EXCLUSIVE: Gary Johnson Talks ISIS, Refugees, Black Lives Matter and Marijuana Leglization

The former New Mexico governor and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate makes first comments on recent turmoil, talks future.


Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico who ran for

The once and future LP nominee?
Flickr/Gage Skidmore

 president in 2012 briefly as a member of the GOP and eventually as the nominee of the Libertarian Party, has made his first public remarks following last Friday's terror attacks in Paris, in the form of a press release and an exclusive interview with Reason.

Johnson opposes both boots on the ground and drones strikes on Syria, thinks sharia law is the root of Islamic terrorism, and believes the US should take in its "fair share" of refugees but declined to state an exact number. He also thinks we are at the tipping point toward marijuana legalization and indicated he intends to run for president again in 2016 on the Libertarian Party's ticket

In a statement to be released later today, Johnson writes:

"It is time that we have an open, honest dialogue about the politics of Sharia law. It is time that we face the reality that, while Islam is a faith that must be granted the same freedoms of religion as all others, Sharia is a political ideology that cannot coexist with the constitutional and basic human rights on which the United States is founded. We must face the fact that ISIS is a murderous, violent movement driven by Sharia ideology, not by the religion of Islam. We need not and should not be Islamophobic, but all who are free and wish to be free should be Shariaphobic.

Johnson stresses that he opposes military intervention to contain the threat of ISIS:

I opposed the Iraq War. I supported going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11, but opposed—and continue to oppose—our failed attempt at Afghan nation building. And I opposed our involvement in overthrowing the government in Libya. The list goes on and on. Our ill-advised attempts to shape the outcomes of civil wars and replace bad guys with slightly less bad guys have not only failed, but have created vacuums that are today being filled by the politics of Sharia. The cost of those interventions has been tremendous, with too many of our young men and women of the military killed and wounded…and trillions of dollars spent ineffectively. 

(UPDATE: You can read the full statement here.)

I spoke with Gov. Johnson over the phone last night and asked him to go into greater detail about the threat of ISIS, the plight of Syrian refugees, the future of marijuana legalization, the Black Lives Matter movement, and what his plans are for running for president in 2016. 

Reason: The Wall Street Journal and Politico immediately pronounced that the attacks in Paris exposed why someone with libertarian policies should and could never be president. "The election should be a referendum on keeping America safe," said the Journal, implying that a libertarian could never protect the country because he would be too busy respecting civil liberties. How would a libertarian president keep the country safe?

Johnson: Libertarians are going to stand for liberties, you bet! The only way a libertarian will act military is by being attacked, and we've been attacked. I oppose boots on the ground, but you can't rule out military intervention categorically.

Reason: What does that mean? Drone strikes?

Johnson: When it comes to drones, I think it makes a bad situation even worse. We end up killing innocents and fueling hatred as opposed to containing it. It just hasn't worked. We need to educate ourselves on the root causes of this, which is Islamic terrorism and the ideology of sharia law. In this country, we've become so politically correct that in the name of freedom of religion we have allowed sharia law and its adherents to advance. We need to differentiate between freedom of religion and the politics of sharia law. Freedom of religion, absolutely. But if you're talking about allowing sharia law that runs contrary to the US Constitution, that is ideologically the war that we need to take on.

Reason: Are there any examples of sharia law being implemented, or even proposed to be implemented, in the United States that you can point to?

Johnson: There's been a movement in state legislatures to pass "American laws for American courts." I didn't get that, but now I do. In Great Britain, they tried to allow sharia law side by side with British law and found it to be unworkable. They said, "If from a religious freedom standpoint, you want to govern your life by sharia law then so be it." We can't allow that. Sharia law doesn't treat women equally. Iran, a country governed by sharia law, executes thirty homosexuals a month. It cannot be allowed to coexist in America. Just like we were right to put (Kentucky clerk) Kim Davis in jail for not adhering to the law, we can't allow sharia practice to exist in the name of religious freedom. It's not constitutional. 

Reason: Your former party, the Republicans, are dead set against allowing Syrian refugees to enter the country. Republican governors (and at least one Democrat) say the risk of ISIS terrorists slipping in through the process is simply too great. Chris Christie went even further than Ted Cruz by saying he wouldn't even admit Christian children. We have currently agreed to let in 10,000 by the end of 2017, but some Democrats want to raise that number to 65,000. What would your refugee policy toward Syrians be?

Johnson: We need to take our share, and I'm not sure what that share should be. I'd like to come up with a formula based on our coalition partners. I wouldn't say zero, but I don't know if 65,000 puts us in the category of "our fair share." 

Reason: Pivoting to domestic policy, marijuana legalization is likely to be in front of voters next year in states from Maine to California. Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation to end federal prohibition. What are your predictions about where the war on pot will be in November 2016?

Johnson: Currently, 24 states allow it medicinally, 4 and the District of Columbia allow it recreationally, and all but a handful of those happened at the ballot box. I predict that California will vote to legalize it recreationally, and that overnight 20 states will vote to legalize it and effectively the tipping point will have been passed. 

Reason: The Black Lives Matter movement has become a political force over the past two years. How would you convince a BLM crowd that their best solutions would be in the libertarian mold?

Johnson: Libertarians have led the charge with regard to drug legalization and I really believe that at the heart of the militarization of police has been the War on Drugs. A person of color has a much greater likelihood of going to jail for drugs than a white person. As governor of New Mexico, I supported the legalization of marijuana and was threatened with impeachment. Libertarians aren't coming up to speed on this, they've been at the tip of this from the beginning. I've maintained that the root of police abuse is the war on drugs. Drugs are a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. I watched a recruitment video for police in southern New Mexico that depicted young men in body armor with assault rifles and tanks knocking down doors. I just couldn't believe it. 

Reason: One last question, are you planning on running for president in 2016?

Johnson: Well, I hope to. I hope to be the Libertarian nominee. That's my intention barring famine or flood. 

Reason: When will you announce your candidacy?

Johnson: There's no advantage to making it official given what I'll call the clown-car. Given the attention that's being given to the Republican side. Let that stuff sort it self out and there's plenty of time for the general election. I thought we'd have done a lot better last election cycle, so I'm not under any delusions. We are suing the Presidential Debates Commission. Eighty percent of Americans say they want another choice and they have no idea why there isn't another choice. We think at the heart of that is the Commission and we're suing them on antitrust grounds, on the basis of the Sherman Act, that they collude with the two major parties, that they are a business, and we think the media has also signed similar documents when it comes to televising the debates.

Reason: Have you filed suit? Do you have co-litigants?

Johnson: We have filed the suit in Washington, DC along with the Green Party. Our contention is that if you're on the ballot in enough states to mathematically be elected president, shouldn't you be included in the presidential debates? 

Reason TV and Gary Johnson visited Zuccotti Park, the site of Occupy Wall Street, during the height of the movement in 2011. Watch below: