Libertarian Party in Turmoil Over Upcoming Anti-War Rally

At issue is the roster of speakers for the event, the Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington.

Via Rage Against the War Machine
A website promoting the anti-war rally at Washington, D.C., later this month. Via Rage Against the War Machine

The Libertarian Party is in turmoil again — this time over an anti-war rally and march planned for Washington, D.C., on February 19. The vice chairman of the party has resigned, prominent Libertarian figures are speaking out, and Twitter is aflame.

At issue is the roster of speakers for the event, the Rage Against the War Machine rally, which is being organized jointly by the Libertarian Party and a left wing populist party run by a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer, the People’s Party. The speakers include big names such as a former congressman and Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul; a former congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard; and another former congressman, Dennis Kucinich. A comedian and political commentator, Jimmy Dore, and a judicial analyst, Judge Andrew Napolitano, are also set to speak.

Critics of the rally, though, point to several other speakers who they say are more pro-Russia than anti-war. Among these are the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, Daniel McAdams; a right wing journalist and commentator, Jackson Hinkle; and a journalist with Sputnik, the Russian state-owned news agency, Wyatt Reed.

Mr. Hinkle, who has a large online following and is prone to sharing shirtless photos of himself, tweeted on Sunday, “Russia is fighting to save humanity.” He sells T-shirts bearing the pro-Russian invasion symbol, “Z.” Messrs. Hinkle and McAdams have also suggested that the Bucha massacre may be a “false flag” operation staged by Ukraine.

The speaker roster also includes a former United Nations weapons inspector who is a convicted child sex offender, Scott Ritter. Last week, Mr. Ritter tweeted, “I don’t claim to be anti-war; never did. There are rabid dogs out there, and we need Atticus Finch’s to shoot them. … Ukraine is a rabid dog. Russia is Atticus Finch. Thus ends my lesson.”

A former U.S. congressman who is a leading contender for the Libertarian Party’s 2024 nomination for president, Justin Amash, retweeted Mr. Ritter’s comments with the question: “How was this guy invited to speak at an anti-war rally?”

The chairwoman of the Libertarian National Committee, Angela McArdle, defends the rally, saying that the threat of nuclear war trumps political disagreements, and that part of working with a coalition means accepting divergent views with the shared goal of peace. “We’re not cheerleaders for Russia,” she tells the Sun.

“There are sponsors on the speaking roster that we don’t share views with,” Ms. McArdle says, “but with the exception of some internet trolling, everyone has stated, to my knowledge, at one point or another that they’re explicitly anti-war.” She adds that the Libertarian Party “would have preferred that Mr. Ritter bow out of the events like he initially offered to do.”

The anti-war movement used to be the province of the left. Democrats led opposition to the Iraq and Vietnam wars. Yet on Ukraine, Democrats have largely toed the party line, supporting funding Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars and weapons. In October, 30 progressive Democrats retracted a letter calling on President Biden to push for diplomacy with Russia less than 24 hours after they released it.

The Libertarian Party is now the largest political party carrying the anti-war mantle. “The moment that Obama got elected, the anti-war movement on the left just disappeared,” the chairman of the Libertarian Party’s Classical Liberal Caucus, Jonathan Casey, tells the Sun.

Opposing the war in Ukraine and American aid is just one element of the Libertarian Party’s anti-interventionist foreign policy — it has also waged campaigns against the Saudi war in Yemen, against deploying the National Guard overseas, and against U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

The Sun reached out to the People’s Party but did not hear back.

During the State of the Union address, President Biden reaffirmed his commitment to helping Ukraine fight for its sovereignty: “We will stand with you as long as it takes.”

Opposition to supplying weapons and money to Ukraine has come largely from the right, from a mix of libertarian and “America First” Republicans. They argue that in a time of high inflation and worsening debt, America should not be sending $50 billion to Ukraine, with another $45 billion earmarked in the omnibus spending bill, and that the funds are not being tracked adequately.

Public sentiment among Republicans has also shifted in the last year, with 52 percent now saying they want their representatives in Congress to oppose more aid to Ukraine, according to a YouGov/CBS News poll.

There is also a faction on the right which views President Putin’s actions as an understandable if regrettable response to American, NATO, and Ukrainian provocations: the February 2014 Maidan Revolution, which toppled a pro-Russian, democratically elected president and is now widely acknowledged to have been supported or facilitated by the United States; NATO expansion into Russia’s backyard in Eastern Europe and the Baltics; and a refusal to guarantee Ukraine would not join NATO.

The Rage Against the War Machine website makes its position clear, saying, “The US instigated the war in Ukraine with a coup on its democratically-elected government in 2014, and then sabotaged a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine in March.” There is no explicit condemnation of Russia’s invasion, though there is a blanket anti-war statement.

On Monday evening, the vice chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Joshua Smith, resigned from his position and the party, citing the rally as the final straw.

“There is a line that must not be crossed. This event has crossed it,” Mr. Smith wrote in his resignation letter, posted to a Libertarian National Committee site. “Never mind the credible charges and convictions of child predation for one of the speakers, which is absolutely terrible too (what the hell are we thinking?) This is not something that I, a proud antiwar activist for the better part of 18 years, can be part of or attached to. … Antiwar means antiwar. It doesn’t mean applauding a side in a war, whether that side is right or wrong. Innocent people still die.”

Schisms and infighting in the Libertarian Party are nothing new, but Mr. Smith’s resignation came as a surprise to many. He was a key figure in the Mises Caucus, a faction of the Libertarian Party that took control of the Libertarian National Committee at the party’s convention in May. Ms. McArdle is also a member of this caucus.

The Mises Caucus conceives of itself as Ron Paul 2.0 with more confrontational, brash messaging. It was critical of past leadership’s messaging on Covid and what it saw as a bowing to the “woke” mob. Critics of the caucus say it is moving the party to the right.

One major tenet of libertarianism, though, that all factions of the fractured Libertarian Party can agree on is the Non-Aggression Principle, which forbids the forceful encroachment on a person’s body or property but permits force in self-defense.

“Our core principle is the Non-Aggression Principle, so our first step is that we oppose all aggression,” Mr. Casey tells the Sun. “That includes Russian aggression against Ukraine.” 

Mr. Casey is helping to organize a separate anti-war rally that he says will not include speakers with pro-Russian views or child sex convictions.

The list of demands on the Rage Against the War Machine website calls for “not one more penny for War in Ukraine,” a negotiated ceasefire and peace deal between Russia and Ukraine, the disbanding of NATO, slashing the Pentagon budget in half, abolishing the CIA and the “military-industrial deep state,” and releasing Julian Assange from prison.

The controversy over the rally’s speaker list highlights the uneasy alliance between far left and libertarian groups and a fledgling anti-Ukraine movement on the right. The founder of a feminist, anti-war organization, Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, dropped her speakership position over concerns about other speakers’ views. Veterans for Peace also pulled out. The Libertarian Party’s Radical Caucus rescinded its support for the rally. Several high-profile figures in the party have spoken out against the inclusion of Mr. Ritter.

Other speakers at the event, though, are purportedly insisting that Mr. Ritter, an ardent critic of the Iraq war and prominent figure in anti-war circles, participate. The Sun could not confirm which speakers these are, but a former Libertarian National Committee chairman, Nicholas Sarwark, tells the Sun, “It seems pretty clear from social media posts and whatnot that it is, in fact, Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute who is insisting on Scott Ritter’s participation.”

The Libertarian Party released a statement on Mr. Ritter and the rally Wednesday, stating it is not pro-Putin or Russia: “We oppose Russia’s invasion and any initiation of force.” On Mr. Ritter, it wrote, “his criminal convictions are despicable and contradict our values.”  

The statement, though, has done little to assuage critics or quell rancor in the party. The 2020 Libertarian vice presidential candidate, Spike Cohen, took to Twitter to call for Mr. Ritter to bow out, writing, “I cannot support an anti-war rally that has someone like this in it.”

Others in the party are calling on the Libertarian Party to pull out of sponsoring the rally if Mr. Ritter stays. “The integrity of the Libertarian Party demands a tough leadership decision,” a former Libertarian National Committee member, Justin O’Donnell, tells the Sun. “And it’s incumbent on the chair to make that tough leadership decision.”  

Ms. McArdle, though, isn’t abandoning the event she’s helped organize. She says she expects about 2,000 people to attend the rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Participants will then march to the White House. She says the goal of preventing a nuclear war should override other concerns.

“There hasn’t been an anti-war event put together like this in recent history,” Ms. McArdle says. “I would not want to see anything like this get derailed over one or two controversies.”

The New York Sun

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