The Trouble with Rick Stanley

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

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The Trouble with Rick Stanley

by Ari Armstrong, May 31, 2002

I was an early supporter of Rick Stanley in his plans to run for U.S. Senate. I thought he was an energetic and photogenic guy with populist appeal.

I wrote two lengthy articles about his act of civil disobedience (he carried a firearm openly in Denver) and his two subsequent arrests. I took extensive notes during his recent trial and plan to write an article about it. Stanley was fortunate to find representation in Paul Grant, a long-time libertarian who represented me in a challenge against Amendment 22 a couple years ago.

And Stanley gets attention. The front page of the Rocky Mountain News referenced a story about him on the front of the local section. The story focused on Stanley's call for Senator Wayne Allard to be hanged for treason. Then the News wrote a lead editorial denouncing Stanley. He's been mentioned in a number of other big-media stories and he's appeared on a number of radio programs. Stanley is entertainment.

David Bryant, treasurer for Stanley's campaign and probably his biggest supporter, sent out the following message last night to the "lpco-chat" e-mail list.

Just got off the phone with Rick a little bit ago. His appearance on the Russ Johnson show went extremely well. The station got lots of phone calls while Rick was on the air. Some of the callers were extremely hostile. Others were supportive. There were even a couple of _orthodox_ Libertarians who insisted on taking Rick to task for his heresies. It was lively.

The best news is that several other DJ's at KOA want Rick to appear on their shows. So he'll be back on the air soon. The momentum is building! And KOA is the largest AM station in Colorado!!

There is some truth to the old saying that any press coverage is good coverage, but it's not always true. Stanley has an easily recognized and friendly-sounding name, so a little name recognition mixed with a general distaste for establishment politicians may pull in some votes for him. But somehow I doubt most people will appreciate Stanley's comments about the hanging or his theory that the recent pipe bombings may have been a government conspiracy. (That latter point earned him another article in the News.)

At the state LP convention, Stanley lost the first ballot to Steve D'Ippolito. If anything, though, Stanley really wanted the nomination. As soon as D'Ippolito began his lackluster speech, I mentioned to somebody beside me, "Well, he just lost." Stanley pulled ahead on the second ballot, taking in most of the previously undecided voters.

The simple ballot results did not reveal the underlying attitudes of the assembly, however. A lot of the D'Ippolito votes were basically anti-Stanley votes. Some long-time libertarians I've talked to flat-out loathe the man.

I did make an accurate guess about the vote some days in advance. James Vance, who switched to the LP from the Reform Party after deciding to run for governor, and Stanley endorsed each other. I mentioned to my wife that the convenient political alliance probably wouldn't help Vance, but it might put Stanley over the top. I'm fairly confident Stanley would have lost but for the group of supporters Vance brought with him.

Stanley certainly has his fans. If some people attended the meeting specifically to vote against Stanley, others attended to make sure he won. David Bryant has been Stanley's most vocal supporter. As suggested in his recent e-mail, Bryant believes many libertarian critiques of Stanley are off-base. Stanley has said that his tendency is to "attack" those who criticize him.

However, I believe libertarians have a responsibility to publicly criticize candidates running under their banner when those candidates wander off course.

I don't want to downplay Stanley's accomplishments. Yesterday he sent out an excellent editorial about the FBI's new power grab. He wrote, "Figuring out that the FBI's recently announced 'War on Terrorism' is really a War on Privacy is hardly rocket science. Anybody with a little common sense can see that. Just look at the government's previous record with the 'wars' they have already declared on America's social problems... This isn't a war on terrorism. It's another war against the Constitution. It's another assault on your unalienable rights." Stanley is fortunate to have Bryant on his team to help put out top-notch analysis of political issues.

Unfortunately, Stanley also sent out the following message to his "StanleyScoop" about the "Million Gun March."

Maybe, just maybe, had they had their March on Washington, we would have a Constitutional government now. Another naysayer. Another year gone by. Aren't we PROUD America? Do they have a place where cowards gather? Is it America, once the land of the free, and home of the brave? Million Gun March Petition at www.stanley2002.org 378 signers as of this morning. Only 285 million cowards to convince. Come on America, its a good day to die. Or so they will try and scare you with. Break out of those chains, or die in them.

So much for populism. My sense is that most voters don't respond to being called cowards.

I have never liked the "Million Gun March." I think it's a terrible and foolish idea. I figured Stanley would eventually get tired of it and forget about it, as he dropped his idea for a "Citizens' Constitution Court" via Constitutional amendment. But the March is listed right at the top of Stanley's web page.

I disagree with Stanley more about means than ends. I agree with almost all of the policy prescriptions listed in the Million Gun March Petition. Federal firearms laws, the PATRIOT Act, the income tax, and the Federal Reserve all represent bad policy.

I'm not sure what the petition means when it says, "American citizens and pilots must be guaranteed their Second Amendment rights on all domestic flights." The libertarian approach to air-travel security is to fully privatize the airports and airlines. The owners would then be free to set firearms policy and compete accordingly. I disagree with the statement, "All other forfeitures including, drugs, guns, taxes, should be prohibited." If drugs or guns are used in the commission of an act of violence or fraud, then they should be forfeited in many cases. The proceeds should go to the victims.

But the real problem with the petition is revealed in the following set of remarks.

[N]ecessary to every value of a civilized society is that Right stated in the heart of the First Amendment which traces its common law ancestry to the union of Just Redress and the Right to meet government's abridgment of Justice with force of arms... [W]e mutually pledge to each other on our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor, to peaceable assemble under arms on July 4th, 2003... at or near the District of Columbia... Failure by the government to comply with the petition by July 4, 2003, may result in the activation of the '2nd American Revolution Militia', from the individual citizens of the 'Million Gun March', to insure that the current U.S. government will comply with the boundaries outlines in the Constitution... Should this action become a necessity... we appeal to the United States Military and the various police agencies in attendance... to join with your Constitutional brethren to insure the compliance of YOUR government. (Typographical errors remain from the original.)

Not surprisingly, a number of people who read this thought Stanley was calling for possible armed rebellion. At first, Stanley was coy on the matter, but then he said he was not in fact calling for armed rebellion. But the common meaning of "revolution" is a war, and the common meaning of "militia" is a citizen army, so it's easy to see why Stanley's petition set off alarms.

The Libertarian Party exists to work within the political system to win back our freedoms. By running for U.S. Senate, hopefully Stanley is also committed to working within the established political system. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he means only for people to carry guns as an act of civil disobedience. Even with this assumption, Stanley's plan is ridiculous.

There is simply no way Stanley is going to find a million people willing to sign his petition. (The march is a mutual pledge, so it only happens if a million people sign on.) The "Million" Mom March drew between 5% and 15% of that number, depending on the estimates. And the "Million" Mom March was well-funded and played up in the media. A few hundred people have signed the petition to date, and it will top out at a few thousand at the most.

The petition will appeal mostly to fringe types who are severely suspicious of the government. However, Stanley's petition asks people to send in their first name, last initial, and home city. In other words, many of those who most agree with the petition will be the least likely to sign it.

Stanley's petition allows for people to come to the march armed or unarmed. If they come armed, how do they plan to get their gun to the location? Are they flying? If they are driving, has Stanley bothered to look into the transport laws of various states along the way?

Let us make the absurd assumption that Stanley could find a million people willing to sign the petition and go to Washington "under arms." Then what? What's that going to accomplish? Politicians don't care if a bunch of people -- mostly non-constituents -- are out marching around in a park. They only care if they might lose their elections. Stanley's march would make as much difference as the "Million" Mom March made, which is to say none.

A million people. How much would that cost? A low estimate would be $100 per person. If we include travel time and the full range of expenses, a more realistic estimate is several hundred dollars per person. Even at the low estimate, we're talking about $100 million. For that kind of money, or even a tenth as much, just about anybody would have a real shot at winning a state-wide race.

Stanley needs to decide if he wants to run for U.S. Senate or lead a national gun-rights campaign. He's attempting both and accomplishing neither.

Sometimes there is a fine line between genius and insanity. There can also be a fine line between political greatness and foolishness. With his Million Gun March Petition, Stanley has stepped on the wrong side of that line.

Another of Stanley's releases from yesterday (he's prolific if nothing else) is almost as bad. He writes,

[An] aristocracy has enslaved America, through the fraud of the Federal Reserve Corporation funded by the income tax. Both are unconstitutional and illegal. Our government which includes the executive branch, your legislators in Washington, D.C., and your judicial system are all puppets of the aristocracy that runs the world. Yes, that makes your government illegal and a fraud. Every law they pass is intended to shore up this conspiracy that has been in place for over 90 years now. We are enslaved with a tyranny, such as the world has never seen.

It is true that the income tax and the Federal Reserve system should be repealed. Murray Rothbard offers a classic libertarian critique of U.S. monetary policy in What Has Government Done to Our Money?

Unfortunately, Rick mixes fact with fiction. It's not true that "every law" passed by the U.S. government is intended to "shore up" the Federal Reserve. Nor is it true that we are "enslaved with a tyranny, such as the world has never seen." The U.S. remains one of the most free nations the world has ever seen. Certainly it does not compare with such tyrannies as existed in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Stanley says the Federal Reserve was a conspiracy. "A conspiracy? Told by Rick Stanley, U.S. Senate candidate, the one the media says is unfit to hold office and a loose cannon? Yes."

The reason Stanley makes a big deal out of it being a conspiracy is that he has been criticized (by me and others) for promoting unfounded conspiracy theories. Stanley has claimed the government may have suppressed the cure for cancer, intentionally reduced men's sperm count, and planned the pipe-bombings.

The problem is that the term "conspiracy" carries two quite distinct meanings. Random House defines "conspire" in two ways: "to agree together, especially secretly, to do something wrong, evil, or illegal," and "to act or work together toward the same result or goal."

Not all conspiracy theories are unfounded. For instance, prosecutors theorize about criminal conspiracies all the time, and some of those conspiracies are real. When used in the second sense, the term conspiracy simply refers to any collaborative plan.

The Federal Reserve was a conspiracy in that a group of people implemented it. This is no big secret -- all the paper money we carry prints "Federal Reserve" on it. Economics textbooks describe the system in detail and the organization is discussed in the media on a regular basis. The existence of the Federal Reserve does not somehow justify Stanley's advocacy of unfounded conspiracies.

Stanley does have a knack for getting under people's skin. I am, after all, devoting an article to him. But is his skill really such a great thing? He continues to have trouble finding supporters to work for his campaign and donate money to it. Many of his supporters live in other states, so they can neither volunteer nor vote for him.

Bryant has trumped the fact that Stanley showed up at 4% in a poll. It turns out the margin of error in that poll was 4%. A single poll result within the margin of error means little.

But even assuming the 4% result reflects genuine support, does this portend a Ventura-style surge? Not if Stanley alienates voters faster than he attracts them. My sense is that the media attention Stanley is getting will attract some votes for him and at the same time set a fairly low ceiling for his total.

I think voters want to be inspired, not frightened and brow-beaten. Sometimes Stanley can be very inspiring. He has so much potential that his failures are all the more disappointing.

The trouble with Rick Stanley is not that he's a "loose cannon," as Mike Rosen and others have suggested. The problem is that he's often shooting blanks.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com