Dispatches from the Creation Wars

James Kirchick of the New Republic has managed to find a treasure trove of old Ron Paul writings that show a lot of disturbing opinions on a wide range of subjects. Since 1978, Paul has sent out a monthly newsletter to followers under various names – Ron Paul’s Freedom Report, Ron Paul Political Report, The Ron Paul Survival Report.

The Freedom Report has archives online going back to 1999, but finding copies of the newsletter that predate that is apparently quite difficult. Though the newsletter apparently had a circulation of 100,000 at one point, because it was published privately it’s not the sort of thing most libraries would carry and archive. But Kirchick managed to find a number of them in the libraries of the University of Kansas and the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Kirchick first points out the difficulty of knowing what was written specifically by Ron Paul and what may have written by others:

Of course, with few bylines, it is difficult to know whether any particular article was written by Paul himself. Some of the earlier newsletters are signed by him, though the vast majority of the editions I saw contain no bylines at all. Complicating matters, many of the unbylined newsletters were written in the first person, implying that Paul was the author.

But, whoever actually wrote them, the newsletters I saw all had one thing in common: They were published under a banner containing Paul’s name, and the articles (except for one special edition of a newsletter that contained the byline of another writer) seem designed to create the impression that they were written by him–and reflected his views.

When his political opponents have quoted some of those newsletters in the past, Paul has claimed that he didn’t actually write the passages that went out under his name. Frankly, I don’t think that matters. At the very least, he let them go out under his name and that clearly suggests agreement and approval. I have little sympathy for someone who lets crazy ideas go out under his name and then complains about being criticized for advocating crazy ideas. And yes, some of these ideas are pretty crazy.

Kirchik accurately identifies the split that I have discussed before between different strains of libertarianism and identifies Paul’s long-standing involvement with what I consider to be the wrong kind:

To understand Paul’s philosophy, the best place to start is probably the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Auburn, Alabama. The institute is named for a libertarian Austrian economist, but it was founded by a man named Lew Rockwell, who also served as Paul’s congressional chief of staff from 1978 to 1982. Paul has had a long and prominent association with the institute, teaching at its seminars and serving as a “distinguished counselor.” The institute has also published his books.

The politics of the organization are complicated–its philosophy derives largely from the work of the late Murray Rothbard, a Bronx-born son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” who viewed the state as nothing more than “a criminal gang”–but one aspect of the institute’s worldview stands out as particularly disturbing: its attachment to the Confederacy. Thomas E. Woods Jr., a member of the institute’s senior faculty, is a founder of the League of the South, a secessionist group, and the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, a pro-Confederate, revisionist tract published in 2004. Paul enthusiastically blurbed Woods’s book, saying that it “heroically rescues real history from the politically correct memory hole.” Thomas DiLorenzo, another senior faculty member and author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, refers to the Civil War as the “War for Southern Independence” and attacks “Lincoln cultists”; Paul endorsed the book on MSNBC last month in a debate over whether the Civil War was necessary (Paul thinks it was not). In April 1995, the institute hosted a conference on secession at which Paul spoke; previewing the event, Rockwell wrote to supporters, “We’ll explore what causes [secession] and how to promote it.” Paul’s newsletters have themselves repeatedly expressed sympathy for the general concept of secession. In 1992, for instance, the Survival Report argued that “the right of secession should be ingrained in a free society” and that “there is nothing wrong with loosely banding together small units of government. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we too should consider it.”

The people surrounding the von Mises Institute–including Paul–may describe themselves as libertarians, but they are nothing like the urbane libertarians who staff the Cato Institute or the libertines at Reason magazine. Instead, they represent a strain of right-wing libertarianism that views the Civil War as a catastrophic turning point in American history–the moment when a tyrannical federal government established its supremacy over the states. As one prominent Washington libertarian told me, “There are too many libertarians in this country … who, because they are attracted to the great books of Mises, … find their way to the Mises Institute and then are told that a defense of the Confederacy is part of libertarian thought.”

This was one of the first things that really sent up a red flag for me about Ron Paul, his ties to the anti-14th amendment wing of neo-confederate “libertarianism” (I put that in parentheses because, frankly, I don’t think it’s libertarian at all, I think it’s anti-libertarian). I’ve tangled with these folks many times over the years on this blog and many of them, including Woods and DiLorenzo, have shown up here in the comments. I make no secret of my disdain for their views. So when I learned that Ron Paul was deeply involved with them, that was a big deal to me. Still is. Now let’s get to some of the statements in those newsletters.

Paul’s alliance with neo-Confederates helps explain the views his newsletters have long espoused on race. Take, for instance, a special issue of the Ron Paul Political Report, published in June 1992, dedicated to explaining the Los Angeles riots of that year. “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after rioting began,” read one typical passage.

Very nice. And it ties perfectly into a theme that is quite prevalent among the neo-confederate crowd – the coming race wars. This belief is absolutely ubiquitous in these social circles:

This “Special Issue on Racial Terrorism” was hardly the first time one of Paul’s publications had raised these topics. As early as December 1989, a section of his Investment Letter, titled “What To Expect for the 1990s,” predicted that “Racial Violence Will Fill Our Cities” because “mostly black welfare recipients will feel justified in stealing from mostly white ‘haves.’” Two months later, a newsletter warned of “The Coming Race War,” and, in November 1990, an item advised readers, “If you live in a major city, and can leave, do so. If not, but you can have a rural retreat, for investment and refuge, buy it.” In June 1991, an entry on racial disturbances in Washington, DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood was titled, “Animals Take Over the D.C. Zoo.” “This is only the first skirmish in the race war of the 1990s,” the newsletter predicted. In an October 1992 item about urban crime, the newsletter’s author–presumably Paul–wrote, “I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.”

Comparing blacks to animals. Beautiful. Need I mention that he doesn’t seem to like Martin Luther King much?

Martin Luther King Jr. earned special ire from Paul’s newsletters, which attacked the civil rights leader frequently, often to justify opposition to the federal holiday named after him. (“What an infamy Ronald Reagan approved it!” one newsletter complained in 1990. “We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.”) In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the “X-Rated Martin Luther King” as a “world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours,” “seduced underage girls and boys,” and “made a pass at” fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy. One newsletter ridiculed black activists who wanted to rename New York City after King, suggesting that “Welfaria,” “Zooville,” “Rapetown,” “Dirtburg,” and “Lazyopolis” were better alternatives. The same year, King was described as “a comsymp, if not an actual party member, and the man who replaced the evil of forced segregation with the evil of forced integration.”

And let’s not forget anti-gay bigotry that would make Fred Phelps smile:

Like blacks, gays earn plenty of animus in Paul’s newsletters. They frequently quoted Paul’s “old colleague,” Representative William Dannemeyer–who advocated quarantining people with AIDS–praising him for “speak[ing] out fearlessly despite the organized power of the gay lobby.” In 1990, one newsletter mentioned a reporter from a gay magazine “who certainly had an axe to grind, and that’s not easy with a limp wrist.” In an item titled, “The Pink House?” the author of a newsletter–again, presumably Paul–complained about President George H.W. Bush’s decision to sign a hate crimes bill and invite “the heads of homosexual lobbying groups to the White House for the ceremony,” adding, “I miss the closet.” “Homosexuals,” it said, “not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.” When Marvin Liebman, a founder of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom and a longtime political activist, announced that he was gay in the pages of National Review, a Paul newsletter implored, “Bring Back the Closet!” Surprisingly, one item expressed ambivalence about the contentious issue of gays in the military, but ultimately concluded, “Homosexuals, if admitted, should be put in a special category and not allowed in close physical contact with heterosexuals.”

The newsletters were particularly obsessed with AIDS, “a politically protected disease thanks to payola and the influence of the homosexual lobby,” and used it as a rhetorical club to beat gay people in general. In 1990, one newsletter approvingly quoted “a well-known Libertarian editor” as saying, “The ACT-UP slogan, on stickers plastered all over Manhattan, is ‘Silence = Death.’ But shouldn’t it be ‘Sodomy = Death’?” Readers were warned to avoid blood transfusions because gays were trying to “poison the blood supply.” “Am I the only one sick of hearing about the ‘rights’ of AIDS carriers?” a newsletter asked in 1990. That same year, citing a Christian-right fringe publication, an item suggested that “the AIDS patient” should not be allowed to eat in restaurants and that “AIDS can be transmitted by saliva,” which is false. Paul’s newsletters advertised a book, Surviving the AIDS Plague–also based upon the casual-transmission thesis–and defended “parents who worry about sending their healthy kids to school with AIDS victims.” Commenting on a rise in AIDS infections, one newsletter said that “gays in San Francisco do not obey the dictates of good sense,” adding: “[T]hese men don’t really see a reason to live past their fifties. They are not married, they have no children, and their lives are centered on new sexual partners.” Also, “they enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.”

If there’s a difference between that and the kind of lunatic ravings we hear from the Westboro Baptist Church, it’s a matter of slight degree only. Here’s how the Ron Paul campaign responds:

When I asked Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign spokesman, about the newsletters, he said that, over the years, Paul had granted “various levels of approval” to what appeared in his publications–ranging from “no approval” to instances where he “actually wrote it himself.” After I read Benton some of the more offensive passages, he said, “A lot of [the newsletters] he did not see. Most of the incendiary stuff, no.” He added that he was surprised to hear about the insults hurled at Martin Luther King, because “Ron thinks Martin Luther King is a hero.”

In other words, Paul’s campaign wants to depict its candidate as a na├»ve, absentee overseer, with minimal knowledge of what his underlings were doing on his behalf. This portrayal might be more believable if extremist views had cropped up in the newsletters only sporadically–or if the newsletters had just been published for a short time. But it is difficult to imagine how Paul could allow material consistently saturated in racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy-mongering to be printed under his name for so long if he did not share these views. In that respect, whether or not Paul personally wrote the most offensive passages is almost beside the point. If he disagreed with what was being written under his name, you would think that at some point–over the course of decades–he would have done something about it.

It becomes even less believable when you consider that he has consistently worked with the people who espouse these insane views, spoken to their groups, hired them to work on his congressional staff and promoted their organizations. It is far too late in the day for his apologists to claim that this is merely “guilt by association.” This is absolutely legitimate criticism.

Just as I was finishing this post, a friend sent me a link to Ron Paul’s statement on the New Republic article:

In response to an article published by The New Republic, Ron Paul issued the following statement:

“The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. I have never uttered such words and denounce such small-minded thoughts.

“In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person’s character, not the color of their skin. As I stated on the floor of the U.S. House on April 20, 1999: ‘I rise in great respect for the courage and high ideals of Rosa Parks who stood steadfastly for the rights of individuals against unjust laws and oppressive governmental policies.’

“This story is old news and has been rehashed for over a decade. It’s once again being resurrected for obvious political reasons on the day of the New Hampshire primary.

“When I was out of Congress and practicing medicine full-time, a newsletter was published under my name that I did not edit. Several writers contributed to the product. For over a decade, I have publically taken moral responsibility for not paying closer attention to what went out under my name.”

Again, this response strains credulity to the limits. He let people write these vile things in his name for 20 years (the issue was first raised in 1996 during a campaign; his first response was that the quotes were “out of context” and then, in 2001, he said that he didn’t really write them) and didn’t put a stop to it? He never bothered to even read what they wrote in his name? Sorry, that’s laughably ridiculous.

It’s even more ridiculous when you consider that he is closely associated with a wide range of groups with a long history of taking the very positions he says he condemns now. And that he was pandering with his newsletter to the very people who agree with such arguments. Even if he didn’t write it, he absolutely bears responsibility for it. David Bernstein sums this up well:

Yet, as Kirchik in TNR notes, there are really two disparate groups to whom the limited-government message appeals: philosophical libertarians (which consists of a tiny percentage of Americans, but something like 10% are at least inclined toward a general libertarian perspective), and those who hold a deep grudge against the federal government based on a range of nutty conspiracy theories, ranging from old chestnuts like a freemason conspiracy, a Council on Foreign Relations/Bildeberger conspiracy, or a conspiracy to strip the U.S. of its sovereignty in favor of world government; to variations on old anti-Semitic themes (ranging from domination by Zionist conspirators to domination by Jewish bankers led by the Rothchilds to domination by Jews in Hollywood); to newer racist theories; to novel conspiracy theories about 9/11, the pharmaceutical industry, etc.

Ron Paul has spent the better part of 30 years building relationships to virtually every one of those groups of conspiracy nutballs, speaking to them, making arguments that appeal to them, putting their loudest and most obnoxious advocates on his congressional staff. I’m simply not naive enough to believe that this is just a big misunderstanding. He’s asking you to believe that he spent 20 years being utterly unaware that other people were writing outrageous things under his name. Can anyone really take that position seriously?

I don’t write this with glee, I write this with disappointment. I’m disappointed because all of this makes Ron Paul the wrong messenger for what is often precisely the right message. And I hope that message does not get lost. I have another post that will go up in the next couple days about our long term federal debt, which now stands at a staggering $53 trillion. $53 trillion dollars.

We are on the brink of fiscal chaos in this country. Our currency is in a freefall. We are spending our children’s money like frat boys at a liquor store and unfortunately Ron Paul is the only candidate from either party who recognizes that it is time not for cutting a few billion here and there but for wholesale restructuring of the federal government. That’s the right message, but Ron Paul is the wrong person to carry it. But who else will?