Intrepid Antiwarriors of the Libertarian Right Stake Their Rightful Claim to Power

Looking into the endearing obsession known as Antiwar.com

A month later, Raimondo says, he introduced himself to Rand after a lecture in New York City, and she remembered his bold move. He explained to her that any misrepresentation of objectivism on his part was a result of his article having been cut, drastically, by his editors. Her "heart melted," Raimondo says. "'Sooooo. You vant to be a vriter!'" he remembers her saying in her Russian accent. It was one of the most important moments in Raimondo's life.

He dropped out of the experimental (and now defunct) Franconia College in New Hampshire, saying he found it not intellectually stimulating enough, and moved to San Francisco to experience the gay scene.

Eric Garris had also moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s. The son of a found-object sculptor who called herself a communist and a former Marine drill sergeant who made say-no-to-drugs films for the Los Angeles Police Department, Garris had been expelled from his L.A. high school in 1971 for staging a boycott of the cafeteria. He was protesting the school's dress codes (no pants for girls or long hair for boys).

Antiwar.com Executive Director 
Alexia Gilmore.
James Sanders
Antiwar.com Executive Director Alexia Gilmore.

Garris refused to register for the draft or go to college, plunging himself full time into the Vietnam protest movement. When he met some libertarians, he became a convert, convinced of the "relation between war and the welfare state – the way domestic intervention and foreign intervention fuel one another." He moved north to San Francisco to come work for the Libertarian Party.

The 1970s were good years for libertarianism. Funded by billionaire oil tycoon Charles Koch, a libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, set up shop in San Francisco in fancy offices near Fisherman's Wharf. It published a monthly magazine, Inquiry, and coordinated a college campus organizing group, Students for a Libertarian Society, or SLS.

Garris and Raimondo, then both in their 20s, met at the San Francisco Libertarian Party headquarters in 1976 and soon began working together for SLS. They also met Hunter, a young Stanford graduate, who, unlike them, had a life outside the Libertarian Party that included running his own computer software firm. The three formed a clique that one friend describes as "almost like a little cult."

The Libertarian Party had, until that point, attracted people whose chief concerns were legalizing marijuana and getting out of going to Vietnam. But the three friends were desperate to have libertarianism – and themselves – taken seriously. Together, they formed a faction called the Libertarian Radical Caucus and started writing their version of a platform. They called themselves radical because their ideas at the time were radical. Whereas some libertarians thought war might be justified in some cases, the Radical Caucus came out unequivocally against all war. "They were like the conscience of the Libertarian Party," says Burt Blumert, president of the Center for Libertarian Studies, a Burlingame-based nonprofit educational center.

There were some minor victories in the 1970s, notably Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark winning 5 percent of the vote in his run for California governor in 1978. But in the 1980s, the Libertarian Party waned.

"People drop off of every movement unless there's a payoff, and being a libertarian, you get nothing," says Blumert. "We'd get six-tenths of 1 percent [in an election], and we'd celebrate! It's a hopeless kind of cause."

But for the "little cult," libertarianism was an obsession that just wouldn't die. In the late 1980s, Garris, Raimondo, and Hunter left the party altogether to join the Republicans.

"We thought, 'Well, let's go to one of the major parties, and fight for someone who might win!'" says Hunter.

They formed the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee, or LROC – a faction within the Republican Party – and made Hunter its president. But even this minor attempt at organizing was a lost cause. Blumert remembers writing Garris and Raimondo a check to help them start a magazine for LROC and getting a phone call later that afternoon. Somebody walking down Mission Street had found the check on the sidewalk, where Garris or Raimondo had accidentally dropped it.

"It was so typical of them," says Blumert. "They were just not cut out for business."

At the 1988 Republican Convention, LROC was barred from the convention floor, and Garris had to fib his way into two press passes, which the core members of LROC ferried back and forth to one another the entire day. Nobody paid any attention to the painstakingly written pamphlet they handed out, which prophetically predicted the fall of communism.

"That was a low point for us," Garris admits.

Still, they stuck with it. After an antique doll business went under in the ground floor of an old Victorian on Market Street, they leased the location and started a libertarian bookstore. And in 1991, Pat Buchanan decided to run for president, and the members of LROC – especially Raimondo – nearly went crazy with glee.

"It was amazing," says Raimondo. "He's talking about this anti-war stuff, and sounding more like a libertarian than a conservative – the usual conservative – at least on foreign policy stuff."

Raimondo and a friend flew out to New Hampshire to watch Buchanan campaign in the primaries in the dead of winter, staying in Econo Lodges all the way.

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