Hunter S Thompson is a moralist posing as an immoralist. Nixon is an immoralist disguised as a moralist. There will be thieves and auto wrecks whoever gets elected. But Hunter represents something wholly alien to the other candidates for Sheriff; ideas. And a sympathy towards the young, generous, grass oriented society which is making the only serious effort to face the technological nightmare we’ve created. The only thing against him is he’s a visionary who wants too pure a world.
Sporting aviator glasses, white chucks and a pin on gold star, Hunter S. Thompson’s 1970 Campaign for Sheriff of Aspen is one of the least known aspects of the late gonzo writer’s life. A Freak Power Party candidate, Hunter Thompson did everything you’re not supposed to do when running a campaign and almost won the vote to back his platform of radical liberty.
In 1971 in a living room in Boulder Colorado the Libertarian Party was created by a group of intellectuals dissatisfied with constant war, the devaluing of our currency and a severe encroachment of our civil liberties by the centralized power network of the state. Only a year year prior, in the small town of Aspen in the Rocky Mountains, Hunter S. Thompson ran for Sherrif on an ideas platform that advocated many of the same principles that were instrumental in the development of modern libertarian thought.
Aspen then wasn’t the Aspen you’re thinking of now. Long before the days of uber rich east coast transplants and cookie cutter timeshare condos, Aspen was a small, rugged outpost with an elderly population that read traditional & conservative. By the time the 60s ended Aspen had become a rapidly changing community with a growing hippie population that caused friction within the native community. Thames Television followed Thompson on the campaign trail:
Hunter S Thompson stood up for the hippies & freaks. He stood against Nixon and the corrupted two party system which more often than not governs as one. His campaign rejected the out-of-control military complex, a bottomless drug war and the new technological society that had eschewed traditional values for existential ethics. More than anything, Hunter S Thompson stood up for himself.
To complement a forward-thinking platform of ideas, Hunter S. Thompson’s candidacy for Sheriff featured a strong artistic and creative backbone to the campaign. Hunter collaborated with artists in the community (most notably screen printer Thomas Benton) to make gorgeous and thoughtful posters that explained his anti-government sentiment with stunning accuracy. His television and radio ads displayed a complete lack of concern for the traditional strategies of a political campaign. Instead of running from the label of weirdo Hunter S. Thompson fully embraced his freak powerness.
At the heart of the election was a battle between old and new, between forward and backwards. For the older population who had lived in Aspen all of their life, Hunter S. Thompson’s campaign was a direct attack on their virtues and culture. For the younger generation who had moved in droves to Aspen over a half decade, there was the hope that radical ideas from the budding literary star could establish a pro-liberty utopia on the fringe of society that could live in the freedom of its wildness.
Thompson appealed to the estranged drifters, bikers and dropouts that had moved to Aspen in the previous years. His brand of radicalism included several memorable campaign promises. He called for a disarmament of all police forces which he attacked as responsible for their roles in trigger-happy shootings, abuses of power and community disharmony. He demanded prosecution of anyone abusing the local environment and suggested that drugs be given away for free on the courthouse lawn to dissuade dishonest criminal gangs from selling in town. He proposed ripping up of all paved streets with jackhammers and a sodding of roads to be used only by feet and bike. Thompson also suggested that Aspen be renamed ‘Fat City’:
This would prevent greedheads, land-rapers and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name ‘Aspen’…. These swine should be fucked, broken, and driven across the land
Best known for his copious drug intake and new school gonzo style journalism which sat himself at the center of his work, Thompson spoke the truth no matter what the stakes. His campaign for Sheriff was as explosive and meaningful as any book he ever wrote with the lanky bald headed alien dismissing the corrupt and bankrupt oligarchical American political system. Although Thompson didn’t call himself a libertarian, his free form individualism & his anti-government beliefs make him one of the great firebrands of pure freedom in the later half on the 20th century.
Thompson didn’t win but he didn’t get trounced either. He lost by less than 100 votes and the election can be best summarized as a siren call in the dark night of democracy. The Libertarian Party does not talk about Hunter S Thompson although I believe him to be the most unrecognized spirits of political freedom of the last 50 years (along with Ross Ulbricht & Schaeffer Cox) and a wonderful model for what we as libertarians should look for in a candidate. Forward, bold, outside the box, non-apologetic, principled thinkers who refuse to be brow beaten by the new God of political correctness. Hunter S Thompson was not afraid and his direct campaign was a harpoon aimed at the soft underbelly of the two party duopoly.
Why not challenge the establishment with a candidate they’ve never heard of? Who has never been primed or prepped or greased for public office? And whose lifestyle is already so weird that the idea of ‘conversion’ would never occur to him? In other words, why not run an honest freak and turn him loose, on their turf, to show up all the normal candidates for the worthless losers they are and always have been their turf, to show up all the normal candidates for the worthless losers they are and always have been.
Thompson never again ran for political office but the legacy of his Sheriff run in 1970 lives on in the minds and hearts of politicos across America. He begged no one’s forgiveness and his ideas challenged the boorish arena of acceptable political thought. He galvanized a local community and in so doing accepted the challenge set forth by our founding fathers to govern, without force, your own people and land. Saint, devil, maniac, dreamer, rouser, patriot. The original libertarian: Hunter S. Thompson.