Political activist groups exist only for the purpose of organizing individuals towards the accomplishment of some goal. If that goal hasn’t been achieved over the course of, say, 12 years, then perhaps it is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that the group has failed to achieve their stated goal. A bad situation is then made even worse when some individuals in so-called “leadership roles” use their alleged “position” within the organization to bureaucratically censor the rank and file over what they are permitted to say.
A libertarian blogger, Christopher Cantwell, has been ostracized from attending any Free State Project (FSP) events held in the future because he refused to recant his statements, which were published in an article of his that the FSP board has declared to be “advocating violence.” Besides the patent absurdity of the board’s decision, there is a much more serious implication at play here. Do the leadership of political activist groups retain the liberty to ostracize any of their members over a differing interpretation of a shared ethical principle? Before explaining the immediate circumstances surrounding the unwarranted ostracism of Chris Cantwell, I think it’s important to demonstrate the history within libertarian political activist circles about whether even discussing the moral use of force is “allowed” or not.
Earlier this year, Larken Rose gave a speech at Porcfest X entitled, Why Speak of Violence? (the video version of which was shot and edited by Red Pill Recording, one copy of which has thus far received 3,872 total video views of which there are 217 thumbs up and 3 thumbs down). Very similar to When Should You Shoot a Cop? and When Should You Shoot a Civilian?, Rose’s speech simply expounded upon the exact same thesis:
“Here is the rude reality that people don’t want to admit (even a lot of pro-freedom people don’t want to admit): There’s no magical system that makes us safe. What is it that determines whether the good guys win or the bad guys win, whether oppression reigns or freedom and justice reign? Very simply, if the good guys are better at using physical violence than the bad guys, justice wins; if the bad guys are better at it, evil wins. Might doesn’t make right, but might does make outcome…[h]ere is why we have to be willing and able to talk about the use of physical violence against the State, not as a revolution, not as revenge, not as punishment, [but] as self-defense. If our message to the world is, ‘We own ourselves, we should be free, but when the king’s guards come, we will obey,‘ the only message that gets out there is ‘We will obey; they are our rightful lord and master, [and] we will do as they say,’ because necessary to the idea of self-ownership is the idea of the right of self-defense.” [emphasis added]
Rose was applauded by Free Staters (and other libertarians in attendance) multiple times during the course of his speech, even when he turned around and lifted up his shirt to reveal his concealed pistol holstered in the small of his back (in order to make a rhetorical point about how much he trusts complete strangers). The reason I mention this previously standing history about Larken Rose’s deontological arguments for self-defense is because I think it is important to conclusively demonstrate not only the way he expressed himself, but also how others reacted to what he had to say.
On August 6th, Chris Cantwell wrote Concord Police, Go and Get Your Bearcat, expressing what he thought the implications were concerning the Concord, NH city council’s decision to accept a $258,000 federal grant to buy a BearCat truck, which is little more than an armored personnel carrier (much like what the military uses for combat operations). He wrote:
“The government doesn’t much care if you are peaceful or not, all they care about is if you are obedient. Free Staters are not being labeled as terrorists because they are violent; they are being labeled as terrorists because they are disobedient…[d]eep down, Free Staters know this, and that’s why they’re Free Staters. They see this injustice, they want it to stop, and so they are coming together to make a stand against it. The only problem is, now that they have come together, they have absolutely no idea what to do, because their vision of a peaceful evolution to a voluntary society is being shattered on an almost daily basis by government violence. That violence is all too sure to escalate, as the government agents of New Hampshire and elsewhere acquire more advanced and sophisticated technology to oppress these peaceful activists, and the population in general. So what to do? It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents. The government agents know that, and that’s why they want a tank.”
Obviously, Cantwell is no pacifist. He goes on to explain his interpretation of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) with regards to self-defense at length, which is important for understanding the real reason why the board ostracized him a month later:
“If anybody needs a refresher course in the English language, aggression is the initiation of force, and the non-aggression principle does not condemn the use of defensive force, even if the cult of the omnipotent State does. I believe in the non-aggression principle, which is why I believe in using defensive force against aggressors. It’s not a terribly complicated concept. If someone uses violence against me, I am within my rights to use whatever level of force is necessary to repel the threat, and the non-aggression principle doesn’t make exception for shiny badges or letters from men in robes. The mere mention of this fact necessarily gets people in an uproar, because ‘whatever level of force is necessary to repel the threat’ leads to a rather serious conflict when you face an aggressor like the State, who will use whatever level of force is necessary to oppress their victim. When two sides of a conflict both feel they have the right to use ‘whatever level of force is necessary’ to accomplish competing goals, we’re necessarily talking about a very rapid escalation of violence where one or both sides could take heavy casualties, and material costs quickly skyrocket out of control.”
Sounds an awful lot like what Larken Rose has said over the previous two years, doesn’t it? Cantwell concludes his article by stating:
“The best advice I can offer to people who are concerned about this type of militarization of police forces, is to build their own militarized forces. While not stylish, it’s not terribly complicated to up armor your own vehicle, and nothing you say is going to convince predators not to prey on you. They will stop when it is no longer in their interests to do so, and as long as you take it lying down, as long as the most resistance you are capable of putting up is holding a sign, filing paperwork in their court, or self-righteously waving your finger at people, aggression will be a rewarding career choice for anyone who is so inclined.”
If anything, he’s also justifying the formation of security teams, which is simply the logically consistent extension of the NAP, using the natural liberty of free association to organize a mutually consensual defensive force. Also, his recommendation on armoring your own car has already been proven viable by zombie apocalypse enthusiasts.
Following the publishing of Cantwell’s article, a member of the FSP board, Jody Underwood, wrote this email to Cantwell 3 days later on August 9th:
We’re pretty sure you’re aware that the FSP does not welcome anyone who promotes violence. (Please see http://freestateproject.org/about/faq). Despite this, the FSP Board has learned that you have promoted violence in your blog. You wrote: “So what to do? It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents.” (from http://becauseihatethegovernment.blogspot.com/2013/08/concord-police-go-and-get-your-bearcat.html)
It’s one thing to vent things like this privately to a friend, but it’s a different thing to put it in writing, published on the web. Please remove that statement advocating violence and assure us in writing that you won’t promote violence. Otherwise, we will have to remove you from the FSP list of participants based on a violation of our participation guidelines. Thanks for understanding and for working with us.
In peace and liberty,
Notice that the FSP board already made the decision that Cantwell was “promoting violence;” the only action then for them to take was to declare an ultimatum against Cantwell, demanding him to either recant his words or suffer expulsion. Later that same day, Cantwell wrote back:
That statement was not the first, and will not be the last time I advocate defensive force against government agents, or any other class of criminal, that opts to use violence against peaceful people. I will not remove it, and I think it troubling that the FSP would send a blogger such a demand.
It would be a poor decision on the part of the FSP to disassociate from me as a result of a statement that is 100% in line with the NAP. As you seem to acknowledge in your original message, a lot of people feel the same way, and to pretend that line of thinking doesn’t exist is dishonest. I will not be the libertarian Rachel Maddow and tow the party line for PR purposes.”
Later that month, before the board made their decision, Cantwell publicly discussed Underwood’s email to him while guest co-hosting AVTM:
“So I was contacted by Jody Underwood of the Free State Project who said, ‘Remove this line from your blog, or we will have to remove you from our list of participants.’ And I said something to the effect of, ‘Look, I’m not going to be the libertarian Rachel Maddow; my statement is 100% in line with the non-aggression principle and I think it’s kinda troubling that the Free State Project is telling bloggers to edit their posts in the interest of their PR campaigns.’ They haven’t decided yet, is what I’m told, but this was over a week ago…if we’re having a philosophical discussion [about] when and how it’s appropriate to use force, [and when and how to use force] isn’t part of that philosophical discussion, then we’re not having a philosophical discussion, at least not an honest one.”
Again, Cantwell reiterated his position on self-defense. A week later on September 2nd, the FSP board issued the following decision as part of their meeting minutes:
“Board members individually reviewed Chris Cantwell’s post and related Facebook threads before the meeting, and then discussed the situation in detail at the meeting. Rich made a motion to accept the following decision:
Whereas Chris Cantwell has made the following public statements, been offered the opportunity to retract, and has refused to do so: “It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents,” and “any level of force necessary for anyone to stop any government agent from furthering said coercion [tax collection in the context of funding the salaries of all government employees] is morally justifiable…”
Whereas the FSP Board believes this view exceeds the right of self-defense.
Whereas the Policy and Procedure for Removing Participants (passed 7/11/04) states: Participants may be removed for promoting violence, racial hatred, or bigotry. Participants who are deemed detrimental to the accomplishment of the Free State Project’s goals may also be removed.
Therefore, according to the Policy and Procedure for Removing Participants, the FSP Board removes Chris Cantwell as a participant and declares him unwelcome to attend FSP-organized events.”
Sharon seconded. The vote was unanimous. Jody will draft a letter to send to Chris Cantwell about the decision.”
I would like to point out several details about the board’s decision to expel Cantwell. First, notice that the board clearly says that it is their belief that Cantwell’s mere interpretation of the NAP is not self-defense. Secondly, the FSP board equates a mere disagreement on the interpretation of a shared ethical principle as sufficient evidence to assert that Cantwell is violating a rule of membership in the FSP by “promoting violence.” Thirdly, the ostracism itself is not merely symbolic (as Cantwell assumed something of that nature when he twice alluded to the FSP board’s self-conscious PR image, especially as it related to the BearCat issue), but actually resulted in banning Cantwell from attending FSP events in the future, including ones where he was a featured speaker in the past. Finally, notice also that the board’s vote was unanimous; not one of the five board members questioned the dangerous precedent they’d be setting by ostracizing Cantwell, as they eventually did (your free speech be damned, their agenda comes first!).
The next day on September 3rd, Cantwell wrote Porcupine Non Grata, stating:
“What this means is, I’ve been removed from the list of FSP participants, and I’m not welcome at events like PorcFest. It means the FSP has chosen to alienate not only me, but thousands of other people who agree with me, or even disagree with me but want to continue the conversation. It means that rather than write a coherent response to my blog, they would rather cut off communication and discourage others from having philosophical and tactical discussions (two different things) about the proper application of force.”
As you can no doubt infer, I would be included with those thousands of people he mentioned. Let’s continue:
“Now, there’s quite a bit to say about this. Not the least of which is, I knew it was going to happen when I wrote ‘Concord Police, Go and Get Your Bearcat‘. I alluded to that in the article when I said ‘the inevitable outrage that this article will invoke from libertarians may serve as further proof’ [of their aversion to violence]. If anything, I’m surprised it took so long. When I moved to New Hampshire last year I found myself in a similar mess, but with a much lower profile and much tamer rhetoric, and it made me realize that there’s very little hope for the cause of liberty because there’s almost nobody willing to actually fight for it. I sought to change that, and my strategy is working.” [emphasis added]
That, I think, is the heart of the issue. No Free Stater is willing to pop a cop, even in self-defense, because they are afraid they will be painted as “domestic terrorists” by the government and the corporate whore media – last time I checked, Free Staters have already been painted as “domestic terrorists” by the government, so the FSP’s frantic attempts at damage control of their public image is too little, too late. Cantwell went on to say:
“Think of it as private sector civil disobedience. Other people go to prison for their beliefs, I think it’s quite a small sacrifice for me to miss PorcFest for mine. People are afraid to even discuss the use of force as a moral concept, much less a useful tactic in the fight for freedom. Since force is inevitable, as evidenced by our friends in cages and caskets, somebody has to talk about these things…[u]nfortunately, there is only one other voice in the voluntarist community I can think of willing to talk about it, and that’s Larken Rose. Seems unfair to let one man shoulder all that burden. I hope that others will join the discussion, that’s part of why I’m saying the things I’m saying, and again, my strategy is working. By threatening to kick me out over a blog, the FSP helped me draw light to this subject and made a lot of people talk about it. Yesterday, social media was buzzing with philosophical and tactical conversations over the use of force, and most of what I saw acknowledged that a line exists where force was necessary and proper.”
According to Cantwell, it would appear to be the case that the FSP’s decision might already be experiencing some blowback. Speaking of Larken Rose, he also decided to chime in on Cantwell’s untimely expulsion:
“So I heard about this story and the first thing I thought of was, what about me? I mean, I just gave a talk at Porcfest called Why Speak of Violence?, which was directly about why we have to be able to think about and talk about the use of deadly force against government aggressors…apparently, somebody at [the] Free State Project [said], ‘Well, we’re now looking into Larken and what he said’… if Chris Cantwell said something that’s immoral or logically incorrect, point it out! Have a debate, have a discussion, do a response. It’s one thing if individuals within the organization say, ‘No, I think he’s wrong about this,’ or whatever, that’s fine…it’s either cowardice or stupidity to not be able to talk about that. So, if the Free State Project is thinking of ‘looking into me’ and considering ‘disapproving of me’ (of distancing themselves [from me]), be my freakin’ guest. Literally, I don’t care at all which way it goes, because if it goes in the direction of ‘We do not approve,’ then please distance yourselves from me, as far as you possibly can, ’cause you don’t even believe in freedom.”
Put another way, Rose has the integrity to not bend over and seek forgiveness from the FSP board, just in case they really were “looking into him.” Interestingly enough, it turns out that this is indeed going on, and it comes straight from the horse’s own mouth. On September 10th, four days after Rose commented on Cantwell’s expulsion, Jody Underwood was interviewed by none other than George Donnelly regarding the board’s decision to ostracize Cantwell:
“Somebody basically brought it to our attention; we don’t want people like that and we have a policy against having people that promote violence when it goes beyond self-defense. We presented that idea to him and asked him to remove it, or at least make it seem more like self-defense (we didn’t suggest that, but he could have), and his response went down the line of ‘It is self-defense.’ It’s an interesting line, right? For me, I have to think about that, ‘What is the line for me?’, and for everybody its going to be different, but on the board we basically came to our conclusion that the policy we have in place is about more immediate self-defense. His is more like, I don’t know if you could call it ‘long-term self-defense,’ but it’s like ‘they steal from us all the time, therefore shooting them at any time is justified?‘ It’s not my line, even if it is his…I think it ends with the imminent threat to me. If there’s no imminent threat, I won’t initiate violence.”
Wow, so I guess it really was that arbitrary, wasn’t it? Notice also how Underwood was playing the “blame the victim” routine, which is typical of what cops do on a daily basis, especially with genuine rape victims. Underwood went on to confirm that Rose is under investigation by the FSP board:
“I think it’s known that somebody submitted a complaint to us about him and we have not started [any] review yet. The board meets quarterly and I don’t know anything about Larken Rose, so I can’t speak to that, I don’t know anything that he’s done. I would first have to look into it all, I can’t actually comment on it from that perspective.”
Is there a “libertarian” snitch network in place? What ever happened to the principle of being able to confront your accuser? Who are these people “making complaints?” More importantly, what are their names? Underwood goes on to say that:
“We don’t represent anybody. The only thing we are is a bus that we’re trying to pull this organization together in order to attract people to move to New Hampshire. It’s not like we’re organizing the 20,000 people; once you get here, you do what you do. We would all like it all to be peaceful. That’s all we are; we have policies that we passed and that we support and we try to keep in place and we try to keep to those policies. Beyond that, we’re not this representative organization, anybody who wants to get involved can, it’s not like we’re exclusive.”
If that were true, then why did she bother demanding Cantwell to recant his statements? What happens to a Free Stater if what he “does what he does” happens to conflict with their corporate-sounding “policies?” Well, now we know…you get ostracized. This is not at all like the peaceful disassociation I have recommended should be practiced more often; this is an abuse of social shunning by a wannabe oligarchy (and I don’t appreciate her borrowing a version on a theme from the Libertarian Party’s analogy of the Freedom Train).
So, where does it stop? Should Larken Rose be “investigated” at all? If he is “expunged,” would it then be proper for the FSP board to publicly denounce Ademo Freeman for “allowing” When Should You Shoot a Cop? to remain on “his” website for over two years? How about forcibly ejecting Pete Eyre from the FSP because he edited the video version of When Should You Shoot a Cop? What about all the several thousand people online who gave a thumbs up on several of Larken’s speeches about self-defense, or the live audience at Porcfest X who applauded Larken? Is the FSP board also going to begin demonizing libertarian novels, such as The Probability Broach or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, since those fictional stories, in their belief, “advocate violence?” Most importantly, is there any limit to the FSP board’s self-granted “authority?”
This kind of subtle censorship should not be tolerated by anybody who takes free speech and the liberty of the press seriously. The chilling effect that the FSP board tried to inculcate here with their decision might as well be government or corporate “soft” censorship (as has been done is the past by their abusive use of copyright infringement). That is who were dealing with here. What makes the FSP board any different from the New Hampshire government, or the United States federal government? Hell, if the Hutaree had been members of the FSP, would they have received the same treatment as Cantwell?
Consider something else – the original goal of the FSP was to move 20,000 libertarians into New Hampshire in order to seize control of that state government from the inside, through geographically concentrated reformism. Over the past 12 years, the FSP has failed miserably to acquire those 20,000 individuals, much less do anything else. The only benefit that the FSP has brought, at most, is concentrating a libertarian culture in New Hampshire, especially in Keene – that’s it. Sure, they broadcast Free Talk Live and host the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival, but aside from that, they haven’t done anything. Most other “liberty activist” projects usually involve either proselytizing (such as leafleting FIJA pamphlets outside courthouses) or stupid shit like smoking cannabis in a public park and then getting arrested by the cops (as some sort of twisted “teasing the bear” variation on Thoreau’s actual civil disobedience, which was simply a mala prohibita version based upon the power of non-compliance and the right of revolution). The American Redoubt is what the FSP should have been, instead of this bureaucratic nonsense that it has become with its sacred cow “policies,” which are only the subjective interpretations of an ethical principle, anyway!
It’s because of its inherently reformist program of non-effective “action” that I’m glad I never signed up to become a Free Stater. Earlier in 2012 (before Cantwell wrote about that BearCat story), I had already written Serious Self-Defense, which I think has comparable statements to both Cantwell and Rose’s articles (and possibly to JB Campbell’s Police Terrorism essay, for that matter). In light of Cantwell being unfairly ostracized, I feel more validated than ever before, in my decision when I got started as a blogger several years ago, to use a pseudonym. I can only assume that I have been spared a lot of the heartache that others like Randy Mack, Louie Bee, Debra Swan, George Donnelly, and now Christopher Cantwell have suffered at the hands of these wannabe politicians.
All this really demonstrates is that the FSP, headed by a 5-man board, arbitrarily ostracized one of their own people due to a simple disagreement that was never discussed at length. Due also to the unwarranted concerns about being profiled as domestic terrorists (which was already made by the government), it’s not like one lone blogger was going to be such a threat to their public image – unless he was. If so, this would indicate that the FSP cares more about their public image, and by extension, what the government thinks of them, than with the freedom of one of their own members. They’d rather censor or ostracize one of their own than with coming up with a newer policy that allows for more flexibility with such situations, or at least tabling the matter until it’s been discussed in an open forum, say, at an panel event run by the FSP for the purpose of allowing Free Staters to weigh in on a matter before the board takes any action (much like in a town hall meeting). However, the board here just decided to circumvent all of that by not asking the membership anything, and just arbitrarily issuing an ultimatum to Cantwell, whose non-compliance with it resulted in his expulsion from attending any future FSP events.
According to the New Hampshire Bill of Rights, article 22 explicitly spells out:
“Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved.”
Gee, I wonder what “inviolably preserved” could possibly mean? Did the FSP board forget to keep that in mind when they made their decision on September 2nd? Article 10 says:
“Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.” [emphasis added]
I’m having a tough time seeing how Cantwell’s statements contradict article 10 at all. Articles 2-a and 25 both reinforce the inalienable natural right to keep and bear arms in defense of persons and property, as well as the fact that standing armies are a dangerous threat to liberty (such as the Concord police with their BearCat truck). Does the FSP board have a problem with these articles to the New Hampshire Bill of Rights? If so, then they should take a look at article 7:
“The people of this state have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right, pertaining thereto, which is not, or may not hereafter be, by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in congress assembled.”
Is the FSP board assuming a de facto authority over their membership? If so, does this also extend to the people of New Hampshire? If not, then where does the FSP board’s authority to unilaterally judge the interpretation of an ethical principle come from, precisely?
In summation, I think the following can be learned from this debacle:
- The Board, which meets behind closed doors, is the only relevant source of authority within the FSP.
- The Board refuses to discuss matters publicly with their membership, as their minds are already made up.
- The Board provides no means for an individual to argue his case before them.
- The Board is arbitrary and capricious in their decisions.
- The Board appears to be comfortable with censorship.
- The Board makes their own rules in secrecy, given that they are not made available to the membership of the FSP.
- The Board is not representative, as they have no provision for input from members of the FSP, although they act as if they had implied police powers.
- The Board fails to recognize the Constitution of New Hampshire.
How are these not the elements of a wannabe oligarchy?
So, what is to be made from all this? I think that the Free State Project has become, in essence, a reinvention of the Libertarian Party, with all the partyarchy and Kochtopuses that comes along with it. Think about it – because there was a difference of interpretation about the NAP regarding self-defense (never mind collective self-defense based upon the right of revolution), Cantwell “deserved” to be punished by way of unwarranted ostracism. No appeal, no ability to confront his accuser(s), no jury of his peers; just “obey or be punished.” A very statist ultimatum that is worthy of a patrol cop at a traffic stop, not from a batch of people who claim to hold Liberty as their highest value.
If anybody learns anything from this entire debacle, it is that centralized decision making, especially at what is popularly considered as the state government level, does not work for you if you should happen to run afoul of the party agenda. Should people learn and apply the republican principles of government, like the Founders did with local Committees of Safety, then there might just be a realistic chance at securing our Liberties for the long haul. Best of all, Committees of Safety were purposely organized to deal with violence, especially considering the militia units attached to them did so by virtue of their contractual adherence to them as their voluntarily recognized civil authority. I think it’s about damn time to get serious about exercising our natural liberties before these Volksdeutsche Free Staters rat out everybody else to the secret police.