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Come And Take It: Inside The 2018 Libertarian National Convention

An Extensive Look At The New Orleans Convention

By Spencer Kellogg | @TheNewTreasury

Paralysis

The flies are out. Buzzing, congealing, strangulating. Everyone wants to meet somebody. The Hyatt booms out of the rusted concrete as pink haired women chatter in front of no-smoking signs. Up the escalator on the third floor is where everything is happening. Eagerly discussing property laws, the failure of public education and a change in party infrastructure, it’s almost the last call for a hundred or so tired travelers. In the morning, there will be more.

Welcome to the 2018 Libertarian National Convention.


Tim Moen: Leader of The Libertarian Party of Canada

I grab an Uber across town to the hole in the wall hostel I’ve rented for the night. The driver is an old school Louisianian named Gary. He speaks in that slow, cajun drawl that is so completely and undoubtedly bayou. I roll down the window and take a long cigarette drag that accustoms long drives like the 15 hour one I bombed out of Richmond earlier in the day. In the warm, sticky summer air, he asks what I’m doing here. “A libertarian thing.” “Libertarian huh?” “Yeah, I hate war and I hate sitting people in prison for drugs.” “Yeah, me too. It’s just pot. Everybody smokes pot” Libertarians are always around the corner whether they know it or not.

India House is an old mansion with a distinctly French feel and there are a smattering of millennials hanging out front drinking wine at 3AM. At the counter, two desperate men try to book a spare room but the internet is down. They give me a key and walk me through the maze of a hostel. There are “black lives matter” signs and “science is real” posters plastered all over the ugly neon and poorly stenciled walls. As we walk through the kitchen co-op a few older dudes with dreadlocks down to their feet whisper ‘Namaste.’ On the back patio, there are tables filled with sexy, hip youngsters speaking in foreign languages. I wish I wasn’t so tired because I just want to party. I get to my room and there is a dead roach on the floor. The toilet seat is broken and there’s no shower curtain. Just as I had hoped. Unsuitably perfect. My New Orleans.


India House Hostel, New Orleans

The next day, I stumble over to the Hyatt and find my press pass. I see many familiar faces and run into a few of my favorite people from the New Mexico delegation. Everyone is tired but eager to get the ‘party’ started. James Weeks and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus are handing out “Make Rothbard Left Again” pins and down the hallway, Caryn Ann Harlos is donning her infamous lady liberty hat as she passes out ‘Harlos for Secretary’ pamphlets. At the elevator, I see Blair Dunn. A towering figure with a soft smile, Dunn is running for Attorney General of New Mexico. After engineering his father’s upset win for New Mexico Land Commissioner a few years ago, hopes are high that Dunn could manufacture another big showing this fall in the land of enchantment.

The first major event of the weekend is Bill Weld, speaking in Elite Hall. At 1PM, the room is packed for the much-anticipated speech from the former Governor. I am sitting at a table full of smartly dressed libertarians when Mr. Weld is ushered to an empty table next to mine. Everyone from the table stands up and almost topples over each other at the chance to sit next to the statesman. I feel empathetic for Mr. Weld. What an uncomfortable position to be in. He smiles and takes time to shake each one of their hands. Is this politics?


– Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld

All of the big wigs are here. Chair Nicholas Sarwark, New York Governor Candidate Larry Sharpe, and noted Economist Jeffery Tucker. I ask a legislative chairman from Pennsylvania if he’s heard about the Libertarian Mises Caucus Event that is congregating a few blocks away from the elegant ballroom. “I’m a 45-year-old man. I have 0 fucks to give.” At nearly $200 dollars a plate, the room is filled with a smattering of big money donors and semi-important figures from within the movement. I get a front row seat and grab a Corona.

Mr. Sarwark takes the stage. The lighting is harsh. In front of a dark purple backdrop, two lights glare downward on the LNC Chair and it feels like the stage for some strange gangster film with coarse, cutting shadows rippling across the Pheonix Mayor candidate’s face. He grins and announces an apology to the membership – they have so many attendees this year that they have run out of paper to process them. He quickly moves onto the man of the afternoon with a quote from the tall Massachusetts man himself: “I think coercive taxation is theft and government has a duty to keep it at a minimum.” A smattering of polite agreement rallies around.

Weld is a mature and exacting speaker. It’s easy to see why he has driven to the top of the party within a couple quick years. In this room, he dominates the tone with his long, statuesque figure and years of governing experience. In a party full of bold ideas, Weld represents one of the first men to cross their paths that has real, applicable experience in the field of governance and it’s apparent that the room is pleased. A large contingency of the membership believe that it will be this demeanor, pragmatic and statesmanlike, that will help legitimize and propel the Libertarian movement forward. When asked what he can bring to the 2020 ticket, Weld simply states: “publicity.” He can’t hide his contempt for President Trump and suggests the Libertarian Party has as good of a chance to win in 2020 as Trump did before the 2016 election.

– Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld

I am particularly impressed by Weld’s extensive knowledge of marijuana policy. He rightly suggests that the drug war has been a major burden on race relations in this country, pointing out that “if you are black, you are four times as likely to get arrested for marijuana possession that if you are white.” Weld then launches into a wonderful defense of CBD oil and its medicinal properties. Citing a lack of research on cannabinoids in the United States, Weld suggested there is still much to be learned about the plant’s properties (and he’s right). I leave the prags to it and walk into the sweltering heat of midday New Orleans.


– SmartCash Cryptocurrency

A mile away at the Take Human Action Bash, the energy feels completely different. Gone is the drab, empty ballroom in the basement of the Hyatt. Gone are the over-eager brownnosers begging to be noticed or make their mark on party leadership. Sponsered by the Libertarian Mises Caucus, the room at the Intercontinental hotel is smaller and intimate. It is lit warmly and the CEO of SmartCash is speaking in front of a screen that features the emblems of the cryptocurrencies PIVX, Zencash, Smartcash & Komodo. Attendees are asking questions about the future of blockchain technology and the room is filled with bright, young, casually dressed people. In one world, it feels ‘chill.’

The Libertarian Party is at a bit of a crossroads right now between young and old, pragmatic and radical. Although Gary Johnson/Bill Weld garnered the highest presidential vote total in the history of the LP, many within the party membership felt the two former governors presented a watered down version of libertarian ideology. The contingency at the Intercontinental has come to this year’s convention with one goal in mind – to replace the leadership structure and plot a new course for the modern LP. Many of the speakers and presentations at this event live on the outskirts of the party structure but are seen as some of the most ideologically important members of the movement as a whole. This is the dichotomy that will play itself out on the convention floor over the course of the July 4th weekend in New Orleans. The future of the Libertarian Party lays in the balance.


– Larry Sharpe: Candidate For Governor of New York

New York Governor candidate Larry Sharpe enters through the side and everyone is on the edge of their seat. Where Weld felt prepared and orderly, Sharpe is off-the-cuff and easy going. His self-deprecating humor, outside the box thinking and sharp fit, are a stark contrast to the hollow, banal mood of the Hyatt ballroom. For the first time this weekend, I get the sense that there is a living, breathing element to the Libertarian Party. Beyond the bylaws and manic desperation to network, The Take Human Action Bash has a comfortable sense of ‘home.’ His speech ends to a standing ovation and there is a real, palpable feeling in the room that we could have just watched the 2020 Presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party.

Scott Horton, the editorial director of AntiWar.com takes the stage next. He is effaceable and kind in his opening remarks. The clutch in his truck had blown out in Lafayette, LA last night but the caucus group rallied to make sure he made the event in time – His speech centers on Ron Paul and the movement he helped mobilize in 2008. “He served the Republicans the most bitter pill they could swallow. ‘we started it – not them.’ He created a huge libertarian movement in America.” He is cutting and exact in his condemnation of the politicians who have yet to pay for their interventionalist missteps throughout the world. This sort of demanding, loud, heated rhetoric is exactly what the LPMC believes is missing from the Libertarian Party and after Horton’s huge reception from the audience, I can see why.


– Scott Horton: Editor AntiWar.com

Tom Woods is next and the room is packed. Woods is arguably the most divisive figure alive in the modern Libertarian movement. To his supporters, he is the ideological lynchpin that sets the standard for Libertarian pedagogy. For many in this room, his podcast “The Tom Woods Show” has been an inspirational guideline that provides a historical roadmap to the libertarian movement dating back to the beginning of our country. To his detractors, Woods is a firebrand with a murky past and he received a cold shoulder from the LP leadership who have attacked him in the past for what they perceive to be Woods more conservative philosophies. His speech sets the precedent for what many are considering to be the most chaotic convention in recent history. Much of Woods words are an ideological call to arms that champions the Ron Paul movement of 2008 that brought libertarianism to the public zeitgeist:

“At that moment, something was happening. Every day you could wake up, go to youtube, go to Ron Paul and see the heads he made explode while you were asleep. There is a major slice of the libertarian party that is urging the nomination of a former Massachusetts governor who thinks we need the FED to maximize employment. We need a central planning agency at the heart of government. The FED is the lifeblood of the empire. There has to be some major voice in society willing to call a spade a spade on this. If he’s not going to do that, that’s not helpful. This person also favored perhaps the stupidest war in the history of America – the Iraq War. Why can’t we just say that the bare minimum of the party is anti-fed and anti-war?”

– Tom Woods: The Tom Woods Show

Later in the night, back at the Hyatt, I see Mr. Woods pass through the crowd hoping to remain unnoticed. It’s impossible. People yell out and plead with him to read their email or latest essay. Though Woods and Weld couldn’t be further apart in fervor and message, here they share the same forced upon shameless idolization and I can’t help but feel sorry for both of them equally. What a strange world we live in.

The opening reception is a snoozefest. Naomi Brockwell is speaking and I would usually be all ears but at this stage in the night, the setting is all wrong and I just want to get some food. I catch a cab with some delegates and head to a 105-year-old restaurant on Bourbon Street. We eat seafood and filet mignon while discussing the big event scheduled for tomorrow: the chair debate. No one seems very excited about the prospect of Mr. Sarwark retaining the position but there’s a general consensus that someone else will need to win the room over. Joshua Smith, the major challenger from the State of Washington, is on the tip of all our tongues. How will he perform on the big stage tomorrow night? We eat pecan pie and banana bread before stepping into that never-ending sticky hell that lives on every street corner.

Back at my AirBnB, I’m wired. I chat up a couple of women on Tinder who seem eager to come and show me what New Orleans is all about but it’s raining with that strained downpour that you only find near the gulf coast and my body is aching from the seafood and booze. I get naked and smoke a joint on my patio. The lightning is close. I close my eyes and am adrift in seconds.

Perfect 9

Restless nights. Memories of the desert and sand. Memories of that home far away in the coraźon of San Miguel. Xena meets me outside the apartment at 7:30 AM. In a nondescript minivan, she has the looks and charm of a librarian. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Uber it’s that every single driver is a person with a story. We talk about Katrina, we talk about the heat, but mostly we just talk about voodoo and lost love.

“If you want to put a real curse on someone who has done you wrong, you need a black pillar candle, some Florida water, a piece of hair, and a $100 dollar bill. Tie them all together and think of nine ways that you’d wish pain upon them. In the 90’s Aaron Neville taught me how to do it.”


Adam Kokesh: Candidate For President of The United States

She drops me off in front of the Hyatt and I idly chat with her because she is a real person and love is just like that. I’m just in time to catch Adam Kokesh leading a group of veterans down Loyola with camera crews and a large contingency of young delegates in tow. Of all the more than 1,000 delegates on hand, Kokesh and his crew of merry pranksters are amongst some of the strongest minds and will.

Up the escalator and into the main conference room for the bylaws committee. There is a cordial disorganization amongst the room that finds some delegations fully represented and engaged while others are lingering in the mezzanine, drinking early morning cocktails and watching the World Cup. Russia upset Spain and the cheers flow throughout the small group of disenchanted libertarians who would rather watch nationalist sport than deal with another minute of dull, plodding linguistic exercises.

Former Gary Johnson and John McAfee staffer Christopher Thrasher approaches our delegation table and tries to whip up enough votes to get on the stage at tonight’s debate. At 33, Thrasher looks as young as he is but his experience in the party and his sharp attire convince a few people around me to back him for a spot on the stage. There is a sense in the room that it would be nice to have some more voices and ideas on the stage. I lend Thrasher my personal ballot and off he goes to hustle Colorado for a few more votes.


– Christopher Thrasher Staffers

I run into an old friend wearing beach shorts and a polo. The stark difference between the suit wearing seriousness of certain members and the laid back, ‘this is my vacation’ attitude of others is striking and uniquely libertarian. He spots my “People Before Politics” Gary Johnson pin from when he first ran for Governor of New Mexico. “Hey, I’ve got something for you.” We leave the great hall and head for the elevators. I board the great big clear glass elevator and he hits 27 – the top floor.

I’m scared of heights. I have flown, quite a bit, but I don’t anymore. This is my weakness. Up and up and up and up goes the elevator and New Orleans stretches into the vast swamps of the distance outside the perfectly temperate hotel. I am going to be sick. I close my eyes and hold the rail. I will never lead anyone with this sort of miserable sickness. We get to the very top floor and head for his room.


– View Of New Orleans From 27th Floor

Inside, I am greeted with the sweet smell of cannabis and a gorgeous view of the maddened city that has yet to sleep since I arrived. I haven’t been smoking pot much lately. Where I used to find a kind balance of ego destruction and creative expression, now I only find a stripped anxiety that makes me question all of the decisions of this short but long, long life we each call our own. I get stoned and stretch my body out a bit. Another four hours of tedious party business lay ahead. My mentor from Chicago had told me these are the most important hours at the convention but my mind has been made lazy on a simple cocktail, marijuana and the food that lays half a mile from the comfy convention center.

I’m embarrassed in a way. It’s the pot. It makes me nervous. Do I really know anybody here? Who are these people? Who am I? How did I get here? By the time I get back to the convention room, everyone else has left for lunch. Thank god. A man is handing out fliers in front of our empty delegation table and we jump into one of those easy conversations about UFO’s that feel so magnificently honest and libertarian. We chat about Indiana basketball and the religious experience that was a Bob Knight team. He was never a fan until he saw it live. Where he could see the riddled faces of torment and anguish and could hear the cheers of a thousand Indians bellow around the corporate-less arena. In that way, we’re really talking about the Libertarian Party. How do make your everyday casual, non-member independent into a libertarian? I pledge him my vote and stand for the first time in an hour. The walls are caving in. The floor ripples with the afterglow of a lost earthquake. I must get out of here.


– Joe Buchman: LNC At-Large Candidate

I keep my head down and sneak out the elevator to the ground floor. I’m back on that sticky, nowhere street looking for the closest market. A few blocks up, I duck into a neighborhood spot and pick up a package of gum, deodorant, and clear eyes. I see another Libertarian delegate and think it’s best I take my credentials off. In the bathroom, there are more dead bugs and my sunglasses are filled with the residue of the storm yet to come. I clean up a bit and eat some walnuts. Finally, the high dissipates and I, for the first time this weekend, feel the weight of my tired body.

In Elite Hall, Adam Kokesh is moderating a breakout panel entitled ‘Black Community Outreach’ where former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is scheduled to speak. Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter, and Houston’s Latonya Whittingon, a leader in the Reform for Marijuana Laws are also on the bill. This is arguably the single most interesting panel discussion of the weekend if for nothing more than the fact that the speakers are black. Although the platform of the LP would find staunch support in the disenfranchised black communities of America, The Libertarian Party has an overwhelming majority of white men as its base membership and has been poor at reaching out to those areas.


– Cynthia McKinney: Former Congresswoman 

McKinney is a joy to watch. Fighting through a cold that rasps her voice, McKinney’s words are measured and strong. As a former congresswoman, McKinney possesses all of the elegant confidence you would expect from someone that has met the swamp of DC head on. She speaks about truth and justice and peace. The crowd is sitting on the edge of their seats and every time I turn around there are another 20 libertarians who have floated into the outshoot panel. You can feel the awkwardness in the room but you can also sense an eager interest in finding paths for our struggles to come together. A former Green Party presidential candidate, McKinney points out that this is her first Libertarian event. In front of a membership that is anti-war, pro-pot and pro-peace, McKinney seems right at home in the Libertarian Party.

Maj Toure is exacting in his frankness regarding the disenfranchisement of black gun owners. When asked about how The Libertarian Party can reach out to the black community, Toure cuts through the thin ice of the room and points to the overhanging elephant in the room – the party needs to be younger and hipper. He’s right. For a movement so crystallized by liberty, there is a current of banality running throughout the entire convention. If I was a young black person at this convention, I might miss the entire point. The messaging is just that poor.


– Maj Toure: Founder of Black Guns Matter

By the end of the hour-long session, there isn’t an open chair in the room. Latonya Whittingon speaks of her experience being arrested for smoking a joint. She is kind, warm and situated, quite obviously, in a world totally unknown to her and the audience. The philosophical goals are the same but we have never met face to face on terms that were sufficient enough to witness that same look of defeated anguish in each other’s spine. In this room is the change we must see in the Libertarian Party but is rarely mentioned throughout the 3-day parliamentary slogfest.

We are hurried out of the room. Time is ticking and with events stacked one after the other the panel is ushered away from the excited and nervous introductions that are taking place after the Q&A. Later, I will hear a young delegate remark about the missed opportunities throughout the long, meandering weekend. In the Black Outreach Panel, there were 100+ attendees ready to run through a brick wall together but we didn’t even have the time to reach out and communicate our ideological goals, let alone build coalitions to strategize fundraising and winning elections. There are over 1,000 libertarians here and most of us will walk away as disorganized as when we got here.

The convention breaks for food before the Chair debate. It is all up for grabs tonight. In my own delegation (and throughout much of the floor) it is apparent that the majority of seated delegates are open to voting for new leadership but are waiting to hear what leading Chair contender Joshua Smith has to say on the stage. Smith, a relative newcomer to the party, has been doing his part by visiting State Conventions throughout the country in the leadup to this weekend and his easy-going, warm personality is at striking odds with the stoic, impersonal attitude of many in party leadership.


– Chair Debate

It’s 7:00 PM and the four candidates for chair are on stage. Matt “the commie” Keuhnel, Christopher Thrasher, Joshua Smith and current Chairman Nicholas Sarwark occupy the four podiums but the lens is directly on Smith and Sarwark. Keuhnel is booed and hissed at by the ‘free thinking’ libertarian membership due to some of his ideas which seem at utter odds with the party’s ideas of personal liberty and property rights. At one point he suggests that “Rent is Theft” and the body loses their collective mind. I clap hysterically in spite. For a group of people so obsessed with the idea of liberty and individuality, there is a collectivist entropy that washes over a marathon event like this. I don’t think many are even listening to ‘the commie,’ they are just happy to throw vegetables at something by this stage.


Matt Kuehnel: Libertarian Socialist Chair Candidate 

Christopher Thrasher, a slick dressed portly man of only 33, has managed his way onto the stage tonight after whipping up enough debate tokens in the hours leading up to the event. If there is one thing that impressed me about the convention it was the ease with which anyone that possesses a modicum of organization and will can access nominations and the debates. Thrasher reads like an over experienced pragmatist who has been in and out of several state delegations in the past decade. He champions his work on both the McAfee and Johnson campaigns of 2016 and from what I can tell, he has some support in the well dressed old guard. He tries to distance himself from the other candidates by touting his ability to organize and fundraise. It all gets lost in the muck and the minutes he is gifted on stage only take away from the real battle between Smith and Sarwark.


Chair Debate

The long awaited “battle” ends up being a dud. For all the dissenting energy that Smith capitalized on in the year leading up to this weekend, on the debate stage he pales in the deep glow of the big event. Sarwark lords and looms over him and the entire membership like a monument gazing down on its subjects. Smith speaks with the verve and conviction of someone with something to say but says nothing. Gone is the win-or-lose at any cost energy that was so patently present at the InterContinental the night before. Here, in front of the flashing lights, there is not the ideas or showmanship needed to rally the beleaguered crowd of dislocated freedom activists. He attacks Sarwark but for all the wrong reasons and never lands one clear blow to the Chairman that many believe has watered down the libertarian philosophy while ostracizing key members throughout the national membership.

In the lobby afterward, the faces say it all: Sarwark will carry the vote easily tomorrow. The old guard is ecstatic. I hear members mocking the Mises Caucus and proudly wearing “Stick With Nick” stickers on their pressed suits. I can hear the drinks being poured and glasses clinking with the satisfaction of paralysis. What had happened in there? Where did it all go wrong? What I had seen across town the night before was brazenly empty here. How could those two representations be so far apart? And how can The Libertarian Party expect to win anything when the leading faction of power is either waving dildos around because it’s “radical” or straining to stand due to age? For a party so keen on representing a new voice in American politics, the debate was anthemic of everything that the two-party system has come to represent – staid, manufactured, rudderless, consenting, formulaic, idealess, powerless, collectivist. “My Guy” vs. “Your Guy” nonsense.


– Audacious Caucus Flier

Laying in bed after the debate, I watch ‘Get Me Roger Stone,’ and reflect on the missed opportunity of the Chair debate. Roger Stone would’ve never run Smith. He would’ve found someone who didn’t just talk about messaging, but actually had one in his back pocket. What was Smith’s message? “I’m not with him?” I spoke with delegates from all across this country and it’s apparent that the LP have serious issues with elevating to the next level. Many agree that Sarwark has done a fine job in leading the party to a new level of professionalism and respect but there is an eery suspicion that his reign has plateaued. One delegate drew it out for me on a piece of paper. When Sarwark took over there was a spike upwards in membership and general belief but now that line has flattened off. What will the next two years look like?

The Vice-Chair debate is much more lively and expansive in its ideological width. Although a number of delegates have left to drink or eat in the waning hours of Saturday night, some of the most interesting topics are addressed including messaging and blockchain. Alex Merced, the favorite of many younger delegates keen on change, is speaking a mile a minute and I worry he’s losing the delegation with every jumbled word. Joe Hauptmann is particularly strong on the night and I get the sense that he might have bagged the whole thing with his laconic but piercing style.


– Vice Chair Debate

There is less insipidness here too. Everyone is friendly enough and the only attacks come for current Vice Chair Arvin Vohra who has angered many in the membership with his over the top social media presence. During his time in charge, Vohra has challenged age-of-consent laws, suggested veterans are murderers and joked about shooting up school boards. Of all the candidates on the stage, it’s apparent why he won the thing in the first place. He wears a suit well and he exudes confidence behind every timely placed passage. Looking around the room after the debate, it seems like it is anyone’s race.

I escape downstairs to the smoker’s lounge around the corner. I am greeted with that beautiful smell of cannabis and go looking. After the long day or bylaws and debates, I could use a toke. I find some young delegates from Kentucky who are passing around a joint and they happily share it. “Let’s get out of here.” They take the words right out of my mouth. We catch a Lyft to Frenchman Street and try to let loose a bit. There is a band in every bar and the eager sense that we should see each one. I buy a round of drinks and we chain smoke in that fashion that lends itself to blackened lungs. Inside a dank, hole in the wall, there is a funk band playing. We set aside all discussions and differences and dance in the warmth of another endless night.


– Bourbon Street, New Orleans

The State

There is a real, apparent difference that is living inside this convention. The morning is filled with platform debate regarding the wording of sex work in the LP constitution and everyone must have a say. I have to get out of here. I can feel the fangs of that mundane ideological life I was desperate to leave. I meet a Massachusetts delegate at the smoker’s corner and he passes me a huge joint. I came with the intention of staying sober but in the heat of this long, dull nothing it’s hard to keep clean. The delegate is pissed. Wearing a “Don’t Tread On Me” shirt, this is his first convention and he just can’t understand the plodding, toothache feeling that has swarmed the convention center. “I got treated better when I was in the Republican Party.” These are the type of people the Libertarian Party lose every 4 years. I wonder if the leadership even knows they exist. I imagine if they do, they are happy to see them go.


– Darry Perry: 2016 Presidential Candidate

Darryl Perry is pissed too. Finally, the anarchist presidential candidate has had enough. On the floor, he steps up to the microphone demanding quicker on the ‘money and financial market’ vote. Perry, a radical who must have a say on every single issue, isn’t missing his chance to have his voice heard. Arguments and arguments. Policy and procedure. I am beginning to forget why I became a libertarian.

“The squirrels are chasing nuts… the nuts are winning.”

Relief shoots through the room as lunch is called. I scurry down to Elite Hall to hear Jim Cantrell speak on space and technology. Cantrell is new to the party but he fits like an old glove. An entrepreneur and mechanical engineer, Cantrell discusses the future of space travel and the potent weapons we all possess in our pants pocket – cell phones. “You wonder why we have so many guns in this country? Because we know the British are coming back and we’re going to kick their ass again!” The room breaks into laughter and applause as Cantrell flicks through images of space travel and the planet Mars. He continues: “Our most famous citizen ever will be the first human not born on the earth and it won’t be a government employee.” Later he points to the DOD and NASA as the expansive government agencies that will be the new frontier of our never-ending military-industrial complex. With Trump calling for a “Space Force” as the sixth branch of our Army, Cantrell is dead on.


– Jim Cantrell: Vector Space Systems

It’s after lunch and the delegates are fidgeting. Will we ever get to vote? Every curmudgeon in the room needs to exert their minimal power by delaying the time of the closing remarks. We vote to amend the closing remarks from 10 minutes to 5 minutes. Everyone agrees. But then, somebody wants to reduce it further to only 3 minutes. There are considerable groans in the crowd. Someone on the other side of the room is yelling into the microphone: “This is the most important part of the convention and I am ashamed that we are talking about cutting the time on closing remarks.” Delegates around me roll their eyes. One Wisconsin delegate whirls around in his seat and groans “I think we all picked our candidate last night at the debates.”

Darryl Perry rises again. “We have already spent 25 minutes debating this!” It is a circus of never-ending rebuttals. If there were any anarchists in this room, they have clawed their eyes out and become statists out of spite. This out of control, power steam engine has been made particularly insufferable this year due to the growth of the party and thus convention. A 17-year-old delegate, one of the youngest at the convention, is doodling on his paper. He mutters to himself, “this thing has run off the rails.” I wonder if he’ll join the Republicans or Democrats when he gets home.


On top of the labored system of Robert Rules that enables every microscopic detail to be debated into oblivion by rule book carrying pencil pushers, the voting mechanism for the convention is as old as the membership itself. Everything is done by hand ballot and the hours that transpire while the votes are being counted are filled with drivel that has most in the room searching for the exits. A young delegate from Colorado doesn’t understand why the system hasn’t been updated to meet the technical standards of the 21st century. “I went to YAL (Young Americans for Liberty) Conference and all the votes were done by phone.” I get the sense that the membership actually prefers this outdated methodology. There is a bizarre sense of procedural fetishism inside the convention that is obvious to anyone paying attention.

The votes are in for Chair. Sarwark takes it easy on the first ballot. Smith comes in a distant second and everyone is trying to find the 13 people who voted for the “commie” Matt Keuhnel. I figured there would be more dissent but the delegation seems proud to vote Sarwark in for a 3rd term and after what I’ve seen, I too understand the happy-go-lucky feel on the floor. Sarwark is still the man for the job and the more I watch the proceedings the more I feel like he’s been given a bad rap. He runs a watertight meeting and although he appears at ideological ends with the younger, more radical contingency of the delegation, he has, again and again, offered them the chance to ‘come and take it’ – if they are ready. I get the sense that they weren’t ready this time. Maybe in 2020.


Nicholas Sarwark: Chair of The Libertarian Party

The Vice-Chair votes come later. There is no majority and it will head to a second ballot. Merced is in the lead with Goldstein and Hauptmann splitting the remaining important block of votes. Vohra is in a distant 4th, his reign being robustly overturned by the angered membership. He announces he will run for LNC at large. 71 Republic CEO manages to garner 11 votes on the first ballot and is cut along with Steve Sheetz for not meeting the voting threshold for the next round. The second vote doesn’t reach a majority either and we are on to the 3rd round of balloting. Finally, Merced narrowly captures 50% of the vote and is crowned the new Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party. His kind demeanor, youthful spark, and sharply dressed outfit are all a welcome signal to the part of the membership that was hoping to see some actual change in the makeup of party leadership

The last big race of the weekend is for LNC at large. These five people will each hold a vote on the national committee and are just as powerful as the chair and vice chair when debating and voting on party business. Too many people elect to run. We listen to nominating speeches from more than 40 candidates and halfway through it all it’s hard to differentiate from one speaker to the next. While much of the strategic organization for the Mises Caucus had focused primarily on the Chair and Vice Chair positions, it is here that they could do the most damage. Sadly, the preparation is not there. Almost 20 Mises Caucus members run for LNC at large and I see no one instructing the disorganized caucus delegates on who exactly to vote for. I pick all of them but it feels trivial. This is where the pragmatic caucus, with their money and entrenched allieship sweep the floor to maintain a stranglehold on the power structure going forward.

4 of the 5 seats go to the pragmatists. Smith, now running for at large, skirts into the final 5 and will be the only full-time member of the Mises caucus to be voted onto the LNC. While this isn’t the win they were hoping for, across the internet, Mises caucus members celebrate the victory as proof that their efforts have not fallen on deaf ears. The reality, however, is that most of what was in place before the convention has been maintained and the pragmatic caucus has claimed the weekend as their victory. Division politics seem like an oddity for a third party, but even here it is obvious that there is always a measure of ‘us vs. them’ no matter how small the scale.

None of the insider politickings address the real reason so many libertarians flocked to New Orleans for the weekend. We aren’t winning. Like a five-year-old treading water or a headless snake with no bite, there is a general malaise that dogs the party and movement. We are not having breakthrough moments where our candidates actually win. Outside of these convention walls, there are still marked questions regarding the philosophy and strategies to take us over the hump. I get the sense that the old guard has lost so many times throughout the years that they believe we will never see a major LP candidate win anything anytime soon. As such, many seem pleased to simply sustain where we are at under the current leadership’s reign. Happy enough are they to see their ‘taxation is theft’ buddies at a new hotel in a new city every two years. Resigned are they to believe the mountain is just too big to climb.

Communion

I am home in Virginia. A Coroña in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I’m trying to make sense of it all. Miles Davis “Files of Kilimanjaro” is rounding the record player and our pitbull Lady is nestled into my side. What was the result of all of this? Friends, for a start. I met so many incredible, beautiful, shining people from all walks of life. Gun nuts, tax nuts, bitcoin nuts, sex nuts, loveable nuts. I couldn’t imagine representing any other political party.

What is a Libertarian? More than any single collective idea, Libertarians are good natured and honest people on the path to truth in a world that has been built on lies. They are the witnesses to injustices that are perpetrated every day in the name of the all-powerful state. Police killings, endless wars, money stripped of its value, and the constitution treated like a piece of toilet paper. These are the things that Libertarians stand against.


James Weeks: Libertarian Socialist Caucus
In the days after the convention, I watch as the reviews come forward. Across social media, there is an air of accomplishment from all sides and stripes within the LP. The pragmatists have heard the yearning voice of the next generation and the Mises Caucus pick up a couple major new members to the Libertarian Party. Both Tom Woods & comedian Dave Smith join the LP to raucous applause from the membership. Jeffrey Tucker, a noted Bitcoin economist, also throws his hat into the ring and there feels some real momentum for the great forces of ideology and boots on the ground coming together.

It’s on to Austin in 2020 where the convention will nominate its choice for President to run against Donald Trump and whatever dead-man-walking the ‘resist’ Democrats trot out. I am most pleased to see the coming together mentality that spawned over the weekend in New Orleans. What was meant to be the most heated and contentious convention in recent memory had ended as one that felt like a strange sort of communion.

I fall into bed and sleep for what feels like a hundred years. I dream of the country we are supposed to be. One of love, peace, and justice for all and I believe, for a moment, we are the people to lead the way.

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11 comments on “Come And Take It: Inside The 2018 Libertarian National Convention

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  8. darius404

    A good piece. Pretty accurate. As someone who follows the LNC email list, however, I have to disagree that things are the same. This new LNC already seems far more functional and forward-facing than the previous one. Fewer preening monologues and more actionable planning. But it remains to be seen if the results will change correspondingly.

  9. Tom Mahon

    Well done!

  10. Ken Proctor

    I was a delegate to this convention but due to a scheduling conflict I chose to pass up what I’m sure would have been a memorable event. This article was quite enjoyable and well written, however there were observations made that were a bit grating to me, grating but true. Thank you for your insights and your sharing.

    • Spencer Kellogg

      We are greatly appreciative of your readership hope to see you at the next one in 2020

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