Libertarian Party Vice Chair Jokes About Shooting Up a School Board; Party's National Committee Declines to Suspend Him
Party officials split on how to deal with a member's radical rhetoric.
Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee (LNC), prides himself on being rhetorically uncompromising in staking out the most radical and potentially outrageous outer frontiers of libertarian thought. His past comments on the age of consent (he says it isn't the government's business) and the proper moral attitude toward members of the U.S. military (he says they're hired killers) caused the party's New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe (singled out by Politico as a "rarity…a serious Libertarian candidate") to quit his position on the National Committee after it failed to suspend Vohra back in February.
Since then, the rhetorical outrages have continued. In a post last month on the social network site MeWe, Vohra wrote: "Bad Idea: School Shootings. Good Idea: School Board Shootings."
Vohra insists that was not a serious threat but a joke in "poor taste." But he also has tried to use it as a teaching moment over the question of when violent resistance might be justified.
Vohra tries to connect the dots between the fact that the Libertarian Party says "taxation is an immoral violation of your sacred rights" and the fact that the Libertarian Party has "routinely argued that guns are not for hunting, they are for opposing government overreach."
So? Well, as he wrote on Facebook, "I've routinely argued against any violence against the state, since I consider it unlikely to work. But for all the hardcore gun supporters who wear taxation is theft t-shirts: what is the level of tyranny that would be great enough to morally justify using violence in self defense?" He has "no plans to ever advocate violence against the state," but only for pragmatic reasons. "I consider it unnecessary," not wrong. "I believe that Dr. King and Gandhi have showed that violence is not needed to fight the state. I consider it unlikely to work." He absolutely believes in the right to use violence to defend yourself against state actions.
Many LNC members found the seeming threat of school board shootings to violate a pledge party members take to "certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." Vohra seems to doubt that striking at agents of the state with violence is initiating such violence, but even he wrote off the school board shooting line as a joke.
At the end of March, some LNC members publicly asked Vohra to resign, which he opted not to do. Another motion to suspend Vohra was introduced on April 3, and last night it failed. The vote was 11–6 in favor of suspending him, but the party's rules require a two-thirds vote of the total body for suspension, so it fell a vote short.
The motion singled Vohra out for "sustained and repeated unacceptable conduct that brings the principles of the Libertarian Party into disrepute, including making and defending a statement advocating lethal violence against state employees who are not directly threatening imminent physical harm. Such action is in violation of our membership pledge. These actions further endanger the survival of our movement and the security of all of our members without their consent."
As per the announcement from LNC Secretary Alicia Mattson, the "ayes" to get rid of Vohra were Whitney Bilyeu, Sam Goldstein, Tim Hagan, Caryn Ann Harlos, Daniel Hayes, Jeffrey Hewitt, Joshua Katz, Alicia Mattson, Justin O'Donnell, William Redpath, and Elizabeth Van Horn. The "nays" were David Demarest, Jim Lark, Ed Marsh, Nicholas Sarwark, Starchild, and Vohra himself.
Starchild says that Vohra's disavowal of any serious threat in the "joke" made him vote against suspension. O'Donnell stresses that he shares Vohra's anarchism but voted to suspend because Vohra "has displayed a persistent and consistent ignorance as to the impact of his statements….I do fundamentally and philosophically agree with much of what Mr Vohra says in his posts, but I also understand the need to frame such arguments in a manner that reaches people that are not already members of the party."
Vohra posted on Facebook yesterday, before the voting concluded, that "I made a mistake when I posted something stupid on mewe.com" and is alarmed that people "may have misconstrued my words to encourage actual violence, which is the last thing I want. I joined the Libertarian movement because I oppose violence. I oppose state violence, personal violence, all violence. I oppose wars and drug wars. I oppose private and public actions done under threats of violence, ranging from burglary to taxation." Vohra went on to suggest anyone who does not share his anarchist opposition to the state is someone who does in fact believe in relying on violence.
Vohra belongs to a longstanding tradition in Libertarian Party politics, known in the old days as the "Libertarian Macho Flash." The idea was well-characterized in a 2001 essay by old party hand Thomas Sipos:
[T]he macho flash is an in-your-face flaunting of the most extreme libertarian hypotheticals. No soft-peddling or sugar cube to make the medicine go down. Should a soccer mom ask about drug policy in a hypothetical libertarian society, the non-flasher will discuss medical marijuana, the failure of Prohibition, and the benefits of treatment over prisons. The macho flasher will defend the right to erect crack cocaine vending machines in daycare centers.
The admonition against macho flashing comes from what may be termed the LP's Activist faction. Activists are primarily concerned with electoral victory. They advocate marketing the more popular LP positions, and downplaying the "scary" ones. They favor a prioritization (if not compromise) of issues, based on voter appeal.
Andy Craig, a party activist and occasional candidate from Wisconsin, helped launch the party's Pragmatist Caucus. He summed up the widespread attitude that the LNC's reaction to Vohra's provocations has been insufficiently serious in a Facebook post this morning:
This is a decision that sends a message: that the national committee (or at least slightly over one-third of it) doesn't take the idea of the L.P. as an actual political party, getting real public scrutiny, seriously….That this isn't an organization that has any real intention of conducting itself in a manner that will engender the trust of voters. That the national committee is unwilling to protect the party—including the state parties and their base of volunteers and supporters and potential candidates—from harm being inflicted by one of their own. Harm that he has been able to inflict solely because the national committee refused to deprive him of the title that renders his actions so harmful.
LNC Chair Nicholas Sarwark voted against booting Vohra, and had he gone the other way Vohra would indeed be gone. But that vote does not mean he agrees with Vohra's general positions, nor that he thinks Vohra's rhetoric is good for the party.
Rather, Sarwark stood on the principle that, since Vohra was elected by the body of the members, the decision to get him out of his job should be left up to that body when it votes for the next vice chair at the party's convention in New Orleans this summer. As Sarwark summed up his position in a note to the rest of the LNC, reproduced on his Facebook page:
Many of the people who have contacted me about this vote have told me that if the Vice Chair worked for them, he would have been fired. If he worked for me, he would have been fired as well. But the Vice Chair is not my subordinate. He, along with every other officer and at-large member of the LNC, serves at the pleasure of the delegates at convention. In just over two months, those delegates at convention will get to vote for all of the officers of the LNC, including the Vice Chair.
Sarwark also explicitly stated that Vohra will not have Sarwark's vote at that convention.