How Libertarianism Nurtured The Alt-Right For Decades


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Conservative columnist Matt Lewis raised the ire of libertarians this week by calling the movement “a gateway drug to the alt-right.” But he isn’t saying that every libertarian is necessarily a white nationalist, merely that “a disproportionate number of today’s prominent alt-righters began as libertarians,” which is self-evidently true.

“Some of the people drawn to libertarianism are predisposed to be seduced into the alt-right,” Lewis explained at The Daily Beast. “In this regard, they are merely passing through a libertarian phase.”

Examples abound: Milo Yiannopoulos, formerly of Breitbart, and Gavin MacInnes, founder of the violent alt-right street gang “Proud Boys,” began as libertarians. So did Tim Gionet, better known as “Baked Alaska” on Twitter. Former Libertarian candidate Austin Gillespie has become Augustus Invictus, a white supremacist. Conspiracy blogger Mike Cernovich has said he was a libertarian “until I realized they were a bunch of cucks.”

At least two prominent organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville were also former libertarians. Christopher Cantwell, who was made famous by the recent Vice documentary on the Charlottesville violence and an ensuing web video in which he wept over news of his pending arrest, has said he traded in libertarianism “for better memes.” Eli Mosley, an organizer with the white nationalist group Identity Evropa, told ProPublica that he was a libertarian until he decided to pursue “identity politics.”

Richard Spencer, who helped popularize the term “alt-right” and became its most recognizable face, also began his political career as an acolyte of uber-libertarian Ron Paul. Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of Reason magazine, tells Lewis that Spencer said so at the Republican National Convention last year. Paleoconservative Paul Gottfried, Spencer’s guru, is also reported to be a Ron Paul fan.

That should be a surprise to anyone. Long before Ron Paul was the libertarian firebrand who beta tested “tea parties” in 2007, his name appeared for decades on an infamous newsletter full of praise for “race realists” and other hate groups. During the 2008 and 2012 cycles, he was the runaway favorite of r/pol, the “Politically Incorrect” 4chan board from which so many frog avatars eventually burst forth into social media. Alex Jones is now a high priest of the alt-right, but he spent many years touting Ron Paul as the libertarian messiah first.

Indeed, Ron Paul maintained such close ties to white supremacists over the years that Stormfront website founder Don Black called him “one of us” — praise echoed by other racist right wing figures, including former Klansman David Duke, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, and the Montana Militia.

Despite distancing himself from the newsletters, Paul has never shunned the neo-confederates and other racists who support him. On the contrary: Paul expressed approval for secessionist movements in 2014, and he is hardly unique among libertarians in his sympathies for the Confederate States of America.

Libertarians have always bridled at mention of these facts. Reacting to Lewis’s piece at Reason with a variation on the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, Gillespie maintains that libertarianism has such deep philosophical disagreements with the alt-right that anyone who crosses over was never a real libertarian in the first place.

In 1976, however, Gillespie’s magazine produced a special Holocaust denial issue at the behest of the billionaire Koch brothers, who still fund the publication. Gary North, Ron Paul’s Christian Reconstructionist congressional aide and business partner, wrote the featured article. Almost three decades later, author Mark Ames found that people who worked on the issue were still listed as magazine staff.

This is why scholars have come to understand that ideas now identified with the alt-right have always gone hand-in-hand with “respectable” libertarianism: they were ideological bedfellows from the very beginning.

Take Robert LeFevre, whose Freedom School in Colorado became a legendary academy that influenced Charles and David Koch, among others. Nothing in LeFevre’s writings betrays any bigotry or racism, yet he proudly endorsed one of Willis Carto’s racist journals in 1965, and his name appears prominently on a 1980 edition of Carto’s Holocaust denial magazine Journal of Historical Review.

Or consider James McGill Buchanan, the libertarian economist. Before he won the Nobel Prize for his “public choice” theory, which has provided the intellectual foundation of various libertarian privatization crusades over the years, Buchanan led the charge to fight school desegregation in Virginia by doing away with public schools altogether — a battle that historian Nancy McLean of Duke University recounts in her new book about the Koch brothers’ war on majority rule, Democracy in Chains.

Some libertarians do admit their movement has a problem. “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years,” Steve Horwitz recently wrote, noting that the works of anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe are “perhaps the most popular gateway drug for the alt-right incursion into libertarianism.”

But Horwitz is an outlier, whereas Ron Paul is the rule.

To see that, look no further than his son Rand. Elected to the US Senate with national acclaim for his libertarian principles, Rand Paul eventually stepped back from his opposition to provisions of the Civil Rights Act. When he ran for president, he fell far short of his father because “his” voters chose Donald Trump instead.

Apparently, Rand Paul is now a “cuck.”

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Featured image via Gage Skidmore Flickr under Creative Commons license