Coming off the most successful Libertarian Party presidential campaign since 1980, interparty conflict and controversy have been the name of the game over the last two years. The success of the Johnson/Weld ticket has placed Libertarians in a unique situation full of potential for membership growth and increasing the spread of the idea of liberty.
Because of the divide of opinions on how the LP can progress, the Libertarian National Committee positions have been hotly contested between those who believe something needs to drastically change within in the Party and those who believe the current leadership have been excellent.
The 2016 presidential election left many criticizing the nomination of Bill Weld as Vice President, as Weld’s Republican record included many controversial decisions any libertarian would find appalling, and this culminated into a bigger issue after Weld appeared to have endorsed Hillary Clinton only days before the election was to take place.
Others felt that Weld was a positive force for the Party due to his ability to fundraise and the name recognition he brought with him, which they felt played a significant role to the most successful presidential campaign in the Party’s history.
The issue of the Weld nomination went on to create a large divide between the more pragmatic Libertarians focusing on electoral success, and those who wanted bolder, highly principled messaging.
In the extended aftermath, there are many Libertarians who feel that the Party leadership is preventing progress and withholding a brighter future for the Libertarian Party, which has led to a Libertarian National Committee Chairman race as fiery and contentious as the 2016 election itself.
Frontrunners Nicholas Sarwark, incumbent Chair and candidate for Mayor of Phoenix, AZ, and Joshua Smith, Washington Libertarian and Think Liberty cofounder, have been at the center of the conspiracy and drama that has plagued this race.
This article seeks to compare the two candidates and document the many controversies that each has endured throughout the race.
Nicholas Sarwark is the Vice President of his family-owned used car dealership and was a public defender in Colorado. The incumbent also has experience in computer consulting and sales. He is married and has four children.
In 1999, he joined the Libertarian Party where over the years he served as the Vice Chairman of the Colorado Libertarian Party and later the Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Maryland. During his term in Maryland “he played a key role in recruiting the state’s 42 Libertarian candidates for 2014, as well as supporting the passage of Colorado’s historic marijuana legalization initiative in 2012.”
Sarwark was elected as Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee in 2014, defeating the previous incumbent in the first ballot by 6% and 13% in the second ballot. He was reelected in 2016 with 64.7% of the vote.
The Chairman is currently also running for Mayor of Phoenix.
Due to having to perform the duties of Chair, Sarwark has not been campaigning heavily until this month.
From his website he states:
“Since my re-election in 2016 at the national convention in Orlando, the Libertarian Party has achieved historic success. Our Presidential ticket tripled previous records, our Party has ballot access in more states after a Presidential election than ever before, and we’re getting ballot access back in places like Ohio. We’ve added staff to improve development, media relations, and candidate recruitment and support, in addition to the affiliate support efforts started during my first term as Chair. More elected officials from the old parties are defecting to the Libertarian Party than we’ve seen in over a decade. It would be my honor if you would re-elect me to continue growing our party at the national convention in New Orleans.”
For the future, Sarwark intends to have “Over 1,000 candidates across the country, more than we’ve had in over 15 years” as well as “50 state + DC ballot access in back-to-back Presidential elections for the first time since the mid-1990s, Providing tools and support to state affiliates to empower them to organize and move public policy in a Libertarian direction at the state and local level,” and “Developing issue campaigns and other efforts to prospect to people who are not Libertarian yet.”
On his Facebook page he released a video focuring on making the Libertarian Party more welcoming.
He has also explained the importance of a candidate’s relations to donors stating “If you are a candidate, you have a duty to your donors and supporters to use their resources wisely.
If you hide things from them, they will feel betrayed when the truth comes out.
Manage expectations, have a plan to deal with negativity and attacks, and be honest.
Good stewardship is more important than good ideas, nice clothes, or a great speaking voice.”
Many have accused Sarwark of potentially alienating prominent libertarians and certain groups interested in becoming Party members.
The first instance of this was when the Chair claimed in February 2017 that Milo Yiannopolous was going to “publicly name undocumented students in hopes that they would be reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and be deported from this country,” at his speech in Berkeley continuing to state that “He reportedly intended to use his platform to out others to hurt them in an attempt to get attention.
This is despicable behavior. It helps explain why others made the choice to use violence to try to stop or disrupt his speech.”
Sarwark’s casual big-tent statements have caused some members to accuse of him of supporting Antifa and espousing left-leaning sympathies, including Libertarian Heathen founder and Regional 4 representative of the LP Florida Ryan Ramsey who claimed “Any question as to whether Mr. Sarwark was a lover of liberty, or a Cultural Marxist attempting to hold back the advance of the Libertarian Party, were (sic) answered when he made national news repeating lies about Milo Yiannopoulos, subject of the violence in Berkley, when he insinuated bloodshed to stop free speech was ‘understandable.’”
Counter to these allegations, Sarwark had included in his statement that violence intended to halt speech was “despicable” and that the real travesty was that we have a country that removes inhabitants “because they were born on the wrong side of an imaginary line.”
Part of this controversy also derives from his making a comment on Twitter “TFW all you learned from Murray Rothbard was his worst political strategy ever,” towards Mises Institute contributor Tom Woods in August 2017, and after many slews between the two, he ultimately stated this:
In February 2018, a text conversation between LP convention chairman Daniel Hayes and LP Mises Caucus leader Michael Heise stated that Ron Paul would not be considered for a speaker at the convention. Heise had offered to pay for Paul’s speaking fee, though it was revealed by libertarian social media outlet Dankertarians that the funds had yet to be obtained and that negotiations for the potential speech were still in progress. The Mises Caucus leader had hoped that by selling their cause that the former US Congressman would waive his fee.
The notable spat between Sarwark and Tom Woods led to criticism that the Libertarian Party leadership no longer represented the Liberty Movement. Ron Paul himself chimed in, asking rhetorically if this meant the Libertarian Party would be refunding him a gold coin he had previously donated that had paid his way into lifetime membership in the Party. Nicholas Sarwark stated on Twitter that the former LP presidential candidate would be more than welcome to speak if he were to attend the convention.
The concern surrounding the question of whether Ron Paul would be allowed to speak at the 2018 Convention was primarily twisted from the underlying outrage that Paul had simply not been invited.
The internal controversies surrounding Sarwark later peaked the interest of unaffiliated, and previously uninterested, groups. The Free Thought Project released an article in March suggesting that Nicholas Sarwark could potentially be an informant to the “Shadow CIA” intelligence group Stratfor due to his named being found on Wikileaks’ “Global Intelligence Files.”
Sarwark explained that he had received a gift membership to Stratfor’s publication, which matched Stratfor’s statement in 2011 when they were hacked by Wikileaks.
Joshua Smith has been an active member of the Liberty Movement since 2008, contributing to Dankertarians and later cofounding the libertarian publication Think Liberty whose stated goal is to “[promote] individualism, peace, and freedom.”
Smith currently serves the Libertarian Party of Washington as their Region 5 Representative and has been rigorously working to set up new county affiliates.
After the 9/11 attacks, Joshua Smith joined the Navy where he saw “a lot of wasteful spending and loss of lives.” After hearing Ron Paul speak sometime after 2005, he realized that libertarian views matched what he was thinking during this period and decided to campaign for Paul’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
He briefly joined the Libertarian Party in 2010, but discontinued donating to do his own activism. In 2016, he moved to Washington and became a member of the Party again, where he became region rep at his first state convention.
Smith announced his platform originally in September 2017:
- “Enable local leaders: County and state chairs should have all the resources necessary to grow the party effectively. Infrastructure should be arranged in a way that allows us to put these leaders through educational systems to gain the tools they need to properly lead and grow their local affiliates and state parties in a principled fashion. Those in leadership should be passing on educational information about how to create successful digital and social marketing campaigns, and hold successful events. We must offer more support to state and local candidates. We have more Libertarian candidates running nationwide than ever before, and there have been several that could have been more successful with a little more promotion from the LNC.
- Clean up the party: We need to reaffirm our principles as a party and let all who refuse to accept them know that in this time of growth, they have no place at the table. This is short and sweet, and while it shouldn’t be something we have to debate, we have come to a point where it needs to be yelled from the rooftops. Violent collectivists wishing to twist our platforms to fit their agendas are not welcome
- Focus on retention and amplification of donations and memberships: When I became a member of the Libertarian Party, it took me five months to get my card, and it took me weeks to finally find the person I needed to speak with to become involved with my local affiliate. This will be a thing of the past. Every new member will receive an onboarding kit full of materials for education on outreach, including brochures they can give to others who are interested in learning more about our ideas. We need to be inspiring and enabling new members of the party with the contacts, and tools they need to move forward in their fight for liberty. We can’t expect new members to be enthusiastic about spreading the ideals of liberty if we don’t act as though we’re happy to have them.
- Effective and efficient marketing: We need marketing campaigns and outreach that 1. Members of the party don’t quit the party over and 2. Help build the party. What National does right should be getting passed on to state and county entities as well. We will grow and improve together through our sharing of methods and strategies. If there is a county affiliate struggling with outreach, there should be information and channels of support quickly available for these individuals to help them solve the problems they face.”
Smith has been under much scrutiny for associating with individuals (Party members and otherwise) who have been accused of having nationalist and alt-right views. His early endorsement by the LP Mises Caucus signaled to some that he has ties to paleolibertarian and nationalist sects of the Liberty Movement, many of which are typically deemed problematic.
During an online debate between the Chair candidate and the Libertarian Anti-fascist committee, Smith was allegedly calling associates in the American Guard, a group labeled as white nationalists by the Anti-Defamation League (and which identifies as a group of nationalists that promote freedom of association, discipline, and law as methods to secure freedom, according to their website) to vouch for his character.
“The exchange which took place on our page the other day directly disproves these denials, and shows that Joshua is more than just ‘associated’ with these people but in fact that he has them in close orbit. Mr Smith was able to trigger an infestation of prominent organizers with just a single tag, who promptly showed up to vouch for him and be vouched for in return,” stated the Libertarian Anti-fascist Committee in their post.
Smith has addressed this controversy claiming that he does not support white nationalism or the alt-right, and citing a speech he gave after the Charlottesville riots. He has also denied any admiration of the eccentric far-right activist Augustus Invictus when he visited the LP of Florida.
Sexual harassment allegations also emerged in April in which Smith was accused of participating in inappropriate commentary towards Tinisha Paschal, Montana Libertarian and spouse to Joe Paschal (who was running for Vice Chairman at the time). Smith claimed that the accusations were false and that Alicia Dearn had used the story to defame him.
“I am well aware that sexual harassment is a problem within the Libertarian Party, and it is my goal to be a part of the solution. As any member of the Think Liberty Community can tell you, I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to this topic. I am also aware that our party has a problem with members making false accusations against other members in an effort to sway public opinion when they can’t win on principle. I can assure you that, as Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, you will never see me use rumor, innuendo, or outright lies and deceit to advance myself or harm others, for that is not the appropriate way to handle ANY situation — not by me or by anyone seeking leadership in the Libertarian Party,” responded Smith.
Controversy hasn’t slowed down since this, as leaked court documents appear to show Smith owing tens of thousands of dollars in child support. The impropriety is magnified by the alleged character assassination of his ex, which was published by the Trigger Report (and later taken down). Most recently, Chairman candidate and Dankertarians founder Matt Kuehnel shared an e-mail where Smith was threatening to sue the him for $80,000 for alleged blackmail
Though it may seem discouraging that the Libertarian Party is having an identity crisis between being the pragmatic types and those who believe the way to move forward is through promoting more radical candidates, the fact that so many have become involved in a race for the LNC’s Chariman should bring hope for an active body of Libertarians for 2020.
Nicholas Sarwark and Joshua Smith have encouraged more and more people to become involved in the inner workings of the Libertarian machine. A plethora of ideas can bring much conflict, but it also allows for collaboration and the creation of new and better ones for the future.
Regardless of who wins the Chairman position, the Party can be assured that many have been reinvigorated to become involved, and that the races of 2020 will be both bolder and brighter.