I was first introduced to the libertarian movement during Ron Paul’s 2008 Presidential run. By the time the 2012 campaign season rolled around, I was fully onboard with both Ron Paul’s subsequent run and libertarianism as a whole. I was excited about revolutionary ideas that I am still on board with today: ending the war on drugs, ending overseas wars that have resulted in the deaths and maiming of countless human beings (Americans and non-Americans alike), and keeping the state out of our personal lives and wallets.
During Paul’s 2008 run, and especially during his 2012 run, Paul made headlines for his unorthodox positions and impassioned supporters. But he also made headlines for another reason: newsletters that had gone out under his name in the 1990s. One article from the newsletters featured such ugly quotations as “order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks” (in reference to the Rodney King riots), “we can safely assume that 95% of the black males in [Washington D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” and “we are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, but it is hardly irrational.” Others featured such lines as “homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities” and “[HIV-positive homosexuals] enjoy the pity and attention that comes with being sick.”
During his aforementioned Presidential runs, Paul denied writing the newsletters and claimed to have not even known about their content at the time they were published. To his credit, he also disavowed what was featured in them. In 1996, however, he had defended many of the comments in the newsletters as being out of context while not denying authorship. Based on my review of the evidence, I find it likely that Paul did not write the articles in question. However, he is almost undoubtedly covering for the person or people who did.
The chief suspected culprit in the newsletters saga is Lew Rockwell, Paul’s former chief of staff, according to a 2008 investigation published in Reason Magazine (in which multiple sources corroborated Rockwell’s involvement). This is considered somewhat of an open secret in libertarian circles, with many with knowledge whispering about it, but few willing to go on the record (rumors about libertarian writer Jeffrey Tucker’s involvement also abound, although Tucker made an apparent about-face on the issue of racism with his 2014 article “Against Libertarian Brutalism”). Rockwell is well-known in libertarian circles as the founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think-tank that promotes the Austrian school of economics. But aside from Rockwell’s economic views lies a history of pandering to racists.
In the early 1990s, Rockwell collaborated with libertarian philosopher and economist Murray Rothbard on what is now commonly referred to as “the paleo strategy.” Described as “outreach to the rednecks” by Rothbard, the paleo strategy consisted of appealing to the worst sensibilities of racists in order to convince them to ally with libertarians. Much of this outreach occurred through essays written in “The Rockwell-Rothbard Report” (RRR). The RRR featured Rothbard’s famous “Right Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement”, which began with a lamentation of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s electoral defeat in the 1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election and ended with Rothbard’s calls to “take back the streets” and “crush criminals”, writing that “cops must be unleashed, and allowed to administer instant punishment, subject of course to liability when they are in error” (for more on Rothbard’s insane calls to unleash the cops, see here). In the same edition of the RRR, Rothbard and Rockwell co-wrote an endorsement of paleoconservative Pat Buchanan for President, during which they expressed glee at a hypothetical world where elections were between Buchanan and Duke: “We can say: ‘Look, gang: you have a choice. It’s either Pat Buchanan or David Duke. If you don’t vote for us, baby, you’re going to get Duke. And how do you like them apples?’”
The RRR also included articles by Rockwell, Rothbard, and others complaining about illegal immigrants receiving driver’s licenses, arguing that slaves actually liked slavery, and lampooning “The Real Rosa Parks” as a radical leftist whose anti-segregation efforts resulted in “increased racial hatred and less real freedom for everyone” in an article that ended with this quote: “In the Montgomery of 39 years ago, the worst fear was of bus de-seating. Today, in Detroit, theft and mayhem are the norm. Rosa Parks wasn’t in danger of being beaten by the busdriver. But at the end of her life, and of the civil rights movement which she allegedly began, she isn’t safe locked up in her own home.” Separate from the RRR, Rockwell also once published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times endorsing police brutality during the Rodney King riots.
But there may be no better example of the ridiculous pandering to bigots involved in the paleo strategy than Rockwell’s 1994 article in the RRR entitled “Why Is the Ice Still White?”, which featured Rockwell seemingly being angry that the movie D2: The Mighty Ducks featured minorities playing hockey. Next to a blown-up excerpt exclaiming that “movies tell the majority: hate yourself, hate your people,” Rockwell wrote about how “not only is the actor playing the coach Latino, his team… is composed of blacks, Hispanics, Asians (including a gay Chinese figure skater), an American Indian, and girls.” After complaining that the opposing team was “from Iceland” and “blonde, blue-eyed, male, and thuggish,” Rockwell went on to complain that black kids taught the protagonist team new shots and strategies and expressed disappointment that the coach chose his “dark-haired girlfriend . . . over an evil blond from Iceland.”
Now why would the founder of a libertarian think-tank be complaining about minorities and girls playing hockey in a Disney movie, of all things? The answer is likely that he saw a potential audience, and he looked to reel them in to increase his standing and revenue. It just so happened that this wasn’t just any audience: Rockwell was appealing to the bottom of the barrel of society. It was an appeal to people angry that their kids were watching movies that had black protagonists in them, an appeal to people who were angry that their kids were in school with minorities, and an appeal to those who generally did not want those with extra melanin in their skin around them. How else could you explain a libertarian, whose philosophy would generally be against the state telling people they cannot travel, from complaining about “illegal immigrants” having driver’s licenses?
While the original paleo strategy went up in smoke as an unsuccessful stain on the libertarian movement’s history, remnants of it and attempts to revive it remain. Rockwell himself has continued to churn out garbage in the hopes of attracting bigots, publishing articles on “why transgenderism is immoral,” puff pieces on former President Trump, and linking to articles trying to attack police victim Breonna Taylor for having a weapon (which is quite an odd stance for a libertarian). Rockwell has also continued his attacks on the idea of free immigration. Likewise, Jeff Deist, the current President of the Ludwig von Mises Institute that Rockwell founded, has expressed a desire to reboot the paleo strategy.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, an economist and philosopher who studied under Rothbard during the paleo years, is frequently the go-to for those in the movement who want to justify government immigration restrictions (Hoppe’s argument, which I’ve written about in some form or another here, here, and here, revolves around the idea that “net-taxpayers” have the right to public property, and therefore we should hope that the state generally keeps out foreigners). In keeping with Rockwell’s paleo pandering, Hoppe has stated that we should aim our message at “white Christian couples with children,” as they are the “most severely victimized people.” In saying this, Hoppe highly downplays the evils of corporatist regulations that keep the poor in poverty, the disproportionate effect of the drug war and other forms of systemic racism on minorities, and the often non-white victims of U.S. foreign policy.
Hoppe’s outreach to outright racists does not stop there. Hoppe once invited white nationalist Jared Taylor to his “Property and Freedom Society” conference in 2013 to give a speech on race relations. During the speech, Taylor described how former slaves showed a “kind of nostalgia for slavery,” brought up how Jefferson Davis’s slaves were disappointed when Davis had to leave his home during the Civil War, complained about miscegenation (race-mixing), and stated that “and so as the United States becomes increasingly non-white, I believe it will cease to be part of Western civilization and slide increasingly into the third world.”
And even though Hoppe ultimately objected to his foreword being published in Chase Rachels’s book “White, Right, and Libertarian” after Hoppe learned that the originally-proposed cover had depictions of hangings from helicopters, he still name-dropped Rachels and his “Radical Capitalist” website as examples to look up to in his January 2018 article “Getting Libertarianism Right.” For those unfamiliar with Rachels, one of the first articles published on “Radical Capitalist”, which has been very open about its endorsement of white nationalism (not to mention Rachels’s rationalization of the Holocaust in saying that “Judea” declared war on Germany), was an article that referred to black people as “proto-humans” and claimed that “modern man evolved from Blacks by hybridizing with the large-brain Neanderthals.” Interestingly, Hoppe has also brought up racial pseudoscience in his writings, arguing that blacks have a higher “time preference” (or less of an ability to delay gratification) than whites.
Even those that see the problems with Rockwell, Hoppe, and others may contend that the issues with them do not extend to the libertarian movement as a whole. This is true, to a point: there are many great libertarians out there who strongly oppose bigotry; the Libertarian Party platform even includes a plank stating that “we condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant.” But the issues with bigotry still persist today, and it is about time that we do something about it.
Back when I was supporting Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential run, I tried to play off the newsletters issue as “not a big deal”; I have seen many libertarians do the same thing. This was, and is, a mistake. By refusing to condemn issues with bigotry in our ranks, we are allowing those issues to grow. And by allowing them to grow, we are turning off large groups of people who have been and are still victimized by the state and could help us achieve a freer world.
So rather than sweeping the Ron Paul Newsletters under the rug, let’s recognize that grave mistakes were made and that Ron Paul is not infallible. Rather than inviting anti-Semites to headline events, or dismissing anti-Semitism as “truth-seeking,” let’s condemn bigotry where we see it. This is not to say that we cannot have conversations with people and attempt to change their minds, but welcoming people with bigoted views into the Libertarian Party or the libertarian movement and making excuses for that bigotry should not be confused with the kind of outreach performed by people like Daryl Davis. When we talk about libertarian views on freedom of association or freedom of speech, let’s also talk how we should boycott businesses that refuse to service to customers on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, how market forces can be used to quell bigotry, and how our freedom of speech can be used as a force for good.
Rather than dismissing being against bigotry as “virtue signaling,” let’s “virtue signal” even louder, so as to show the world what we stand for.