Staff Columnist

Iowa Libertarians taking sides in conflict between police and BLM movement

Libertarian Party nominee: 'It is not enough to be passively not racist, we must be actively anti-racist.'

Protestors lay down for eight minutes and forty-six seconds in memory of George Floyd outside of Cafe Dodici in Washingt
Protestors lay down for eight minutes and forty-six seconds in memory of George Floyd outside of Cafe Dodici in Washington, Iowa on Monday, June 22, 2020. A group of Iowa Freedom Riders protestors travelled to Washington after the conclusion of a march in Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

As the nation grapples with complicated issues of racial justice, so too does Iowa’s third-largest political party.

The Libertarian Party is facing an internal crisis over how to respond to Black Lives Matter protests. In that, the liberty movement has an opportunity root out reactionaries and recast itself as a solidly anti-racist movement.

The debacle started this month when Libertarian presidential nominee Jo Jorgensen made a #BlackLivesMatter post on Twitter: “It is not enough to be passively not racist, we must be actively anti-racist.”

The message struck me as uncontroversial, but I was naive, because the tweet set off a hostile reaction from supposed libertarians. They accused the candidate of siding with the Black Lives Matter organization, which they see as Marxist.

The discourse took an ugly turn last weekend when a libertarian activist was shot and killed while supporting a Black Lives Matter gathering in Texas. Garrett Foster was legally carrying an AK-47 and accompanied his girlfriend, a Black woman who uses a wheelchair. According to news reports, Foster did not fire his weapon before was shot by someone in a vehicle.

Foster should be a hero to liberty activists — a gun owner attending a protest against police violence — but to some, he apparently deserved to die because he was guilty of wrongthink and standing in the street.

Libertarianism is not a racist ideology, but we can’t ignore the fact that it sometimes attracts racists.

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Libertarians are supposed to oppose state violence, but some are cheering for a more aggressive police crackdown on protests and riots. That instinct is aptly depicted in a meme spoofing the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag with an alternative tagline: “Tread on them, I mostly disagree with their politics.”

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ToyA S. Johnson, a Libertarian candidate for Iowa Senate District 16 this year, has been involved in both Libertarian politics and racial justice activism for several years. She sees plenty of overlap between the two movements’ concerns — disparities in the family law system, drug prohibition, incarceration and over-policing to generate revenue, to name a few.

“We want to see the same things. We want to see the system treat people fairly. We want to see people recognize that the Constitution applies to everyone,” said Johnson, who in 2018 became the first Black woman to get on the ballot for state House as a Libertarian.

Libertarianism is not a racist ideology, but we can’t ignore the fact that it sometimes attracts racists. So, the party has a choice to make — coddle the bigots to earn their support, or call out their crap and speak the truth. Iowa Libertarians are choosing the latter.

Libertarian Party of Iowa leaders are not backing down from their support for Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Their Facebook page features a constant stream of posts decrying police overreach and pointing out the hypocrisy of libertarians detractors, even as angry Facebook users bash them.

Black lives matter, and Libertarians should say so frequently and loudly. A crisis like this is a powerful opportunity to change minds.

“I was able to learn and I’ve been learning ever since [George Floyd’s murder], and there’s still a lot I need to learn. It’s definitely been eye-opening for me. I was once a neocon and here I am talking about leaning more toward the anarchists,” said Mike Conner, Libertarian Party of Iowa chairman.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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