The last time America got a chance to see the three presumptive frontrunners for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination together, during their two-part two-hour debate aired on John Stossel's Fox Business News program, the rivalry seemed friendly enough.
The debate showcased a quick buss on the cheek from former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson to antivirus software pioneer John McAfee, McAfee said he met opponent Austin Petersen at a gay bar, and despite some doctrinal conflicts it never got, say, Trump v. Cruz nasty.
Lately though, especially on social networking sites like Facebook where so much political chatter happens these days, intra-Libertarian disputes have gotten more heated.
Both McAfee's camp and that of Austin Petersen (founder of the Libertarian Republic movement news site and former producer on Judge Andrew Napolitano's former Fox Business show Freedom Watch) have floated accusations of naughty skulduggery against Johnson's campaign.
It seems to have started with McAfee himself, who had been painting himself as a happy new convert to the party and someone who intended to stick with it for the long term, announcing that he would not stick with the party if Johnson were its nominee. "Nothing and no-one will change my mind on this," he wrote in a post that appeared on Facebook.
McAfee did not then and still has not himself publicly stated his reasons for feeling this way about Johnson, more on which later.
Within a few days, Petersen's camp also on Facebook floated stories of Johnson campaign operatives playing some dirty-ish tricks, including sneakily offering to pay off campaign operatives from rival campaigns to either jump ship or just sit out the process.
Johnson's campaign was also accused of renting every available room in the Rosen Centre where the convention is held, in an effort to prevent delegates from other campaigns finding lodging during the party's nominating convention in Orlando in May.
Finding supporting specifics that might verify these accusations has proven difficult, and none of the public accusers have had much to offer. I was led to and communicated with one Nevada delegate who preferred not to be named who did say the Johnson campaign offered him a free room if he promised to support Johnson, but he declined to provide names or other potentially corroborating details. (And one offered room does not equal a scheme to scoop them all up.) Another prospective delegate who also did not want her story public spoke of someone close to the campaign offering her a professional favor if she swore fealty to the campaign, but no hotel room.
On Facebook, both Petersen and later McAfee's vice presidential pick Judd Weiss (most famous in the libertarian world for being the movement's unofficial glamour photographer at prominent events; you can see many of his quite stunning shots comprising a video he made to promote the McAfee/Weiss campaign and its slogan "let life live") have been hit with doubters asking them to provide some proof.
Weiss initially replied with another long Facebook post which said, among other things, that "In the political world, when you want to get something done that you don't want traced back to you, you do it with 3 degrees of separation, and wink wink nudge nudges. People in politics spend significantly more time trying to make sure their actions aren't traced back to them, than they spend actually getting it done. "
Weiss told me in an interview that while he's still confident that the tales he's hearing from sources he declines to name back him up, "If you are looking for stuff officially done" by the Johnson campaign "you are looking in the absolute wrong direction. Nothing is done officially by the Gary Johnson campaign in this regard. Everything is done either through PACs or through other people's names as far as hotel rooms go; a lot of communication is just done either by second or third degrees of separation." He stresses he thinks it's not so much the actions he suspects them of performing that bother him as that they are doing it in a "shady" manner and "don't want people to know about it."
Petersen and Weiss both seem to believe the accusations are true from my communications with them, but it's not publicly clear why they believe it, though they certainly imply that they've been given inside scoops not available to us.
The Johnson campaign's media maven Joe Hunter gave this official denial via email:
The [hotel room] claim is pure fantasy. We have exactly two rooms reserved at the convention hotel. Amazing how someone can make something up, post it on Facebook, and create an "issue". That's the story here—not hotel rooms.
Michael Iafatro, a travel agent who worked with the campaign, told me in an IM interview that "I am confident at this point in the convention hotel the GJ campaign has booked 2 suites which were part of the suite packages offered by the National LP" and that far from filling the Rosen Center, "I have blocked rooms as far away as the airport for Johnson delegates. These rooms are delegate paid on their own rooms. The only thing the campaign will do is help facilitate roommates to make it cheaper for the attendees."
The national L.P. office said through a spokesperson that "there is no individual or as far as we can tell pattern of associated people who have booked any bloc" at the Rosen. The party is, I'm told, renting blocks of rooms for delegates to buy at other nearby hotels now that the Rosen is sold out for some nights, and there are many other such nearby hotels.
So, while no specific number of rooms allegedly rented by Johnson's campaign to block others was presented that I've seen, and thus how much money this alleged scheme would have cost is impossible to know, no amount of money spent on that task would likely further Johnson's campaign goals given the many other, slightly less convenient, options available for delegates. (Including joining in on Airbnbs, a proposal that Weiss has been floating as an option for McAfee delegates. A pro-Petersen PAC is also organizing help for delegate travel.)
A reservations agent at the Rosen Centre, while unable to provide every name of every room renter, said no other large blocks were rented, and that sellouts on holiday weekends with conventions are customary and to be expected. (I did verify myself that as of a week ago, the Friday and Saturday nights of the convention were sold out.)
While none of the accusers named to me or anywhere I've seen publicly any specific campaign officials who were supposedly offered payoffs from Johnson, I've heard implications that Christopher Thrasher, McAfee's former campaign manager who did indeed leave that position the week all these rumors began floating, might be at issue.
Thrasher replied in an email on the topic that:
It is common practice for campaigns to discuss staff movement and contingency plans. It is also no secret that I count among my friends members of the Gary Johnson team, having been a staffer on the 2012 effort. In our communications, it was not uncommon for conversations to end with either myself requesting they come aboard the McAfee campaign, or vise-versa. Any such tentative offers (I am fairly certain the individuals involved do not have final say in hiring decisions) were usually contingent on the other candidate ending their campaign, which is obviously not the case.
Thrasher has also stressed to me he remains in McAfee's camp despite no longer being technically his campaign manager.
For his own part, when I called McAfee this week to ask if he'd elaborate on what he learned about Johnson that made him declare he wants nothing to do with the party if Johnson is its candidate, he first said "no comment" then called back with a couple: First, that McAfee's concerns have "nothing whatsoever to do with the issues Judd Weiss has bought up" and are "completely different" and "issues that have not yet been publicly brought up by anyone ever.
"I can also say that the issues Judd Weiss brought up are what I consider politics as usual and are of no concern to me."