Libertarian in-fighting can a problem, but it can also strengthen what some believe while also changing other minds. A large issue at hand is the way conservatives, liberals, and even moderates view us. Some think we are crazy from simple disagreement, while others view us this way due to other factors. The thing that they and I can agree on is that some libertarians are indeed loony. Many liberty advocates tend to follow and believe websites that post conspiracy theories, misleading information, or outright falsehoods.
Around 2014, I was a young conservative who really did not know as much about politics as I once believed I did. Around that time, a friend started pushing me towards libertarianism. The liberty movement was appealing as the ideology lined up pretty well with what I thought the Founders believed. At the same time, as I started to get involved with libertarian groups and liked libertarian Facebook pages, I found that many libertarians had views that were anti-police brutality, or just simply anti-police. Others had ideas that went against my religious beliefs that I still hold today, but I now know that it is possible to be anti-police brutality while not being anti-cop and it was also possible to be religious and not force it on others.
My biggest qualm, however, was each one shared images, links, or videos from conspiracy sites all of the time. That actually put me off libertarianism for a little while longer, as the sites were just absolute lunacy to me, even now. The ones they shared the most from were Anti-Media and The Free Thought Project. What is wrong with those sites? Do they not promote freedom and limited government? Yes they do. At the same time, they go about it the wrong way.
The Anti-Media is run by the same person who organized the March Against Monsanto, a highly criticized organization that is deemed “anti-science” because they protest against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Outside of that, the Anti-Media is so named, not because they hate the media, but because they “are simply against the current mainstream paradigm”. This sounds like a noble cause, however, sharing articles to scare people out of GMOs, false information about Ebola, and not trusting government so much you post misinformation and share things from other conspiracy sites is definitely not the way to go about it.
The Free Thought Project also posts conspiracy material and shares stuff from the Anti-Media as well. In February of 2016, they posted an article to scare people into protesting against nuclear energy. Despite there only being a quote from the watchdog group Riverkeeper, there is no evidence it is nearly as bad as Fukishima. They then post images with no sources that imply dictators were removed because they would not accept American money for oil. They also post pictures and videos that advance conspiracy theories such as the events of 9/11 being an inside job and even how the Rothschilds control everything. After all this, they complain how their “research” is better than what is said on television and make fun of Americans for being “distracted” by Pokemon. What should have been what made me realize it was full of crazy conspiracy theories was the name “Free Thought Project”, which implies they “know” something we do not. With over 1 million likes on Facebook, it is really scary how each page can mislead people.
Libertarians view themselves as out of step with traditional and mainstream politics and culture, and we have a tendency to be very skeptical of the information given us by the media, academia and cultural elites. Indeed, many news stories and an overwhelming amount of scholarly data and artistic works seem designed more to confirm preexisting biases, or attack opposing opinions, rather than provide objective facts. However, just because information is provided by a mainstream source, it does not automatically mean that it is being spread to advance an agenda. We libertarians need to be able to parse facts and interpret data, but we do ourselves a disservice when we only entertain and accept information from alternative outlets. Skepticism is healthy, but relying only on fringe media outlets is not. Just because a show is called “Info Wars” does not mean it is particularly informative. We need to extend our skepticism to those media outlets that publish stories that go against common sense and simple logic.
While challenging what the press, politicians, and even our own peers say is healthy for conversation, trusting conspiracy sites as legitimate sources for information is harmful to the liberty movement. To me, it is extremely disheartening to see libertarians share articles from such sites as the very people I thought were supposed to use facts to promote their beliefs were using sites with ridiculous theories. The only good way to advance liberty is to use facts from credible sources such as CATO, Forbes, or even stuff from the FBI. Getting information from conspiracy sites such as the ones listed, will only confirm to people that disagree with us what they already think about libertarianism and libertarians. That will effectively end discussion on important issues before they can begin.
* Dalton Burlie is a conservative libertarian studying criminology at the University of Oklahoma.
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