• Jim Kelly

The knife fight within the Libertarian Party

A few hours ago the chair of the Libertarian National Commitee resigned, after being accused of conspiring with the New Hampshire state chair, Jilletta Jarvis, in a coup attempt.

I would have thought the LP chapter chairperson is the only person on the planet not in a position to stage a coup, but so she did in the past week. New Hampshire elected new executive committee members at its convention in March, who have since been getting more outspoken on Twitter than the party is accustomed to.

Apparently the new officers' sarcastic pro-Gitmo tweet sent Mrs. Jarvis over the edge. On June 12th she changed the passwords to the social media accounts and the website, locking out the rest of the executive committee (EC). Then she posted an update on the website announcing a "new direction" for LPNH, declaring the others had disqualified themselves by their radicalism, so she was now the sole leader and would be reforming a new board under a revised set of bylaws. Of course, from the other EC officers' point of view they were and are the duly elected LPNH leadership, so Mrs. Jarvis was seizing their property to form a splinter group.

LP state chapters are autonomous entities and only loosely connected to the national party, so the first instinct on the national leadership committee (LPNC) was to let the New Hampshirites sort out the dispute themselves. Except Mrs. Jarvis's post implicated Joe Bishop-Henchman, the LPNC chair. He had sent her a letter a day or two previously, recognizing the group she led as the official LP affiliate in New Hampshire. Which was accurate and proper at the time, but awkwardly ambiguous after the schism, especially since he came out publicly in support of Mrs. Jarvis's claim.

In the past couple days other LPNC officers called for an investigation and moved to oust him, while others ferociously took his and Mrs. Jarvis's side and joined the denouncements of the newcomers in New Hampshire, as well as other LPNC members. Earlier this afternoon Mr. Bishop-Henchman announced his resignation from the LPNC.

The cause of the acrimony

The Libertarian Party has had a rough decade. Congressman Ron Paul's presidential runs in 2008 and 2012 put him on a lot of stages doing something no one was prepared for a politician to do: tell the truth about government. He explained how US foreign policy creates Islamic extremism, how the Federal Reserve creates income inquality, how Washington in fact perpetuates most of the problems it claims to solve, and the imperative of pruning it back. Obviously he was immediately canceled by the media, the Republican party he belonged to, not to mention the Democrats.

But not before he ignited a new generation of libertarians angry at the mendacity and dysfunction of big government. With Ron Paul's retirement many defected to Bernie Sanders, who somehow convinced them the solution was bigger government, but many are still around wondering where the movement went.

That's a good question. 2020 was a presidential election handed to the Libertarian Party by Jesus himself. LOLbertarians' slippery-slope warnings about the erosion of civil rights came dramatically true when America's government seized totalitarian control. Suddenly the Land of the Free became the land of unemployment and bread lines. The major parties fielded a Republican candidate who was rabidly despised by half the country and a declining machine Democrat from the 1970s whose fingerprints were all over everything broken in Washington.

To say the LP fumbled the ball doesn't even c

ome close. They nominated Dr. Jo Jorgensen, a perfectly respectable party veteran who just didn't have much to say and wasn't able to build much of a following. She won 1.2% of popular vote, compared with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson's 3.3% in 2016.

"Didn't have much to say" is perhaps too mild a criticism. Jorgensen, or whoever was tweeting under her name, would mildly assert classical liberal principles one moment then veer toward wokeism the next. She touted her gender as a reason to include her in presidential debates. Her infamous must-be-anti-racist tweet was dreadful salesmanship. The LP is a political party trying to change beliefs about the proper role of the state. Scolding people for their latent racism isn't just off-message, it's donning a threadbare hand-me-down message from the opposition. She said it, one imagines, because everyone repeats it constantly and fashions themselves brave. On the contrary it oozed cowardice, a distrust of one's fellow citizens, and an uncomprehension of the culture war eating away at America. It didn't sell the product, it alienated the customers.

This calls for immediate decorum

The blood running through the LP gutters this week highlights the party's own culture war. On one side are the so-called pragmatists, the party's old guard with many years invested in it. On the other are a younger, fiery mob of Ron-Paulites and Dave-Smithians and Tom-Woodsmen flabbergasted at the LP's operatic failures the past decade and demanding a more aggressive strategy.

The upstarts aren't just moaning, though. They formed the Mises Caucus (MiCaucs) within the LP to drive change from within. Between their stronger presence on social media and America's throngs of angry Fauchwitz refugees, they've brought a new surge of membership to the LP and with it enough votes to win seats from the old guard.

The old guard--to my eye, at least--is handling the disruption worse than I could have dreamt. The New Hampshire chair was clearly out of line to try to dissolve the LPNH's elected board and abscond with its accounts, but she found broad support on the National Committee. Even as I type they're voting on a motion to revoke the affiliation with the NH MiCaucs entity and back Mrs. Jarvis and her reboot. Meanwhile some are resigning, some are trying to oust the two main troublemakers on the LPNC--MiCauc Joshua Smith, and the MiCauc-adjacent party secretary Caryn Ann Harlos. Some are both resigning and trying to boot the troublemakers. You can follow all this drama on the LP's public mailing list.

The word that keeps coming up is "decorum." Every group has a culture, and the LPNC's culture seems to value speaking moderately and politely above all else. Or at least when they attack each other, a breach of decorum is usually the stated reason. Jo Jorgensen's refined, diplomatic tweets model the expected tone well. It's easy to see why the MiCaucs' more in-your-face tone would raise hackles.

Many of the old guard don't denounce just the tone, they accuse the MiCaucs of representing hate and bigotry and betraying libertarian principles and working for the Republicans. They're particularly angry that MiCaucs and Dave Smith expressed an intent to "take over" the Libertarian Party. What collaborative, well-intentioned libertarian talks like that?

I'm sympathetic with the old guard, in that same way I'm sympathetic with anyone I need to fire. That doctor who can't fix my problem never quite says so because he always has more treatments to put me through. An employee whose work always has to be redone by someone else tends not notice. Almost always the person can't perceive the gap between what they're doing and what's needed, even if you've tried to explain it a hundred times, so the firing comes as a shock and an affront.

Welcome to Heartbreak

So it is with libertarians. Classical liberalism hasn't quite been snuffed out in America, but libertarians are the only ones keeping the candle lit for limited government, free markets, and strong human rights. Rekindling liberalism is urgent work in our collapsing empire, and the Libertarian Party is uniquely positioned to do so. Political candidates who can sell a compelling message get a quality of attention no one else gets, so elections are a vital opportunity to awaken people. And who knows, maybe win one here or there.

The LP's problem isn't that it ran a dud candidate or two, it's that they can't tell sizzle from fizzle even after the election. The leaders don't recognize the gap betwen the outcomes they're getting and the outcomes they should be commanding. Maybe back when Murray Rothbard was running off mimeographed flyers for local meetings, recruiting thousands of members was an astonishing success. These days a 10-year-old can amass 600,000 followers on a budget of almost nothing. Mindshare and therefore voteshare is more available than ever, as the MiCaucs proved by augmenting (or infiltrating, depending on your point of view) the existing party structure with new members who joined only months ago.

My question to the old guard: if you can't score well even in elections like 2020, how do *you* define success? What lessons did you learn? What needle are you trying to move? How much did you move it so far this year? How do decorous board posts or confrontational tweets move the needle up or down? You talk about "advancing liberty" in the abstract, but who specifically did you liberate last year, and who will you liberate this year? Do dues-paying party members know your definition of success, and are they on board with it?

If you don't know or haven't communicated crisp answers to any of these strategic questions, what would you hope we libertarians in the peanut gallery do? Ignore bad elections and evident deficiencies on the LPNC, or intervene? Bluntly, if you're missing big opportunities in big elections and can't find the flexibility to change course, shouldn't you expect to be pushed aside...even welcome it?

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