"[W]e don't have a capitalist system in the United States, and it drives me crazy to hear people blame capitalism for where we are today. We have a system of corporatism and crony capitalism."
"Obviously it's incorrect about my campaign, and my candidacy, but I think the comparison between the Tea Party and Obama in that sense is fair. There is that dynamic of projection going on very heavily."
Later this week, look for interviews with former Gov. Gary Johnson and Bob Wright of the New Mexico Militia.
SFR: So you're all living frat style.
Kokesh: It's like the liberty frat house, except that instead of throwing parties on Saturday night, we sit around behind our laptops and watch documentaries, and when I'm lucky, I can get one of them to play Scrabble with me.
You grew up in Santa Fe, right?
No, not really, my dad moved here when I was in high school.
Which high school?
Native American prep.
I see your stickers all over—I think you're gaining a little more traction in Santa Fe...
In a way, we haven't really even been trying in Santa Fe, except for within the Republican party for this delegate process.
When our primary challenger jumped in, we had to focus more on Farmington, Rio Rancho, Clovis, Portales. We have to really target our outreach to the Republican base rather than the general population. And to me, it takes away half the fun. You have to adapt your frame of mind to different ways of thinking in different communities all the time.
Santa Fe is still my hometown. I understand that [people here] identify as left-leaning, but I think that most of them still have more in common with me than Ben Ray [Luján], in terms of actual issues and philosophical grounding.
Give me some examples, because I'm really trying to parse out the differences developing on the right right now, between traditional Republicans, the Tea Party crowd and the libertarian branch.
The Tea Party movement really started with Ron Paul's presidential campaign, in terms of the modern revival of the spirit of the Tea Party, and then there was the Tea Party money bomb in Dec. 2007, when we raised over $6 million for Ron Paul. And then Rick Santelli jumped in and gave it a new form, but even then, most of the people that jumped into that were Ron Paul types. They at first really dominated that, and it was a real opportunity for us to work on that spirit of disenfranchism that Sanetlli tapped into--although, to be honest, I didn't think it was that great of a rant.
I think the Tea Party movement was dominated by libertarians and Ron Paul people who really understood that anti-authoritarian sentiment and who really understood the bailouts, really understood the premises of the central bank were wrong, and since then, when mainstream Republicans saw that, and jumped in--I don't want to say co-opted, although in some places that was directly the effect--but jumped on in a different spirit than the original intent.
And then in some ways it really has been co-opted, where Republican Party leadership has come in and said, 'We're the Tea Party organization here.' It's like, 'Aren't you guys the Republicans already?'
In Santa Fe, the Tea Party organizers are Santa Fe County Republicans, and I talked to other Tea Party organizers in the state who say that's an inherent conflict.
There were a lot of places where nobody picked up the Tea Party mantle, and Republicans said, 'Let's do it.' That's fine. I'm fine with that. But then it does have the risk of compromising the real original intent of the Tea Parties.
Which you think is more along the lines of the Ron Paul, libertarian--
No, it's more universal than that. But it's also much simpler than that. It's not a complete political philosophy behind the Tea Party.
It was an issue coalition, and it was a lot of people coming together. It was exciting to see here in Santa Fe, even Democrats at first, at the first Tea Party last tax day. We had [John] Grubesic, and of course, he said some things that were contrary and got booed. But there were Democrats in the audience, too, and independents, who really wanted to be a part of it. I think since the Republican Party has decided to have such a strong presence in the Tea Party movement, it's lost that ability to bring people together from a wider variety of political ideologies. It was originally against the economic power being taken away from the people--the bailouts and the stimulus and the spending.
It wasn't even, 'Do we want a free market or do we want a centrally planned economy.' It was, 'Do we want the federal government giving money to all their rich friends? Hmm. No!'
This is what I don't understand about Santelli being the spark, because the bailouts were already well underway, and Santelli was specifically ranting about one part of the overall bailout-stimulus package that would've aided people with their mortgages directly, instead of giving money to the banks, right? So he was getting upset about a part of the bailout that would've gone to people who were in trouble on their home loans.
Well, it was rewarding irresponsible financial behavior, you know?
I was talking to one of the Republicans in the Tea Party here, Sheryl Bohlander. I was saying, 'You know, I get this fiscal responsibility stuff, but where was the same amount of outrage during the Bush years?'
Right here [raises hand]. This is where it was.
For me, seeing the first bailouts in September, October '08...that was a pivotal thing for me, because I was studying the Federal Reserve, I had really just earlier that year got my head around the concept of the way the Federal Reserve actually works. I remember I was sitting at that group home we started for the IVAW in Washington, DC, I was watching on the news, and I turned to the guy next to me and went on this rant. I was like, 'Where did that come from?' I just felt everything crystallize for me.
I'm not an economist. I feel the best thing that qualifies me to talk about these issues is to not be encumbered by a traditional education in economics, not having been propagandized with Keynesianism for years and years and years, which is what most economic educations are about these days: Developing people who are inclined to want to study economics into propaganda repeaters. You have all this centrally planned economy thinking that comes out of Keynesianism, you know, of government spending, that war is good for the economy, broken glass is good for the economy, digging ditches is good for the economy, that kind of thing.
The people who control money, once we gave up the control of monetary policy to the monopoly of a fiat currency system, the first thing that they wanted to influence was economic education, and make sure it was all Keynesianism. I've been studying economics on my own, taking Econ 101 in college, and got me some groundwork there, although a lot of it was faulty. I've done a lot of stuff on my own, from a more Austrian perspective on economics--
What are some books that have helped shape your thinking?
Well, most of it's been online. Rothbard, Hayek, Ellen Brown, even--she's not quite an Austrian economist but she does a great breakdown of the Federal Reserve and its effects. Um, Hazlitt.
But I'll be honest: I don't read a lot of books anymore. I read so much online, and that's the power of it as a tool for self-education: you get the snippets that your brain is ready for, and you take 'em in and you can integrate them in a really powerful way.
One of the bailouts we were going through last year, everything kind of crystallized into a framework. I'm not an expert in that a have a huge depth of knowledge, but I think I have a very solid framework of understanding the overriding dynamics of the economy, and more importantly, the relationship between the government and the economy.
On the phone the other day, you said that as a libertarian you didn't necessarily have a problem with activist government.
If I heard you right.
I don't think I ever would've said it that way. Activist government?
We were talking about Santa Fe as a liberal town--
Oh yeah yeah. OK. The philosophy, more than anything someone would identify as libertarianism, is really voluntarism. And it's based on the ideal that all human interactions should be free of force, violence and coercion. Really simple, right? We shouldn't live in a society where you should make someone do something against their will or use violence or force against them, or the treat of force. It's a pretty simple concept.
And at the federal level, the policy is really obvious: Can someone keep what they produce? Well, if they don't, you use violence against them in enforcing the income tax, right? So, there it's really obvious. But if it's at a community level, if they wanted to have an income tax in Santa Fe--I would personally object--but, the implication of the enforcement of that is much less severe. I can move 100 yards down the road, be outside of city limits, and then they have no right to collect the income tax.
So, in a sense, this philosophy breaks down the more local you get, because the implication of violence becomes relative. Like at the family level, you know? If someone's living in your home, do you have the right to kick them out? If you set up a community voluntarily--everybody comes to live in Santa Fe voluntarily--but, this is why, I would never say I'm a believer in activist government, but in community involvement. And, as an example, there was a Facebook group: 'Please raise my taxes to support this school district.' Well, you're not saying 'please raise my taxes' when you say that. Because if you wanted to give the money that you would pay in taxes to support that school district, you already have the right and the freedom to do that. What you're saying is, 'Dear government, please raise my neighbor's taxes, because they're not willing to do this, and use violence to enforce that.'
At a certain level, that doesn't apply. The more voluntary that association is, the less the implication of that violence is.
Do you think the federal income tax is unconstitutional, then?
It is against the original intent of the Constitution, clearly, where the Founders wrote the only way the government would pay for itself would be import and excise taxes, which are still the majority of taxes collected by the government.
The 16th Amendment--I'm not an expert on history but I know that it authorizes the income tax. The authorization of that Amendment to be put in the Constitution is questionable by historians. So, is it unconstitutional? Maybe. Is it against the intent of the Founders and the philosophy of liberty? Absolutely.
Maybe it would be easier if you told me what you disagree with Ron Paul about. I know Ron Paul is no fan of the US participation in the UN.
Well, the problem with the UN is not what most people think it is. Most people think of the UN as a place where nations come together and settle differences and disputes and it's a way to promote dialogue. If that's all it was, I would wholeheartedly support it. The problem is, it takes on much greater authority than that.
If we could get it back to that core concept, the way it was sold to most of the world, then I would support it. But I think as it exists right now, I think we're better off withdrawing from the UN, contractually, and finding better ways of encouraging dialogue between countries. Because now it serves as a way for nations to gang up on each other.
It sounds like fair shorthand to say you have some sovereignty concerns.
Oh yeah, absolutely. We have in many ways given elements of our sovereignty to this supernational body that really doesn't have any accountability.
In general, which do you see as a bigger threat to liberty in this country: Wall Street or Washington, DC?
It's not one or the other. There's a relationship there. In a sense, Washington has become an enabler and supporter of all the worst elements of human nature, and they have become institutionalized in Wall Street--but only because they have been given special power by Washington.
You think it's symbiotic.
That's a good way to put it. In a true capitalist system, the only way to get rich is by giving people what they want.
Well, we don't have a capitalist system in the United States, and it drives me crazy to hear people blame capitalism for where we are today. We have a system of corporatism and crony capitalism, and we have to be honest about that, and look at the root cause. And then we can have the real debate: Do we want to preserve freedom and the free market and really understand it, and make it equitable again, at least under the law? Or do we want to go all the way to a centrally planned economy. And most people, when they hear it like that, it's pretty obvious.
But in our system, if you're a big corporation and you want to make money, where do you go? You don't go to the consumer and say 'What do you want?' No, you go to the government, and you say 'What favors can I get by giving campaign contributions and bribes and threats?' The way that's become possible is that the American people aren't watching Congress closely enough.
You see both parties as complicit in this.
Absolutely. And, there are only really three people on Capitol Hill who are actively challenging the Federal Reserve: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders.
What do you think of Kucinich? He's an outlier, but he stands outside his party--
Exactly. First and foremost, I have immense respect for Dennis Kucinich, as someone who I know is in it for the right reasons and is true to his principals. Like Ron Paul, he doesn't get a lot of visits from lobbyists. I've spent a significant amount of time lobbying on Capitol Hill, in Kucinich's office and Ron Paul's office.
Bernie Sanders: Avowed socialist. Do you have a problem with that?
Absolutely I have a problem with that. But I do respect him as an individual, and I'd rather have a Senate full of guys like Bernie Sanders than guys like Chris Dodd. You know? I'd rather be talking to someone who knows what they believe in and understands what they believe him than some guy who's repeating the line of some corporation.
That's what makes those three men unique on Capitol Hill.
Let's say you win the primary: What's your pitch to a Santa Fe liberal?
Localism. And if there's a single theme to our campaign, that would be it. It's about taking the power away from the federal government and returning it to the people.
You can talk to conservatives and say, 'Constitution, states' rights, God-given inalienable rights,' and you can talk to people who come at it from a leftist perspective and say, 'Hey, it's about individual rights and community empowerment and local government and having stronger communities come together.' There's no objection there.
To give you an example of the hardest issue, health care, you'd think there's this huge divide between the left and the right on health care right now. My position is a very practical policy position that appeals both ways: Whatever you believe is a legitimate function of government, it should happen on the most local level possible. Most people appreciate that. The only reason to have health care at a higher level of government is economies of scale.
While I as a voluntarist would only like to see voluntary co-ops around health are, eventually, I'm not an ideologue when it comes to policy, and I recognize that our health care system is really screwed up right now.
I think the left argument against private health care is that the health care market doesn't function like other markets because, you know, your life is at stake.
Well, OK, you can make the case for that in the current system, because it's been so dominated by the government. But can't we learn to not trust the federal government for these sorts of things? If the government is going to run my health care--in fact it does right now, because I get my health care through the VA, which is a whole other debate--I would rather be arguing with my state representative than my Congressman, for obvious reasons.
About this issue of trust in the federal government: Because you enlisted, voluntarily, there must have been a time when you trusted the federal government. I'm assuming.
If only out of naivete, sure.
So what was it that led you to lose that trust?
You don't mean at George Washington [University], though. Do you?
The natural state of a child's mind is to be learning and engaged with the world. We take that and we put it in a government-run classroom where they're taught what to think, not how to think. We stifle that. The smartest people in the world today are the ones that are intellectually curious. That was George Bush's greatest personal fault. He had no intellectual curiosity.
What was the self-education, though?
Reading. Reading to learn and wanting to learn. Getting online and reading the news and wanting to learn more about it. This is the genius of the internet. I was taught in school to research, and ask questions, and ask why? If there was a single dynamic of the revolution, it's that people are asking why and they're not getting very good answers.
It's when something comes up and you go 'huh, I wonder.' You don't settle until you've got that question answered. Before the internet you'd have to go to the library and go through the Dewey Decimal System and all that. Now, when something comes up, or I see something suspicious, or I hear somebody say something that doesn't sound right, I hit the Truth Button, right there.
Now I can go to Wikipedia and have that answer in 30 seconds.
So what's your news diet?
That's a good question. I get a lot of news through my email. I read Freedom's Phoenix, which is another news, um--what's the word? Aggregator, yeah.
I get the Washington Post and The New York Times, but I really don't believe that as much as the other sources. I watch TV, just to see what other people are watching. I don't have any show that I watch regularly, except of course, The Colbert Report. Because it's based on questioning the news. I love the original slogan to The Daily Show: When the news breaks, we fix it.
I watch Fox and CNN and MSNBC. I really don't trust anything on TV. But when I watch TV, I sit there with my laptop in front of me--or at least I have my phone, with internet access.
It's a really good question: I wish more people talked about that.
Working in media, I know it's important.
I read the Reporter! I do. Every week, I at least get to skim the Reporter. I like Zane's column.
Yeah, Zane's fun.
He's a Santa Fe guy.
I listen to the radio a lot too. On radio, conservatives are more dominant. I listen to KKOB, 1260, KSFR. I was hearing Terran Lovewave yesterday talking about Zane's column about setting up a wireless network for Santa Fe.
Yeah, there's some folks that believe, partly as a result of things they read on the internet, that they're getting poisoned by wi-fi, but the science just doesn't support it.
Eh, I haven't really made up my mind on that, because I have a friend who says if he walks into a house with a wireless device, he can tell you if it's on or off.
I'll believe it when I see it. There have been studies on that. And most people can't tell.
My inclination is to always be skeptical, first and foremost. But on this, my skepticism points me to corporations putting in technology and telling you it's safe. I'm going to be very skeptical about that before I decide to treat it like it's perfectly safe.
Because you've had some success with internet fundraising, it allows your primary opponent to say, 'More of my money comes locally.' When you're talking about localism, is that a contradiction?
I don't think so, because we're reaching out to people all over the world who are inspired by this message. From my experience, trying to fundraise as a candidate, the question is 'what is the effect on you, when you're running for reelection? Who do you have to listen to?' I have to listen to the grassroots: To the people that believe in this message. My opponents have to believe in people who gave them $2,400 at a time. And they have to listen to them.
Talking to some other Republicans, and I know you joined the party kind of later—
I was a Republican when I was 18. And for a time I was a Libertarian. Then with Ron Paul, coming back into the Party, when Ron Paul ran for President I re-registered as a Republican. With him in the Party, I think it's the best chance we have of making real change right now, is working within that system. I'd much rather not have a two-party system...but the problems facing the country are much more urgent than taking that on.
I was going to say, the biggest criticism I've heard about your campaign, from other Republicans, is that you lack ideological purity.
What about social issues? Because I've talked to people who joined the Tea Party, one lady said, 'Oh, I really care about abortion being illegal.' And somebody else said, 'I like the Tea Party because they're just talking about money, and I don't have to hear about abortion.'
That second answer is a lot more typical, and if not more typical at this point, definitely more true to the original spirit of the Tea Party.
So, it's not your top issue.
I'm pro-life in that I think abortion should be minimized...I do believe that life starts at conception.
I'm very skeptical, like anything else, of any use of force or government coercion to do that...There's definitely an implied contract at some point in a pregnancy. I think it's before viability, you know, there is a point at which a woman makes a conscious, deliberate contract with another life within her own body, that she owns. And once you get to that point, for her to violate that contract by having an abortion is immoral.
That's why I think a right to have an abortion, when a woman has not engaged in that contract, in cases of rape or incest, that legitimate...When you can clearly say, from the government's point of view, there is an implied contract there. You willingly engaged in sex, you did it in a way that didn't attempt to prevent pregnancy, or you had sex and knew that you could get pregnant and didn't do anything about it, and found out a month later that you were pregnant, like then, there may be a role for the government to say, 'No, there's an implied contract there.'
Another place you differ with the Party—
Most Republicans actually share that view.
It depends where you live in the country.
I think a lot of them will say, 'Yes, I'm pro-life,' but when you press them on the issues, and say, 'What if a girl is raped by her father: Would you allow her to have an abortion?'—a lot of them soften up.
I want to talk about the war. Why were you in Iraq? What is the war about?
You mean why was I personally, or—
Why were we there?
A lot of people who are against the war are inclined to place blame on an individual or a conspiracy of individuals, and I don't think that's very accurate. I think it was a conspiracy of factors: The influence of the neoconservatives around George Bush, the influence of the military-industrial complex, the influence of Cheney himself—although you can't place singular blame on him. The only person you can put responsibility on is George Bush, and I think he kind of fell into it.
Because of all those pressures?
Yeah. He was sort of forced to take one step after another until he was teetering over the brink, and then the last thing he could say was, 'OK, Saddam and Uday and Qusay, if you don't surrender now, we're coming in.' He actually gave it a chance for it to not happen.
No, they already had troops on the ground before that deadline, I think you know that, right?
Don't get me wrong: We are teetering at the edge of the precipice, and if these circumstances change, it'll push us back. If he really throws up his hands and comes out, I think the war could've been avoided, even at that late of a time, I really do. But, um, there were a lot of reasons we went into Iraq. I mean, a lot of very bad reasons. There were a couple of good ones, but overwhelmingly bad ones. And the final act of the invasion itself was immoral.
What about Afghanistan?
Well, I think we went in because of 9.11, but the way we went in was determined by all those other factors that were illegitimate.
And are those the factors why we're still there?
The neocons, the military-industrial complex—
—the influence of Cheney, and his...I don't want to say that it's that list exclusively. You can point to the general militarization of American society and blame that as a contributing factor.
I do think we had due cause to go into Afghanistan, but we should've gone in with letters of mark and reprisal against our real enemies, against just those that we knew to be associated with actual terrorists, and Al Qaeda or 9.11, and determine that and done it Constitutionally.
So you think Congress should've declared war.
I would've rather seen letters of mark and reprisal issued against all the members of Al Qaeda or against Al Qaeda itself, and been much more precise about it. If we could've had the debate about declaring war against the country of Afghanistan, I probably would've come down against it. But I would've been open to hearing the arguments based on the intelligence about the complicity of the government of Afghanistan.
What led you to start protesting when you got back?
I saw the website, IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and I went, 'Well, shoot, that's me.' I went to the meeting and the next thing you know I'm doing a patrol around the Capitol.
You know who I talked to the other day? Bob Wright. New Mexico Militia. I think you spoke at an event where he was at recently.
The New Mexico Patriot Alliance meeting in Albuquerque. I just met him in passing.
Just in passing? I was talking about the Tea Party with him—and his idea of the Tea Party is very different than the Santa Fe Tea Party.
He thinks it's a movement that's getting co-opted by the Republicans...He says they're not talking about the Second Amendment, they're not talking about this and that.
Really, the Second Amendment wasn't—but anyway.
Anyway, I said, 'What do you think of Kokesh?' And he said, 'I don't have much use for Kokesh.' And he called you a pussy. And he brought up the war protests specifically. I just wanted to get your reaction to that.
I'd like to hear him say that to my face.
He said that on the record?
Oh, yeah. He doesn't care...But I think he raises something: As you know, there's a lot of Republican Party affinity in the military, and I'm sure this has come up before, with your protesting. How do you respond to those folks, Republicans in the military who think that you are undermining the troops?
I don't very often get a chance to respond because nobody will say that to my face. There's a lot of trolls on the internet saying that, but no one will say it to my face. There's no such thing as bad press, so if they're talking about me, at least they're talking about what I believe in, and it's an opportunity for people to be turned onto that and agree with me.
There is that element within the military: That un-morally grounded hyper-aggression. But there are a variety of polls now showing the majority of the military is against the war in Iraq...There is that vocal minority in the military who will parrot that abuse of hyper-aggression by politicians. And they prey off of that. And they encourage that. And they do everything they can to make it the most vocal element of the military, but at this point, it's clearly a minority. There are veterans that have issues with my activism, but not with my stance. Because they understand the Constitutional argument, that these are politicized wars, that troops are dying to benefit politicians. They get that. That doesn't sit very well with most troops and most vets.
Last time I lived in a base town—this was like '06—I came to realize that the only anti-war movement in the country, to speak of, was inside the military.
Where was that?
What was the base?
Fort Gordon. It was Signal school.
What do you mean by anti-war movement within the military?
Because the only people that were really upset about the war were people who were in the military and their families.
Because everybody else was detached. OK. Makes sense.
And I really do think the reason you saw big protests—
It wasn't an anti-war movement, it was an anti-Bush movement, is that what you're saying?
I was going to say, that there's no draft this time around...I want to get your stance on one more thing...Is America a Christian nation?
It's founded in the core values of Christianity, but included in those values is the right to religious freedom. It's a tough question, because at what point do you become a 'this nation' or a 'that nation'? Um. Obviously, we have significant religious freedom in this country...So, in the sense of fundamental values, but then you could say we are a Judeo-Christian nation, but that is an element of the moral foundation of this country—which we don't even live by anymore. And the way that most Christians are engaged politically, they don't really back up either. So, yes and no.
Do you think the Bible should be taught in schools?
No, absolutely not. Hold on, let me qualify that: In government-run schools, absolutely not. But I don't believe we should have government-run schools at all. And if parents believe that educating their children about the Bible is essential to their education, they should be free to do whatever they want.
OK, here's what I'm thinking about the Tea Party in particular, and I want to get your reaction to this...
I had more hope for it in the beginning than I do now.
Really? Well, here's my thinking: That the Tea Party—I don't question that it's a real grassroots thing...But I'm starting to think that the Tea Party is like what Obama was to liberals and left-wingers, which is that you can project what you want onto him.
We talk about that a lot here, and I think in a way Palin has become that. I've heard her described as a personality seeking a platform. And Ron Paul is a platform seeking personality, not to be rude about Ron Paul—knowing him personally, I know he has a great personality, but the criticism that he doesn't have a strong public personality is a fair one.
Um, where was I going with that?
What was the lesson of the Obama [campaign], what was his platform? The platform was 'chope': Change and hope. That's it. I was living in DC at the time and I would ask people, 'So why are you voting for Obama?' They'd say 'he's going to change things.' I'd say, 'What's he going to change?' They'd say, 'We have an interventionist foreign policy now, he's going to change it to a non-interventionist foreign policy.' I was just like, [sigh], because I read the fine print. They would say, 'We have this greedy capitalism now: He's going to change that.' Well, if you accept that what we had under Bush was capitalism, then I think we've gotten more of that under Obama. In that sense, people projected whatever they wanted to onto 'change,' and didn't listen to any of his platform.
It was an important lesson—although we're not obviously running on that.
Isn't liberty just as vague a concept, that people can project things onto, though?
Yes, if I was giving speeches where it was 'liberty, liberty, liberty' and all fluff. But I want people to know where I'm coming from philosophically. And there's no philosophy behind ‘change.' But there is a philosophy behind 'liberty.'
So my analogy isn't completely inaccurate—
Obviously it's incorrect about my campaign, and my candidacy, but I think the comparison between the Tea Party and Obama in that sense is fair. There is that dynamic of projection going on very heavily.
So what did you hope was going to happen?
That it would form more of a distinct platform around those financial issues...and bring people together around that. In the sense that Sheryl reached out and asked Grubesic to speak at the first Tea Party.
There was a big push to have me speak at that first Tea Party. And, um, the Bohlanders declined for that first one. There was a lot of pressure to have me speak at the second one, and by then they were saying 'no candidates,' even though they had [Greg] Zanetti, when we was a gubernatorial candidate, speak at the first one. So, obviously, there's been some: Well... I've seen that, nationally, the simple selection of the speakers has been agenda driven rather than issue-driven or coalition-building-driven.