Stanley Targets Berntson in Latest Witch Hunt

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Stanley Targets Berntson in Latest Witch Hunt

by Ari Armstrong, August 2, 2002

"[John] Bernston has proven to be a traitor, and must be removed," Rick Stanley wrote to his "official newswire" July 29 about the chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. Stanley lamented "the many things that this Chairman has done to demean the position, and to challenge what the Party is supposed to do - elect candidates, in an obviously planned way, to prevent the Libertarian Candidates from having success. I have personally been dealing with this situation for over a year now..." Stanley has made similar claims July 16 and on other occasions.

In the same e-mail, Stanley forwarded a message from his campaign volunteer David Bryant addressed to Berntson. Bryant wrote, "What you are doing to our candidates is scandalous... [Y]ou are doing everything you possibly can to prevent any of them from winning. You are carrying out a deliberate campaign of psychological warfare against those who have the best chances... You are a traitor and a scoundrel. You lied to the assembled Libertarians at the convention in Leadville when you said you wanted to lead the party. In fact, it is, was, and always has been your intention to damage and belittle the party, and to demean its candidates. You are a liar and a fraud. I call for your immediate resignation."

John Berntson. The man who is in his second term as state chair. Who served a year as Public Information Director before that. Who served as chair of the Libertarian Party of El Paso County before that. Who earned the Libertarian of the Year Award in 1999, as Bryant did in 2001. Who was praised in a November/December 1999 article by Ron Bain and David Bryant,

Event organizer Carol Geltemeyer told the sold out crowd that Berntson has played a central role in the revitalization and reorganization of the El Paso County affiliate over the past eighteen months. His commitment to the party, in terms of both money and time, serves as an inspiration to others. With his desire and drive pushing them forward, the Libertarians in Colorado Springs and surrounding communities are enlisting dozens of new party members, obtaining increasing amounts of media coverage, and building the power base they need to field several strong Libertarian candidates in next year's electoral races.

Allegedly, John Berntson is now trying to destroy the Libertarian Party of Colorado.

So what did Berntson do to deserve being called a traitor, scoundrel, liar, and fraud who is intentionally undermining the Libertarian Party?

Also included in Stanley's e-mail is John Gurley's account of what Berntson told him, as forwarded by Bryant. Gurley is the Libertarian candidate for sheriff of Mesa County.

I've been talking to John Gurley. Here is what he said. "I have a copy of the e-mail Bernston sent me. Not in my inbox but I printed it and have it at home. I'll send it to you. I don't remember the exact wording off the top of my head. However he did write to me (once again this isn't verbatim but it is VERY close), 'Please understand that even with the best campaign, campaign manager, and hardest of work your chances are slim at best. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try though. Just do as much as you can.' ... Bernston didn't come flat out and say 'You won't win' or 'You can't win.' But what he did say (what I typed above) is very accurate and hardly what I would call 'rallying the troops.' Hell it made me think about quitting. I'm serious. I thought about dropping out. I figured if that's the type of leadership we have in this Party and that's the kind of support I'm going to get why am I even bothering? He then sent out another e-mail saying he thought I had what he calls, "Candidatitus." He described this as a condition where the candidate doesn't see reality which is he/she is going to lose and is in denial. ..."

OH MY GOD! Somebody admitted that a Libertarian running for county-wide office might have a difficult time winning? Apostasy!

Apparently, Gurley's idea of "rallying the troops" is promoting delusions. What is Bryant's evidence that Gurley has the "best chances" of winning his race? I have seen not a shred of evidence other than Gurley's assertions. Does Gurley have strong campaign skills? Does his message resonate with a significant number of voters in Mesa County? If so, I have not seen much sign of it.

Bryant claims Berntson is a "liar," yet Berntson's assessment of Gurley's chances is accurate. (We should consider the fact that Gurley's interpretation of Berntson's e-mails is purposely uncharitable. In an e-mail Berntson sent to me, he described "Candiditus" as a condition of a candidate running a self-destructive campaign such as mortgaging the house because of unrealistically high expectations of winning.) Winning a large race as a third-party candidate is tough. Would Berntson be doing candidates a favor by filling them with false hopes of easy victories?

In 2000, the LP didn't elect a single candidate. No candidate pulled more than 25% of the vote, even in two-way races (http://www.freecolorado.com/colib/0012election.html).

But is this a reason for Libertarian candidates to pack up their marbles and go home? No! Many Libertarians, including myself, were encouraged by the outcome of the 2000 elections. Then-chair BetteRose Smith (now Ryan) said, "I've been through eight years of elections with the Libertarian Party, and we do better every time." Campaigns Director Norm Olsen said, "In this election, our percentages are up significantly over any previous election... Now, we need to keep our numbers up and increase the experience of our candidates."

And then-Public Information Director John Berntson said, "If trends continue, the LP should start regularly winning races sometime in the next ten years. But 2002 would not be too soon."

So Berntson is cautiously optimistic, but he is also realistic. I too believe a Libertarian could win a new county-wide race or a state representative seat in the near future -- but it would take the perfect race, a great candidate, and a long-term and effective campaign. And a good measure of luck.

I'm helping Ralph Shnelvar with his state-wide campaign because he has some chance of winning and because his campaign will do a lot of good even if he loses. Shnelvar has a few campaign tricks up his sleeve that may result in a miracle victory. But he doesn't get upset when others point out his chances are long, and he doesn't blame Berntson or anyone else for disappointments. The LP is supposed to be the party of personal responsibility. Yet Gurley and Stanley are trying to make Berntson into a scape goat.

In 2001, Libertarian Carol Hill won a (non-partisan) race for Leadville's city council, joining Libertarian Joe Swyers. Two other council members switched their registrations to Libertarian, but later Swyers registered Unaffiliated. Hill had been very active in community life and she was well-liked in her small community. Hill's election was an enormous victory for the LP -- one featured in the national LP's newspaper.

This year, the only race the LP is sure to win is the race for sheriff in San Miguel County. (Bob Dempsey, who has been active in his community for many years, should also do well in his reelection campaign for coroner.) Bill Masters has been sheriff of that county for two decades, and he is well-known and highly respected in his community. He was a Republican until he ran as an independent four years ago -- he was not able to run as a Libertarian then because of timing legalities.

In fact, another e-mail Stanley forwarded to his Scoop July 29 shows Gurley is riding Masters' coat-tails in Mesa County.

This is John Gurley and I just finished up a brief interview with KKCO TV (and NBC affiliate). It will air on Thursday night at 5:30 PM and 10 PM for those of you on the western slope. They are giving all local candidates air time to express their views. They also want me back real soon. Interesting story here!

After the interview one of the reporters approached me and stated, "I'm very sympathetic to your Party and I think it's great your running. I like Bill Masters very much and wanted to know if you share his views." I stated I certainly did and we talked back and forth about it.

And why is Bill Masters better known in Mesa County that Gurley is? Partly it's because Masters has been widely covered in state-wide press. Partly it's because Masters has written a book (which I helped to edit, by the way). Partly it's because Masters spoke at the Pro Second Amendment Committee's annual banquet on March 10, 2001 -- an event at which Masters gave interviews to television stations (http://www.freecolorado.com/colib/0103pro2.html).

Masters would win his county-wide race regardless of his party affiliation. But he's in a unique situation. In fact, he's the only Libertarian sheriff in the nation. To repeat: Masters is the ONLY Libertarian sheriff in the entire United States. Gurley has a shot at winning, of course, but it's a long shot. Gurley's chances of winning won't improve merely because somebody whispers praises in his ear. The mere fact that Gurley thinks his success -- or lack thereof -- is somehow dependent on the state chair demonstrates that Gurley is not a serious candidate.

John Lappart has also taken aim at Berntson. In a July 15 e-mail forwarded by Stanley the next day, Lappart claimed that, last summer,

[Berntson] saisd something to the effect that at present the lp was too small to be effective at winning elections and candidates were mainly there to be line holders or to make a piont and carry the lp message. He said he would support LP candidates and help make the party grow but, if there was a close race and the LP candidate was likely to spoil the GOP candidates chances of beating the Dem. he would vote for the GOP candidate instead of the LP. This caused me some discomfort, the party chairman putting his final support to the GOP. If you are convenced that you cannot win, how can you run a effective campaign, planning to lose? From everything that Berntson has shown over this last year, I am convenced that he is planning to protect the GOP.

To this, Stanley replied:

Wow John. Thank you for this bit of information. So folks, how do you feel about the Republican Lite Winger that you have elected to be the Chairman of this Colorado Libertarian Party now? ...Another Republican Mole? You decide folks. I have a feeling that the Colorado Springs Lite Wingers and the Ari crowd will defend this situation and downplay it. Wonder why? Wonder why these folks have been fighting your US Senate Candidate so HARD? Well, you got your answer, go ahead and do some damage control on this Ari, John, and the rest of your ilk! When do the Libertarians see the truth? It has been hitting you like a ton of bricks for over a year now. John Bernston has been a pathetic excuse for a Libertarian Party Chairman, and now we know why! I can't sit back and watch this garbage anymore.... We candidates only have 3 and 1/2 months to go, and this Board needs to loosen the purse strings for outreach on behalf of the Candidates, and get a Champion for Liberty to be the Chairman of the Libertarian Party, not another Republican Mole.

But "damage control" is not difficult, simply because Lappart's story is not credible. Lappart claims he heard "something to the effect" of what Berntson said, but in fact he got the story exactly backwards. Against Lappart's hear-say, we have Berntson's published statements.

In the August 2001 Colorado Liberty, page 2, Berntson referred to the Republican Party as the "Grand Old Fraud" (see berntson.html). In his article, he explicitly argues Libertarians should try to make Republicans lose. He does say he wants to "help the Republicans," but the way to do this is to "knock their legs out from under them." Berntson explicitly argues that Libertarians should try to make Republicans lose even if this means "Democrats would hold the reins for a time."

The fact that Lappart got Berntson's message exactly backwards does not surprise me. Nor does it surprise me that Stanley took Lappart's gossip as gospel. It does surprise me, however, that Bryant has also smeared Berntson. The attacks on Berntson are malicious and unwarranted.

Part of Stanley's beef with Berntson is that he won't agree to spend the state party's funds as Stanley dictates. In a July 23 e-mail, Stanley wrote,

My question is still to the Colorado Libertarian Stae Board, when are the Candidates, going to get some money from you. You have $11,000.00 and no real expenses. When can the Party and the Candidates expect some action regarding this issue, as we have Candidates dying on the vine out here. Where is the Board on this issue? Since no one else has the balls to bring it up, guess who? AGAIN!!!!! Action people, not silence, not any more bullshit. Action. You got it. Put it out. Don't worry about my campaign, give it to the others, but get it out there. Now!!!!! If I don't here from the Candidates that they are each getting money from the State LP by August 15, at the latest, consider this your notice to move out of the premises. That is as nice as I feel right now. Don't waste any lipservice here, just do it. That I, and a lot of others will leave this party and become independent Libertarians, if you don't, are just a few of the problems here. Are you feeling held up? Good, give up the money.

For good measure, Stanley followed up on July 24,

Our Colorado State Libertarian Board has been unresponsive regarding this issue, so I was forced to take corrective action. I have given them a thirty day notice to evacuate the offices of the State Party which is currently being donated by me, and includes phone, public service, water, storage, meeting space, phone answering, mail receiving, etc, as well as free space, which saves the Party a good deal of money, so that they have a good size surplus of money right now, around $11,000.00 which I have insisted be given to the Campaigns, and I took my Campaign out of the mix. For this ultimatum to go away, all they have to do is give the money to the Campaigns, a maximum of $2,000.00 per Campaign. Simple, easy, and addresses the issue of a Board, Chaired by John Bernston, that is reluctant to to do anything for the Libertarian Campaigns.

Several people have jumped on this bandwagon. For instance, Adam Katz asked Berntson for money from the state funds.

Stanley agreed to "give" the state LP office space before he entered the race for Senate. But Libertarians should not have to be told that "there ain't no such thing as a free office." Stanley is clearly using his "gift" to the LP to improperly pressure the board to divert funds to his pet projects. That is a clear conflict of interest, and the appropriate move for the board is to immediately move the office out of Stanley's building.

People donate money to the state party because they want the board to decide how to spend that money. If they want Stanley to decide how to spend the money, they will give it directly to Stanley.

Stanley is simply wrong when he claims the state party has "no real expenses." Traditionally the party has raised a lot of money at the convention, then those funds dwindle throughout the year. Even with reduced circulation, the newsletter costs a lot to send out. The board might also want to save some money for emergencies, such as legal challenges against LP candidates.

As Berntson outlined in an e-mail forwarded to Stanley's Scoop July 24, "The smallest districts would give us the most bang for the buck. However, I believe the best use of our funds are for... generic Libertarian ads in places where we are running strong slates." Berntson's position is eminently reasonable. Stanley's plan, on the other hand, would bankrupt the state party for little gain. Regardless, Rick Stanley is not on the state board, and his attempts to blackmail the state board are wholly inappropriate.

Of course, Stanley's denunciations are not limited to John Berntson. He has denounced and/or ridiculed most of the state board, the El Paso Libertarians, BetteRose Ryan (former state chair) and her sister Michele (former state chair), Sandra Johnson (former candidate for governor), Sheriff Bill Masters, the Leadville Libertarians, Joe Johnson (former chair of the Boulder affiliate), etcetera and so on.

In a June 21 e-mail, Stanley said I'm a "Republican Mole" merely because I criticized his performance on Mike Rosen's show. He ignores the fact that I've criticized Rosen on other occasions. If I'm a "traitor" for agreeing with any Republican about anything, then every Libertarian I've ever talked to is a traitor, because every Libertarian I've ever talked to agrees with Douglas Bruce (a Republican) about taxes.

In a July 28 e-mail to the lpco-chat list, John Lappart suggested I'm attempting to help Wayne Allard. Of course, he totally ignores the fact that I wrote a letter to the Rocky Mountain News blasting Allard for his support of the PATRIOT Act. I played a significant role in the campaign against Amendment 22, so I've also blasted Allard for his proposal to nationalize that terrible law. Just because I think Stanley is a buffoon, doesn't imply I support Allard. It's obvious I do not support Allard.

For Rick Stanley, Berntson and others are just part of another conspiracy theory. Stanley has also claimed the government may have helped plant the smiley-face pipe bombs, intentionally reduce men's sperm counts, and suppress the cure for cancer. Stanley has a long history of jumping to conclusions, relying on shoddy evidence, and engaging in specious reasoning. Stanley's "reasoning" with regard to Berntson is roughly on par with the thinking behind the old witch hunts.

Michael Shermer devotes a chapter of his book *Why People Believe Weird Things* to witch hunts. He discusses other events "whipped into a phenomenon through rumor and gossip -- we are talking about modern versions of medieval witch crazes." Shermer talks about "a witch craze feedback loop" in which "accusation equals guilt." Shermer refers to research which suggests "scapegoating was an important element of the craze" and "ordinary people used scapegoating as a means of resolving grievances." The belief that John Berntson is somehow trying to wreck the Libertarian Party of Colorado is a "weird thing" in Shermer's sense of the term.

The good news is that the Libertarian Party is the party of rational thinkers. Very few take Stanley's charges seriously.

In some respects, Stanley's campaign resembles a cult. A few dozen sycophants accept Stanley's pronouncements with little criticism. They accept Stanley's vicious and arbitrary denunciations of others, and his attempted purges, even as they ignore Stanley's own obvious flaws. Stanley and his army are pit in a righteous war against everybody else who would dare blaspheme Rick Stanley.

On July 15, Gurley wrote to Stanley complaining that local Libertarians wouldn't participate in his rally and that Berntson was mistreating him. Of course, he blamed his failures solely on other people rather than on his own lack of campaign savvy. On July 16, Stanley wrote back to Gurley promising "these traitors are being exposed by the hour." Enemies everywhere!

On July 27, Stanley related, "Funny, my wife said in the hot tub to me last night... that she thought I was the only person who could lead this country, if there was a Revolution, in Defense of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. That remains to be seen. I will defend though, of that you have my sworn oath." (In a different e-mail from the same day, Stanley wrote, "Tlhe time is now, this November 5, and again in November 2004. If we don't do it now, this country will be in Revolution. Guaranteed.") Rick Stanley fantasizes about leading an underground army to overthrow the United States government. And he talks about these fantasies in public, on the "official newswire" for his campaign.

Cultish tendencies are not new to the libertarian movement, as the disasters surrounding Ayn Rand demonstrate. Stanley is something like the "Life of Brian" version of a libertarian cult. At least Rand came up with some good ideas and her books continue to sell at a steady pace. Stanley's nonsense-to-achievement ratio is fantastically greater.


Extra!

Stanley Threatens to Split LPCO

On August 2, Stanley sent the following message to the "StanleyScoop," the "official newswire" of his campaign:

Regarding the fracturing Colorado Libertarian Party, as you all witnessed by the e-mail below. I, and many others like Tim, are disgusted by the actions of the Colorado Libertarian Party Chairman, the non-action of the Colorado Libertarian Board members in their support of his actions and non-actions for the Candidates and the Party in general. What will happen after the elections with this Party in Colorado. I believe a NEW Libertarian group will fracture off, and it will probably be substantial, because the Board of the existing Party, will be supporting a Republican mole as Chairman, and I believe some of the Board members that do not support Bernston will resign, and leave with us, to form a new Libertarian thinking Party, probably called the Unaffiliated Party. It doesn't have to happen, but probably will based upon the boards actions this upcoming Aug 13 Board Meeting. From the information I have, they have already decided by an informal vote to retain Bernton. So, we will all go through the motions on Aug 13, and until November 5, 2002, wishing it didn't have to be this way. The Republican Lite Wing got control of the Libertarian Party after all folks. Unfortunate. However, the Libertarian Aggressive Wing of the Party will still absolutely fluorish, one way or the other. The Republicans have been notified to vacate the premises by August 24th if they have not distributed the $11,000.00 of excess funds to the Candidates, (with the exception of Stanley), and what will be, will be. Again, none of us will make that final decision, until after the November 5, 2002 date. Maybe Bernston will do the right thing, and resign. Right, uh huh. I noticed the funding for the Party has dried up, and yes I am aware of many things going on in the Party still. It ain't over, till its over. I know that my funding support, has ended at this time. Money seems to be the only thing this board cares about now, so every individual can make their own decision, as to what money goes to the Colorado Libertarian Party Board fund, that coincidently isn't going to the Campaigns. We are here to elect Candidates, and support them 100 per cent with whatever it takes, to get them elected, except the Board controlled donated funds from Colorado Libertarian members, or so it seems!

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