Justin Raimondo, long-time Chronicles columnist, vociferous anti-war activist and a leading member of the paleolibertarian political movement, died Thursday at age 67 after a long battle with lung cancer.
An influential champion of anti-interventionist foreign policy within the Libertarian and Republican political parties, Raimondo lobbed broadsides at warmongers left, right, and center from his post as founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com. He was a close friend and collaborator of both the patriarch of conservative-libertarian thought, Murray Rothbard, and of Patrick Buchanan, the doyen of Paleoconservatism.
“I have known Justin Raimondo since we stood together to oppose the rush to war against Iraq in 1991,” Buchanan said in an email. “In the three decades since, no man in America worked harder or did more to resist the interventionist impulses of the American establishment and the wars they produced than Justin and his Antiwar website.”
Raimondo was a compelling and seemingly contradictory figure. He was a gay rights activist and unbeliever who at the same time cherished his Catholic roots and sympathized with cultural conservatives. He was an anti-war stalwart who once found common cause with those on the left and yet became a staunch supporter and defender of President Trump. He was a key member of the paleolibertarian movement that grew around the John Randolph Club in the 1990’s, which found common cause in conservative cultural values and opposition to government intervention.
“Where is the left today? The Left is talking about cultural issues, Cultural Marxism, this whole racial and sexual identity politics, and that was really the death of the anti-war movement,” Raimondo said in a 2014 interview with Mises Institute President Jeff Deist. “All the movement is on the right now. That’s where the growth of anti-interventionism is really taking place.”
Raimondo grew up in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and was influenced by teachers at the nearby Jesuit seminary. This education exposed him to the ideas of Western philosophy and St. Thomas Aquinas, which he wasn’t getting in the public school. He was a rebellious student often in trouble with his teachers and parents, who sent him to see New York psychiatrist Robert Soblen.
As Raimondo detailed in his 2018 Chronicles column “Cold War Comfort,” Soblen was actually a prominent Soviet spy, who ruled that Raimondo’s bad behavior was the result of his youthful religious belief, and recommended that he be institutionalized—a fate he narrowly escaped.
“I was a difficult kid, I could have been a juvenile delinquent easily,” Raimondo said in the 2014 interview. “But then I read Ayn Rand, and I became a libertarian.”
His affinity for Rand and precociousness as a writer amusingly led him at age 14 to receive a cease-and-desist letter from Rand’s lawyer, Henry Holzer, as detailed in Antiwar.com’s tribute to Raimondo. The problem was forgotten when Raimondo met Rand in person and explained that his editors had mangled his meaning.
Raimondo was a libertarian when there were only about a thousand people in the entire country who identified as such. After high school he moved to San Francisco and got involved in local politics, including the gay rights movement as well as libertarian causes. The center of the libertarian movement at that time was the “Kochtopus” empire of various publications and think tanks started by Charles and David Koch, including the Cato Institute based in San Francisco. In 1978, he joined the Koch-run Libertarian Review magazine as an editorial assistant, which was his formal entry into the libertarian world.
Soon after joining the Koch empire, Raimondo and Antiwar.com co-founder Eric Garris started the Libertarian Party Radical Caucus, which pushed for an anti-interventionist platform. This drew the attention of Murray Rothbard, who was fed up with the compromises made by the more centrist Libertarian Party faction that the Kochs supported. “We were getting paid by Charles and at the same time opposing him in the LP,” Garris said in an interview.
The differences eventually widened into a schism that by 1983 had sent both Raimondo and Rothbard out of the Libertarian Party and the Kochs’ orbit. Raimondo and Garris joined the Republican Party and worked to organize a libertarian faction within it, planting the seeds that would eventually help support Ron Paul’s candidacy in the 2008 Republican primary.
He also supported Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaigns in 1992, 1996, and 2000, serving in 1996 as his campaign chairman in San Francisco. This stretch was one of the most productive periods of his life, during which he founded Antiwar.com and wrote two books, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (1993), and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (2000). He also participated at that time in the paleolibertarian movement that grew around the John Randolph Club, the Rockford Institute, and Chronicles magazine.
Raimondo was a fantastic writer whose columns and book Reclaiming the American Right I’ve found to be influential in converting both establishment conservatives and libertarians to a paleoconservative viewpoint, with one of my colleagues describing it as a creating a “paradigm shift” in his thinking. It was one of the first books to explain who the neoconservatives were, and how they had hijacked traditional conservatism. In 2016, Raimondo was also the first to coin the term “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” in a column in the Los Angeles Times. In addition to Chronicles and Antiwar.com, he also wrote regularly for the Huffington Post, American Conservative, Reason, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Spectator.
When asked to comment about Raimondo’s influence for this article, Patrick Buchanan said, “He was steeped in history, a splendid writer, a loyal friend with a fine sense of humor, and a brave man who endured his sufferings with great dignity. May God bless and keep him.”
Justin leaves behind his legal husband Yoshi and two sisters, Dale and Diane, and will be missed greatly by Chronicles readers and staff.
(Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the year Justin Raimondo served as Pat Buchanan’s campaign chairman in San Francisco as 1992. The correct year is 1996.)