in support of the defendants, and yes, even videos of their ridiculous (and sometimes ominous) antics. Kostric’s stunt was their moment in the sun.
Typically, some in the libertarian movement hailed Kostric as a hero. While we’ve had more than our our share of crackpots and scamsters in the libertarian movement, never have we had a significant organized grouping that openly advocated violence, or even flirted with it—at least, not until now.
The irony of this supposedly “radical” tendency is that they don’t take their own rhetoric all that seriously. On the one hand, we are told that the State is evil, a vicious monster capable of the most heinous crimes imaginable—and yet the lightness with which they take this threat tells a different story. They don’t really believe the State is going to retaliate, at least not in a way that will cause them harm any more serious than spending the night in jail. They really believe they can stand up to the Leviathan, that they can “go Galt,” as they put it, and withdraw from “the system.”
The utopianism and revolutionism of the FSP-ers are inextricably intertwined: Both underscore the essential naivete of a strategy that underplays the real power and evil of the State apparatus they disdain. Such a mistake could be fatal to those who make it, and surely fatal to the libertarian movement if it should ever become widespread.
Such a movement is asking to be infiltrated with agents provocateurs—a practice that the U.S. government has repeatedly engaged in over the years—and set up for state repression. It was routine, during the 1960’s, when the “New Left” was all the rage, that the police would send in infiltrators, who would then egg on the more hot-headed fringe into acts of violence. And surely the Black Panthers ought to serve as a negative example: Who can forget the day they showed up at the state courthouse in Sacramento, California, carrying automatic rifles and posing on the front steps to the delectation of the media and their radical chic groupies? A few years later, they were all either dead or behind bars.
It is telling that the following Jack London quote appears on Kostric’s myspace.com page:
I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.
Kostric and his fellow “superb meteors” could care less that they are discrediting and marginalizing the cause of liberty, and actually endangering what remains of our Second Amendment rights. They are too mesmerized by the prospect of their own brilliant sparks falling to earth in a blaze of glory.
It his interview with Matthews, and his subsequent numerous media appearances, Kostric identified himself as a Ron Paul supporter, and the media glommed on to this immediately. Ron was interviewed on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” and was asked if it didn’t “defy common sense” for Kostric to show up armed at a venue with the President . Given this opportunity to distance himself and the wider libertarian movement from one of his wilder supporters, Paul punted:
Well, I think it raised a couple of points. One thing I think it really shows a remarkable restraint on the President and his Secret Service because they didn’t over-react. They recognized what the state law was and that this man didn’t break any laws and that he was just practicing a right that he has, so I think this is very good and Obama deserves credit for this.
But I also think what this demonstrates is that it’s the old conservative argument. It’s not the gun that’s the danger, it’s the person that’s dangerous. He’s a peaceful person, he obeyed the law. He was not a man of violence and it went quite well, so I think it was a remarkable demonstration when you compare it to what 19 individuals could do with razor blades versus one man with an armed pistol that happens to be a law-abiding citizen.
Later on, Paul says “I don’t even know the guy”—so how does he know Kostric is “a peaceful person”? In a comment posted on the Reason magazine website before his fifteen minutes of fame in Portsmouth, Kostric said that drug dealers who fire on cops are okay in his book:
If people can’t wake up and see why it’s immoral to trespass and destroy someone’s property, kidnap and lock them in a cage for growing a plant in their backyard then perhaps a body count is what’s required for change.
However, a nice guy, and generous to a fault, kept making excuses for Kostric: “I think he was remarkable in proving his point that he was a peaceful man and he caused no trouble.”
Okay, so maybe this Kostric fellow is merely a lone nut, someone who just wants attention and is in no way associated with any organized group. I believe this is what Rep. Paul thought, but, unfortunately, Kostric does indeed represent a trend within the libertarian movement, one that shows every indication of getting out of hand. A few days later, a whole group of Kostric wannabes showed up at a town hall in Arizona where Obama appeared. What’s more, they explicitly identified themselves as Ron Paul supporters. (See the very end of this link.) With Paul appearing to endorse this sort of behavior—or, at least, not oppose it—he is encouraging more of the same. And the dangers of that are many, and ominous:
1) It sets up the libertarian movement for government surveillance and infiltration. Under the PATRIOT Act, the government has the “right” to spy on anyone suspected of planning illegal acts, and any act of civil disobedience can be construed as “terrorism.”
2) It marginalizes the libertarian movement, and gives the professional “extremist”-hunters as well as the Obama-ite left a reason to tie a seemingly violent “fringe” with individuals and groups working to preserve what remains of our economic and civil liberties.
3) It is bound to end in a violent incident: Indeed, there have already been confrontations between the “tea-baggers” and union thugs at those town-hall meetings. It is only a matter of time before a gun goes off, either by accident or by intention.
4) By allowing the “mainstream” media to tie Kostric and his supporters to Ron Paul, the Ron Paul campaign apparatus and the Congressman himself are endangering the passage of his important “Audit the Fed” bill, which has amassed so much support and—at this point—seems likely to pass in some form.
I want to emphasize the importance of the first point: During the 1960’s, when the government was infiltrating leftist organizations, it was relatively easy to spot a “pig,” as police agents were then called. He (or she) was always the one calling for outrageous acts of violence and maintaining a more-radical-then-thou posture.
Of course, most of the people who are being misled into believing they can “resist the State” aren’t police agents. They are perfectly sincere idealists who simply have no strategic sense, and certainly no common sense. They are perfectly right to denounce the government as a gang of thugs interested only in looting the productive while paying off their friends and supporters, akin to the Mafia. The only problem is that they don’t follow through on this vital insight, and act accordingly. You don’t get in the Mafia’s face, and dare them to come after you—unless, of course, you want to be wearing concrete shoes lying at the bottom of the river.
While opposing their means, libertarians should certainly sympathize with the ends proclaimed by these radical protesters. Yet even as we defend them against the State, and call for their release if and when they are imprisoned, we have a responsibility to separate ourselves from their adventuristic and even self-destructive tactics, which are a danger to the entire movement, and, indeed, to everyone who loves liberty. Leaders like Ron Paul, instead of tolerating this kind of “activism,” have a responsibility to point out that individual acts of civil disobedience or even violence, no matter how heroic and heartfelt, cannot succeed in bringing down the federal State: such a course can only bring down the heat and set back the movement for liberty.