TRT Organizes, Sticks to Purpose
by Ari Armstrong, May 2, 2001
The message at the April 29 Tyranny Response Team general meeting was that people are self-autonomous and should make up their own minds how best to advance the cause of freedom. But the niche the leaders of the TRT have created is that of public activism, of taking to the streets to protest politicians and others intent on destroying the American heritage of freedom.
The big news was that the TRT has formally organized into a corporation. It is governed by a board of directors, which includes Bob Glass, Cal Smith, and five others. It is a regular for-profit entity so as to avoid the limitations that come with "non-profit" status. (I have written of the pitfalls of non-profits in the past and so support this move of the TRT leadership.)
Talk about a motley crew of activists! The meeting attracted around 50 participants, ranging from kindly elderly ladies to gruff, self-professed anarcho-capitalists. My favorite moment was when Zig, now a board member, discussed the pitfalls of false dichotomies, thereby smashing the stereotypes promoted by some in the "Million Mom" group. The point of unanimity was that individuals should be free to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they act peacefully toward others.
Much of the (painfully long) four hour meeting was devoted to talking about the relationship of the TRT with other groups. Glass praised the Second Amendment Sisters for its efforts, even as he criticized the group for planning a Mothers Day rally separate from the TRT. Ultimately, though, Glass urged participants to choose their own paths and participate in the freedom movement as they see fit.
To my mind, much of the dispute over the schisms between the various groups was needlessly exaggerated. On the drive home, I contemplated statements such as, "Human beings seem to have an infinite capacity for debating minutia." No, libertarians are never going to reach unanimity even on points of philosophy, nevermind strategy. Reasoned disagreement is in the nature of libertarianism. Fortunately, the over-riding sense at the meeting was that various groups could peacefully co-exist.
The only qualification was that people have to actually get involved. Those who rest content with giving $20 per year to the NRA were roundly criticized. Indeed, the NRA itself was criticized for its failure to stand on principle and for putting money ahead of success, as defined by re-establishing individual rights.
Within the TRT individuals were encouraged to participate however they could. While the focus was on public demonstrations, individuals were encouraged to come up with new ideas and implement them.
Even though the TRT has a reputation for being uncouth and rowdy (though always peaceful), the compassion expressed by everyone in the group was obvious. Members of the TRT are driven by a desire to restore individual rights, limit the abuses of power by government officials, and protect the innocent.
The TRT is part of the new civil rights movement in America. Bob Glass got a little teary-eyed when he closed with the words, "We're going to win." Behind those words was the image of all those whom we're going to win for: those who are victimized or killed by the state, like Ismael Mena; those who end up in prison for violating some arbitrary "victimless crime" law; those who are murdered or violated by criminals because politicians stripped away the right of self-defense.
It's often the case that those who improve the course of history are vilified or simply ignored by the establishment. Yet the ideals represented by the Tyranny Response Team are held passionately by an growing minority of Americans. No, the TRT by itself is not going to change America. But in conjunction with numerous other libertarian groups, it will make a significant impact on the political scene.
I maintain one major criticism of the TRT. It doesn't do a very good job of tailoring its approach to fit different goals. Public protests can serve a variety of aims, yet the TRT leadership seems not to notice this.
For instance, while a more confrontational style might be effective at annoying an anti-freedom politician, such a style may only serve to further polarize some Million Mom members.
I would draw an analogy to judo. In the martial arts, it's not always the smartest thing to simply run at an opponent head first. Instead, it's important to work with existing forces and affect major changes through small movements. In the realm of intellectual discussion, this means taking a person's prior beliefs to their pro-freedom implications. For instance, a Million Mommer is not likely to be persuaded unless her fears about violence are directed toward an understanding that victim disarmament laws empower criminals.
The Advocates for Self-Government (www.self-gov.org) are big on a technique called the "Ransberger Pivot." The idea is that you first identify with the underlying concerns of somebody, then explain how the libertarian position meets those concerns best.
Rallies can be used to earn media attention, annoy rights-trampling politicians, educate the public, or educate one's own group. Different strategies are appropriate for different goals. By failing to adapt its strategies to different contexts, I believe the TRT is reducing its effectiveness.
That said, the TRT has clearly made waves across the nation. It has already accomplished some significant feats, and I believe it holds untapped potential for helping to restore our rights.