Stanley Retained, Censured
by Ari Armstrong, August 29, 2002
The board of the Libertarian Party of Colorado voted to retain Rick Stanley as the party's candidate for U.S. Senate but also voted unanimously to censure him for forwarding e-mails authored by others advocating murder and racism.
The hearing, held Tuesday evening (August 27), ended after about 3.5 hours with three board members voting to remove Stanley's certificate of designation, three voting to retain him, and three abstaining. A two-thirds majority vote was needed to revoke the designation. Voting to remove Stanley were John Berntson, Mike Seebeck, and Norm Olsen. Voting to retain him were Gaar Potter, Floyd Bilderback, and Margaret Denny. Those who abstained were James Vance, Tony Ryan, and Walter Schlomer.
Then Ryan asked the board to censure Stanley for his irresponsible behavior. Ryan asked Stanley to "better represent the Colorado Libertarian Party." After the unanimous decision, Berntson, chair of the state party, reminded Stanley he is a "party's representative" and instructed him to take "more care in what you present to the public."
As stated in the party's rules, any three party members can bring a complaint to the board, and any board member may then call for a hearing. Members Joe Johnson, Judd Ptak, and Scott Graves brought the complaint, and Vance requested the hearing. Johnson presented the arguments against Stanley.
After Berntson called the meeting to order, Denny told the assembly the issue wasn't about whether Stanley is inflammatory or popular. She said promises some had made to burn their LP membership cards would not impact the board's decision. Around 60 people total attended the event, with supporters and critics of Stanley roughly evenly split.
Johnson began by reading the LP's statement of principles. (This and other documents relevant to the hearing may be found at http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/08/rsvote.html.) "Rick Stanley signed a pledge to support" that statement, Joe reminded the board. To support libertarian principles is a higher standard than merely not violating them, Johnson argued, just as supporting a child is more demanding that simply leaving a child alone.
The hearing was not about whether Stanley got press. Nor was the hearing was not about whether Stanley was selected by popular vote at the party's convention. Johnson reminded the board that Stanley himself previously called for Berntson's removal, called for Senator Allard to be tried and killed, and violated a Denver City ordinance, all in violation of the will of the majority. Besides, the party's rules were written specifically so that the board could remove candidates after the convention.
Johnson argued the board could rightly remove a candidate over issues that arose prior to the convention, as the rules did not specify a time frame. He suggested that, even though Stanley might suggest the complaint against him was the product of some grand conspiracy, any such argument would be irrelevant.
In previous e-mails, Stanley asserted his right to free speech. Johnson said, "I'd die for his right... He has the First Amendment right to say anything he damn well pleases." But that does not give him the right to say it as a Libertarian candidate. Also, Johnson argued, "'I'm sorry' isn't going to cut it anymore" -- Stanley should be held accountable for his behavior.
"This is our darkest hour, and there are no winners here tonight," Johnson said.
Stanley designated Michael Cacioppo to help make his defense. Cacioppo said he's not a member of the Libertarian Party, but he promotes the LP via his Vail-based newspaper Speakout and a radio show. Cacioppo has published editorials and advertisements from Stanley and supportive comments about him.
"Rick Stanley is passionate about defending the Constitution," Cacioppa opened. He said Stanley told him he didn't really want to see Allard hanged -- he was just trying to make a point. (Stanley's comments about Allard were not included in the complaint.) Stanley didn't ever initiate violence. He was interested in "protecting Mr. Stanley's right to free speech." Stanley's "opponents are guilty of violating Mr. Stanley's right of free speech," Cacioppa added. Even Cacioppa, though, said he doesn't always like the way Stanley presents his ideas.
A procedural dispute followed opening statements. Johnson was prevented by the board from offering some of the arguments he had planned to present. The complaint submitted to the board August 13 stated, "We assert that there are many other examples of violations of the Statement of Principles, which we may report to the Board at the hearing." Though neither Stanley nor the board publicly objected to this phrase prior to the date of the hearing, the board chose to limit arguments to items specifically detailed in the complaint.
Johnson began by citing Stanley's support for a Constitutional amendment concerning the physical desecration of the flag. Johnson pointed out that, according to U.S. laws since found unconstitutional, Stanley himself has desecrated the flag by flying it at half mast without permission, printing it on clothing (other than military uniforms), and reproducing it on his web page. Of course, Johnson added, libertarians oppose the laws that Stanley once would have violated. "Libertarians believe in property rights," and that includes the right to treat one's own flag however one chooses.
Thus, Johnson argued, Stanley violated the "equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose," "the right to liberty of speech and action," and "the right to property," as described in the statement of principles.
Johnson then referenced an e-mail Stanley sent to his "Stanley Scoop." In that e-mail, Stanley forwarded -- but did not author -- the comments: "Wake Up America, we need Summary Street Trials everywhere everyday in America, no need for formalities, no pomp and fanfare, my friends, you are the judicial power units in America and if you Judge them a traitor... you must execute them immediately... Imagine every cop, every lawyer, every judge, every meter maid, every clerk, Media worker, every DMV, every government employee- collaborators in treason in 72 hour period, that shows their face is blown away for treason..."
Stanley included his own remarks before forwarding out the e-mail: "Thank you very much for your comments. I will forward and when the day comes, and it will, America will be be prepared for the traitors day in the people's court."
Johnson argued that by forwarding the e-mail, without any kind of denunciation, Stanley was giving "tacit approval" to the contents of the e-mail. Thus, Stanley failed to support the party's statement of principles. Even worse, though, Stanley added his own supportive comments. Similarly, Stanley has forwarded other offensive e-mails without condemning the contents of them.
Stanley read part of a statement from some Western Slope LP members that asserted Stanley was merely making predictions, not advocating murder. Because he has the right of free speech, Stanley argued, "removal would violate the statement of principles... and divide the Libertarian Party."
Stanley then said Johnson's case was based only on interpretation. He said only "losertarians" -- "followers of Ari" -- interpret Stanley's e-mail as lending support to the advocacy of murder. "Ari Armstrong has decided to be my interpreter... He has imposed force on my character" by writing articles critical of Stanley. (At one point in the hearing, Stanley asserted that I wrote the complaint, which is totally false, as Ralph Shnelvar told Stanley and the assembly. Though I agreed with most of the contents of the complaint, I did not write a single word of it.)
Stanley asserted the complaints against him were "the way of a coward... who lurks behind the scenes" in an attempt to "injure and abuse Stanley."
Shortly thereafter, Potter interrupted, "I think there's too much being said here. You may change a vote here you don't want to change." (Below I respond to related bogus accusations forwarded via the Stanley Scoop.)
Stanley asserted he forwarded the e-mail "for discussion." He said about the author of the e-mail, there is "nothing wrong with his words... he's technically correct."
Ryan asked Stanley what he meant by sending out the e-mail. Stanley said his statements contained "nothing advocating murder... They're putting words in my mouth... I never said any of this." He claimed those bringing the complaint employed the "use of lies for their own political and social gain." (Stanley never tried to explain how those bringing the complaint against him supposedly gained anything by doing so.) Stanley said the call to remove him based on the e-mail he sent out itself "violates the statement of principles" and counts as an "initiation of force."
Cacioppo continued the discussion. The LP "can't throw somebody out for forwarding e-mails" because people have a right to free speech. He said Stanley was actually practicing the statement of principles by engaging in free speech. He argued Stanley's own words had "no specificity." By analogy, the phrase "I really love you" can be interpreted in different ways. Cacioppa said Stanley is not a racist, because a release from Stanley's campaign defended a Mexican (Pedilla). (To my knowledge, nobody has ever publicly stated that Stanley is a racist. The criticism is that he has irresponsibly forwarded racist e-mails.)
Stanley said he wanted a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the "physical desecration" of the flag. People have a "right to protect" the flag, he said. His proposed amendment does not violate the statement of principle, Stanley said, and claims that it does are "pretty lame."
Berntson then opened the hearing to questions by board members.
Schlomer asked Stanley how he felt about "summary trials." Stanley said there is likely "going to be a revolution." He said the Libertarian Party could serve the role to prevent abuses in such a scenario and "demand fair trials [and] demand the Constitution is followed and the rule of law is followed." Johnson replied that Stanley had sent out the e-mail without such a disclaimer and should be judged accordingly.
Potter asked about the flag proposal. Stanley again said he would support a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the desecration of the flag. He said if the people called for such a change, "I'd better listen to them."
Concerning the flag issue, Cacioppo re-read Stanley's statement, "I would support... an amendment to the Constitution that states: 'The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.'" Cacioppo argued that Stanley actually only wanted to prohibit desecration of the "flag of the United States," not individually owned flags. Stanley doesn't say "you can't burn your flag, only the flag of the United States."
Potter retorted, "That's a ridiculous interpretation of that amendment."
In his closing statement, Johnson said he would not insult the board's intelligence by taking seriously Cacioppo's final argument about the flag. Johnson noted that in an e-mail dated August 15, Stanley clearly referred to a privately owned flag: "That doesn't mean that I support legislation, to prevent the flag being flown upside down... My own campaign, does this as a symbol that this country is in distress..." Also, burning a flag owned by the government is already illegal, so an amendment to make it illegal would be absurd.
Rick Stanley does not understand what libertarianism is all about," Johnson said. He reminded the board that earlier Stanley said the contents of the e-mail advocating street executions was "technically correct." Stanley has the right of free speech, Johnson reiterated, but that doesn't mean the LP has to keep him on as a candidate.
Cacioppo said, "That's all he's been doing -- putting words in Stanley's mouth." He said there is no direct evidence that Stanley advocated murder. He said the board should not assume what Stanley meant by advocating a prohibition of flag desecration.
After the board took its votes, Olsen urged party unity. "It's over now as far as I'm concerned. I hope it's over for you." Denny said, "I don't see the point of party infighting."
Cacioppo added, "I think it's important you become a more viable party in this state." He said Stanley should "tone it down, but move ahead with Constitutional issues."
Commentary by Ari Armstrong
The good news is that Stanley finally explained in a little bit of detail that he doesn't really want violence in the streets, he wants fair trials all around and the protection of innocent parties. But he laid out this explanation only at the end of a hearing to remove him as a candidate. On a political level, sending out the forwarded e-mail at all was foolish. Sending it out without bothering to explain that Libertarians do not advocate murder in the streets was grossly irresponsible. It was also a failure to support the LP's statement of principles.
In his classic libertarian work *The Machinery of Freedom*, David Friedman argues, "It is as certain as anything can be in politics that once a party achieves substantial political power it will eventually swing towards a policy in which ideology is a means -- perhaps an important means -- but not an end. It will become a vote- and income-maximizing party, taking the positions dictated by its ideology when that seems the best way of getting votes... and taking actions inconsistent with its ideology when such actions yield the party a net profit, in votes or dollars. We already have two parties like that; I see no advantage to having a third" (227-8).
Friedman goes on to explain how he thinks it's possible for the Libertarian Party to be an effective agent for change. Unfortunately, the Libertarian Party of Colorado has already fallen into the trap Friedman warns about. Results come first, principles come second.
Cacioppo's Clintonesque argument aside, Stanley clearly advocated laws to restrict the use of privately owned flags. Why is this important? Burning one's own flag is both a symbolic expression and a use of personal property. Libertarianism is nothing without a consistent support of property rights.
Stanley eviscerates the central tenets of libertarianism when he argues "'destruction' of our flag... is quite violent, it initiates force, against the symbol of America..." ((http://www.freecolorado.com/2002/08/rsreply.html) The logic of Stanley's argument knows few bounds. It completely undermines the distinction between non-violent and violent behavior. If desecrating a symbol one owns may be prohibited by government, merely because the majority wills it, then what democratic act can libertarians logically criticize?
After the hearing, Stanley did tell me he would consider retracting his position about the flag. I'll await his announcement, and when it comes I'll give him due credit for adopting a more libertarian point of view. But don't Libertarians want candidates who are libertarians first?
One of the better arguments I heard for Stanley's retention was that removal would open the door to arbitrary challenges of any candidate. If the board removed Stanley, then it might be pressured to remove any candidate who strayed at all from libertarian principles. One person suggested to me that almost all LP candidates could be tripped up on some violation or other.
But that argument is still weak. On a wide variety of issues, libertarians can make a reasonable, principled case on both sides of the issues. Obvious examples are abortion and vouchers. If a candidate can make a plausible libertarian argument in favor of a position, then there's no reason to remove the candidate's designation.
But if a candidate fails to make a plausible libertarian argument for a position, then the candidate should be removed. For instance, if a candidate argues desecrating a symbol should be illegal because the majority says so, that's overtly anti-libertarian and unjustifiable.
Throughout the course of the hearing, both Stanley and Cacioppo argued removing Stanley's certificate of designation would somehow violate Stanley's right to free speech. The argument again completely undermines the libertarian framework. The LP is a voluntary association of individuals. As such, its members have the right to set rules for party participation, just as individuals have the right to set rules for behavior in their homes. By the logic of Stanley's argument, the ACLU should not be able to fire a spokesperson who advocates the repeal of the First Amendment, and the Anti-Defamation League should not be able to fire a spokesperson who fosters hatred of Jews. Obviously that result is absurd and contrary to libertarianism.
Stanley fails to understand libertarian theory on a fundamental level. If you don't get property rights and you don't understand what free speech is all about, then you don't get libertarianism. Yet Stanley is the top of the ticket for the Libertarian Party of Colorado.
(After the hearing, I finally got Cacioppo to admit that there is something a candidate could say to warrant removal, such as advocating the nationalization of all property. So at some level he realizes his argument concerning speech is problematic.)
The board's vote demonstrates the Libertarian Party is a political strategy -- nothing more. If consistency of libertarian principles does not distinguish the Libertarian Party, then nothing does. The vote to retain Stanley tells libertarians they should not automatically expect the LP will be the best strategy to advance libertarian positions in any given case. Because the Libertarian Party may stray from its loyalty to libertarian principles, it cannot ask libertarians to be loyal to the party.
Prior to the hearing, Stanley forwarded an e-mail from one of his supporters asserting, "Linn and Ari Armstrong were seen by several credible witnesses campaigning for the Republican candidate at the recent Peach Parade in Palisade. Ari failed to mention this fact in his 'newsletter'... Ari is already out. He was just a hired hand... [T]he Armstrong clan were highly active in the Republican Party and yet were there voting in the Libertarian Party. A bit of a conflict of interest, don't you think? ...By all appearances I'm convinced the LPCO is controlled by the Republicans through this family. Rick gets all the abuse because he's the messenger."
To this string of assertions, Stanley added his own comments: "All the evidence is there over the last 15 months, it slapped me hard in the face, so I tried to expose it, in a way that people could look at the evidence presented to them... Perhaps I gave the Losertarian sect too much credit. I thought that they would see, but they are too blinded by hate and vengeance over perceived slights to the 'party purists and activists'..."
However, allegations listed in the e-mail are false.
It is simply a lie that I was seen "campaigning for a Republican candidate at the recent Peach Parade." In fact, I was handing out several hundred flyers supporting Ralph Shnelvar for Governor. Truly "credible witnesses" will attest to this, including my wife and Richard Lamping.
It is true that I was paid for a year's worth of my work for the state party's newsletter. It's also true that for the year prior to that I produced the newsletter without compensation. (It's also true that, even when I was paid, I never billed for many of my newsletter-related hours.)
It is true that my parents have been active in the Republican Party on the Western Slope, and last I checked they support the Republican candidate for sheriff. They've also been active in the Libertarian Party. Many Libertarians at the convention have been active in Republican politics at one time or another. For instance, a number of Libertarians -- including some of Stanley's supporters -- assisted Republican Douglas Bruce in his run for state senate. The party's rules allow paid members who are registered with some other party to vote at the convention. However, the comments Stanley forwarded and presented as "evidence" improperly conflate my actions with those of my parents (which anyway are unworthy of criticism).
The assertion that "the LPCO is controlled by the Republicans through this family" is ridiculous nonsense. That Stanley would forward such bogus tripe and assert it somehow constitutes "evidence" is totally irresponsible of him. (Stanley's irresponsibility is not, however, unsurprising, given that Stanley has also attributed the smiley-face bombs, the failure to cure cancer, and the reduction of men's sperm counts to government conspiracies.)
The flagrant contradiction in simultaneously calling me a "party purist" and a "Republican mole," as he has called me in the past, seems to completely escape Stanley.
Also, Stanley's suggestion that I'm a "coward" who "lurks behind the scenes" doesn't make much sense. All of my criticisms of Stanley are available on my web page, available for everybody to read. And I submit it takes somebody other than a coward to put up with Stanley's endless misrepresentations, baseless accusations, and abuses.
Stanley showed some sign at the hearing that he'd be more careful to behave in a civilized manner. Of course, he showed similar signs at the convention and relapsed quickly. But he retains the choice to do better in the future, and I hope he does.