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Justin Raimondo is hunched in front of his computer, in the living room of his cramped one-bedroom Pacific Heights apartment, under a framed poster of the Ayn Rand commemorative postage stamp. A 52-year-old with the lithe body of a much younger man – the result of obsessive workouts – Raimondo has brown eyes cupped in dark circles, and a Vantage cigarette hangs from the corner of his scowling lips. It's his fifth in as many minutes. He throws back his head, lets out a stream of smoke, and howls, "Aaaaaaaagh!"
Raimondo is a libertarian political writer who pens a thrice-weekly column for Antiwar.com, an anti-U.S. foreign intervention Weblog he works on full time with his friend, Eric Garris. Raimondo's style is sarcastic and polemical; his targets are the evil "neocons" running the Bush administration – "Rummy," "Condi," and the rest, whose dastardly warmongering has led the country into blood-soaked ruin.
To get into the right caustic groove each morning, Raimondo pumps a little iron, smokes a joint, and checks what his archenemies are writing in the National Review and the Weekly Standard. Normally, at this time – 11 a.m. – he would be dashing off another screed about the neocons' former, pro-Stalinist sympathies, or asking important questions about what Israel really knew, beforehand, about 9/11.
Today, though, Raimondo is distracted. He's been asked to deliver two speeches for the annual gathering of the John Randolph Society, an obscure organization that unites right-wing libertarians and old-school isolationist Republicans in celebration of Randolph, a powerful Virginia legislator from the early 1800s who championed states' rights and individual liberty with fiery, flamboyant style. Raimondo is thrilled to be headed to the conference, held this year in New Orleans. But it starts in two days, and he has been too busy with Antiwar.com to prepare.
"Where am I going to find a suit jacket?" he wails, melodramatically, slumping in his desk chair.
"Shut up, Yoshi," groans Raimondo. "Oh GAWD." He lights another Vantage, sucks deeply, and exhales loudly with the kind of head-splitting exasperation usually reserved for doing taxes or visiting in-laws.
Raimondo's groaning is really a drama queen's victory cry. For decades, Raimondo and Garris have been trying hard to get political ideologues from the John Randolph Society – or, really, just about anybody – interested in them.
Garris and Raimondo are radical libertarians who fervently believe government should stay out of people's business. Their social program includes slashing taxes, ending war, legalizing dope, and scrapping social services like welfare. For 25 years they've tried to get these views heard through fruitless political activism. While their contemporaries mainstreamed their political views, started families, built careers, and bought houses, Garris and Raimondo continued their ideological mission. They campaigned for candidates who never won, published newsletters that few read, tried – and failed – to win prominence in the Republican Party, and even opened up a bookstore (which they were later forced to sell).
But when Garris started Antiwar.com, their luck turned around. With financial backing from their wealthy libertarian friend Colin Hunter, Garris and Raimondo dedicated themselves full time to blogging. Hunter let Garris move into a guesthouse on the grounds of his posh mansion in Menlo Park. Spurred by interest in the war in Iraq, thousands of people visit the blog every day.
For the first time in his career, Raimondo's opinions as a writer are being read, and sometimes even taken seriously. He's being asked to speak alongside real politics, policy, and media professionals. His name has appeared in the pages of the venerable conservative magazine National Review. As the site's Webmaster, Garris is getting hate mail, fan mail, and even donations, from around the world. In the way that one can go from being nobody to somebody on the Internet in a matter of minutes, Raimondo and Garris have achieved – in the nine months since the war started – a degree of semilegitimacy they've sought for nearly three decades.
But the legitimacy is, at best, incomplete. Whatever fame Raimondo and Garris can claim comes largely from criticizing a conservative Republican administration that took office extolling the virtues of limiting American military intervention around the world. It remains to be seen whether these two partners in advocacy – who consider themselves conservatives and hold membership in the Republican Party – are more than a novelty act on the national politics and policy stage.
"Oh GAWD," groans Raimondo again. He really will have to buy that sports jacket.
At first glance, Antiwar.com might seem the work of lefties. The site's amateurish front page, with its red headlines mashed together on a white background, links to stories from around the world, so long as they have an anti-war spin. On a typical day last month, it featured a USA Today story about a poll that indicated U.S. support for the war was dropping, and another, from the (London) Guardian, about former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle stating that the United States had broken international law by invading Iraq. Among Antiwar.com's columnists you'll find way-left Nation scribe Alexander Cockburn.