Joseph Bishop-Henchman resigned Friday as chair of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), after a controversy that began three months ago with provocative tweets, intensified two weeks ago with an attempted schism of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party (LPNH), and has now turned into a battle for the soul of America's third-largest political party.
Two other members of the 17-person LNC, Tucker Coburn and Francis Wendt, have also resigned in wake of the tumult. The long-influential Pragmatist Caucus, associated with the two presidential campaigns of Gary Johnson, has dissolved as a direct result. And one of the party's few elected officials, DeKalb, Illinois, City Clerk Sasha Cohen, resigned from the national Libertarian Party (L.P.) in protest, saying in an LNC Zoom meeting that "we are a big tent party, but no tent is big enough to hold racists and people of color, transphobes and trans people, bigots and their victims."
A "toxic culture has recently been harnessed in the service of a grouping with a declared goal of taking over the party and making it as repulsive as possible to everyone except themselves," Bishop-Henchman wrote in his resignation letter, referring to the party's ascendant Mises Caucus, which for the past few years has been advertising its intentions to launch a "takeover" of the L.P. to realign it more with the policy and messaging associated with Ron Paul and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. "I will not chair a party that knowingly and has now affirmatively chosen to stay affiliated with the toxic garbage that was being spewed by the New Hampshire party and similar bad actors in other states, the violent threats emanating from these people, and the deliberate destruction of the party's ability to appeal to voters and win elections."
Bishop-Henchman did not detail the specifics of the source or nature of the "violent threats" in his public comments on the LPNH matter and his resignation. He declined to be interviewed for this article, deferring to his public written statements.
The outgoing chair had lost the confidence of many Libertarians, and not just Mises Caucus members, by lending support to a highly irregular attempt on June 12 by the LPNH's then-chair, Jilletta Jarvis, to break away from the existing state L.P. and form a new one, seizing the former's digital assets in an attempt to regain control of a Twitter feed that had since the party's convention in March made headlines by saying stuff like "John McCain's brain tumor saved more lives than Anthony Fauci."
On June 16, the LNC voted 12–2, with three abstentions, to reject a Bishop-Henchman co-sponsored motion to disaffiliate with the existing New Hampshire party, which would have paved the way for Jarvis' rump to be recognized. The other pro-separatist voter, Coburn, the representative for the very region containing New Hampshire, joined Bishop-Henchman in resigning from the board after the vote.
On June 17, Jarvis relented, and returned control of the LPNH website and other digital property back to the existing party.
LNC at-large representative Joshua Smith, a leading member of the Mises Caucus, saw this as a resounding victory for the party's newer members, and for the independence of state affiliates. He says the group has effective control of around 25 state party affiliates now.
The failed New Hampshire coup was condemned by a wide range of non-Mises L.P. factions and figures as well, including 2020 vice presidential candidate Spike Cohen (who called it a "fiasco" that "should have remained an LPNH issue exclusively") and former congressman Justin Amash, who argued that "due process" requires acknowledging that "there's only one legitimate executive committee of @LPNH," while also stressing that "official social media accounts are for advancing the party's mission of organizing libertarians, not for personal experiments in edgelording."
The state party's restored Twitter feed wasted little time resting on its laurels. "The ultimate goal of wokeism is to infiltrate, occupy, and dominate every cultural, political, and corporate institution," the account tweeted June 20. "The Libertarian Party isn't immune to this. It must be identified and stopped immediately."
The "Mean Tweets"
"No one saw this even remotely coming, such a nuclear bomb," says LPNH Executive Committee at-large member Sean Dempsey, a Mises Caucus member. "No one imagined it happening. For my own part I considered myself good friends with Jilletta….We thought she was a true freedom fighter, and this caught us all off-guard. We were very hurt, and still feel stabbed in the back because of the way this was handled."
Jarvis (who declined to be interviewed for this article) and the rest of the six-member state Executive Committee, half of which belong to the Mises Caucus, were elected at the annual state convention March 19–21. While he was not on the Communications Committee coming out of the convention, Jeremy Kauffman was added to the committee in April; by May that committee's chair granted him posting privileges. Kauffman is the founder and CEO of a blockchain-based, censorship-free content-publishing system called LBRY. He is a big player in New Hampshire libertarian politics, sitting on the board of the Free State Project, and he is notorious for highly inflammatory tweeting on his own personal account.
Sean Brennan was elected as treasurer only after the convention changed its bylaws to make him eligible; he had not been a dues-paying member long enough to qualify before.**
The Brennan maneuver raised some eyebrows among those resistant to the Mises influx, and there was a smattering of other complaints about the LPNH's post-convention actions. They booted a long-term activist and thorn in the Mises Caucus' side, Jackie Perry, for allegedly revealing private contact information about Jarvis; Perry insists it was all public, and that it was not clear the ExCom even has the legitimate power to get rid of members this way. One executive committee members' suggestion that they consider not running a gubernatorial candidate if a specific Republican much beloved by the state's larger liberty movement (which in New Hampshire has always been far more geared to the GOP than the L.P., even or especially among Free State Project members) was used to suggest the new ExCom was deliberately taking the L.P. out of electoral politics. A filing with the state as a political committee that Jarvis' new group made and the old one did not was used as evidence the Mises crowd wanted to drive the organization out of legal existence, but Brennan says that the LPNH did not get enough candidate donations to hit the legal limit requiring that filing.
All those controversies swirled in the chatter around the LPNH's misdeeds, but Dempsey believes they all amount to "red herrings." The visceral disgust displayed toward the party by Jarvis, Bishop-Henchman, and other Libertarians comes down to what Kauffman has done with the state party's Twitter feed. The whole kerfuffle was traceable to what LNC Secretary Caryn Ann Harlos, a very loud voice standing up for the prerogatives of the LPNH within the LNC, describes dismissively as "mean tweets."
Among the controversial LPNH tweets attributed to Kauffman was a call to "legalize child labor" because "children will learn more on a job site than in public school," another to keep Gitmo open "so that Anthony Fauci and every governor that locked their state down can be sent there, never again to be allowed inside of the United States," and still another to "Repeal the Civil Rights Act."
Kauffman defended his tactics on the Taking Human Action podcast over the weekend. "I'm a very committed libertarian, and I think this is good for the libertarian movement," he said. "I think L.P. national had been sort of taken over by what I would call, you know, woke neoliberal globalists, and they're not libertarians. Libertarianism is private property, bodily autonomy, voluntary association, right? These are sort of the core atoms of libertarian philosophy. And I don't think that the people who were on the LNC endorsed them."
The child labor tweetstorm in particular was "an absolute win" for the L.P., Kauffman insisted, since the backlash—including from such people as Gary Johnson—only serves to spread radical ideas to those who wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to them. He maintained that the Mises incursion into the LPNH had grown membership from around 60 people last year to around 150.
The debate over "mean tweets" conflated Kauffman as voice of LPNH and voice for himself, in ways that he thinks are illegitimate but that many L.P.-adjacent folk think is perfectly appropriate.
It is Kauffman who Bishop-Henchman referred to, not by name, in his June 14 letter to the LNC when he writes of "an individual who does things like tweet about how black people have lower IQs and murdering trans people would be a good trade-off for lower taxes." Those ideas were tweeted on Kauffman's personal account, not the party's. (Kauffman and his fans stress that he specifically was talking about the superior morality of no taxes to 1,000 murdered transpeople, not just the "lower taxes" Bishop-Henchman wrote.***)
Kauffman insists "if the LPNH is in trouble, it needs to be about things LPNH said, not things I've said," since Mises Caucus folk are "on board with the idea of not policing things people say on private pages." This hits on one of the prime ideological or attitudinal fault lines between L.P. factions: The Mises crowd is far more likely to find only actual physical assaults on people's persons, property, or liberty worthy of condemnation, what they call "NAP violations" (for the "non-aggression principle"), not what they might write off as merely (at worst) bad words or bad thoughts.
Jarvis insisted, in arguing for her move to take the LPNH into her possession, that that messaging strategy "is, frankly, designed to discredit the Libertarian Party in the state and in our nation."
Jarvis continued: "January 6th showed us what can happen when people are riled up into a frenzy and given little direction. For the last two months, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire has been using this strategy, the strategy of riling up mobs to frenzy and giving them no direction."
The Short and Unhappy Life of the New New Hampshire Libertarian Party
As the LPNH Twitter account continued dropping social media bombs, LNC Chair Bishop-Henchman sent a letter to Jarvis June 7 stating that "the party of which you are Chair is the LNC's sole qualifying organization in New Hampshire" and is "part of the official structure of the national party." Five days later Jarvis announced she was launching the new party.
In a videotaped chat with some LNC members June 13, Jarvis said that Bishop-Henchman knew what she was trying to do when that letter was requested (though she said it was technically asked for by a third party who she wouldn't name), and that she was therefore confident the LNC would recognize hers as the true Libertarian Party affiliate in New Hampshire.
Jarvis had originally been planning just to resign over frustration at the Executive Committee's communication strategy, but unnamed other people told her creating her own new party from scratch was another option.
So was Bishop-Henchman's letter intended to imply that the authority of the LNC was behind the new splinter party? The LNC is in the process of selecting people to form an investigatory committee this week to find out. If so, says LNC Secretary Caryn Ann Harlos, this would count as "corruption"—an attack on a duly constituted state affiliate from the national party. For her raucous role in pushing this investigation, within and outside the LNC, Harlos was hit with a motion to remove her as secretary and from all her other L.P. committee positions, then another such motion when the first one was ruled out of order. That second one was also ruled out of order on Tuesday, so her position seems safe for now. She considered herself targeted as a whistleblower for her attempts to get to the bottom of whether LNC officials were illegitimately targeting a state party.
In his June 14 letter, written partly in response to calls for his removal over his alleged interference in New Hampshire, Bishop-Henchman insisted he did not know what Jarvis was going to do. "Claims that I was some kind of co-conspirator are false," he said. "I do not as LNC Chair tell state chairs and officers what they should do."
But Bishop-Henchman also tried to argue that the last three months of LPNH executive-committee behavior "amounted to their constructive resignation," since it was effectively "little different than if they had all gone out and endorsed Donald Trump or Joe Biden, basically." Thus, Jarvis "felt she had no choice to reconstitute the organization as best she could, with the people she could, who still supported the mission of the party."
Jarvis and 13 other LPNH members during the short-lived rump party wrote up new bylaws and a new platform, and crafted a familiar-sounding Libertarian oath with a new ending: "I will not advocate or endorse the initiation of force as a means to achieve political or social goals. I will advocate for the freedom from oppression and coercion for all New Hampshire residents and affirm that as Libertarians we condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant."
At the same time she seized possession of the original LPNH's digital property.
"When she locked the existing Executive Committee members out of digital assets owned by the party, the website, all the social media accounts, mailchimp, paypal, access to our email account," even membership records, said LPNH Executive Committee Member Sean Dempsey, that amounted to "theft of party property."
The moves shocked New Hampshire Libertarians. Stephen Nass, an at-large member of the Executive Committee, said in a phone interview this weekend that Jarvis was "old school, had been around, knows how to run a party, so she got elected unanimously" by all factions at the March convention.
Caleb Dyer, a former L.P. state legislator in New Hampshire who straddles the Mises/non-Mises divide, says he knows "for a fact" that the separatists' claim that "they exhausted every possible option before going nuclear with this campaign for disaffiliation" is "just a lie."
Dyer does worry that some of the Mises-oriented types care more about radical messaging than they do about winning elections, which to him means "philosophically they are not there to further the interests of the [LPNH]. They are specifically hindering those efforts." But those differences of philosophy are better solved, he thinks, using the available tools of process, negotiation, and management, rather than engineering a radical reorganization on the fly.
According to Executive Committee member Dempsey and current LPNH Interim Chair Nolan Pelletier, if the tweets were a core problem, Jarvis had it within her power all along to keep the keys of the Twitter account out of the hands of the controversial Jeremy Kauffman. As chair, she could have simply issued an order, or changed the password. Pelletier says that Kauffman is not currently one of the people tweeting from LPNH's official account.
What Does the Mises Caucus Want?
Bishop-Henchman's departure is the biggest national victory yet for the Mises Caucus, which functions as a Political Action Committee, one that raised nearly $100,000 in 2019–2020. So what do Misesians want?
The most common policy complaint heard about the L.P. in 2021 from Mises types is that the national party and most state affiliates were not vociferous enough against COVID-related lockdowns, thereby dropping the ball on the most vital liberty issue of the times.
"I felt my voice was not being represented in the party," says the LPNH's Dempsey. "We went through in 2020 one of the worst tyrannical totalitarian regimes in modern history and the national party was tweeting about trans rights. Yes, those are important, but get on the right page" and "know your audience."
Part of that audience is sick and tired of any party or candidate utterance that smacks of pandering to "wokeism," whether it be 2020 presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen tweeting that "It is not enough to be passively not racist, we must be actively anti-racist" or three-time former LNC chair Nicholas Sarwark serially criticizing the 1990s "paleolibertarian" excesses of people associated with the Mises Institute. Joshua Smith, who lost the LNC chair race to Sarwark in 2018, said: "We [in the caucus] don't message to collectivist ideology."
"I passionately reject the notion that Mises Caucus is completely, or filled with, racists or bigots," Dempsey says. "We just have, probably to our discredit, been so force-fed a narrative about having to virtue signal we probably don't say things enough like 'we reject bigotry' or 'racism is repugnant,' but those are empty words." What's important is making America a nation "dominated by support for freedom, property rights, free association, and due process."
Dyer detects an inconsistency in the Mises Caucus approach. "In broad strokes," he says, "they see themselves combatting wokeness as having infiltrated the Libertarian Party. They claim they don't want to fight the culture wars, while simultaneously picking a side, which I think is disingenuous."
The more Pragmatic Caucus–friendly Libertarians now fleeing the LNC or the party altogether worry that the Misesians consciously attract intolerant (and intolerable) elements.
"When New Hampshire's messaging started getting toxic," Dekalb City Clerk Sasha Cohen said in a phone interview over the weekend, "I got calls and messages from people who supported me during my campaign asking, 'What the fuck is wrong with your party?' A direct quote."
Alexander DiBenedetto, who ran the Pragmatist Caucus until its post–New Hampshire dissolution, warned in a phone interview Sunday that a Mises takeover would likely mean "the majority of the people from the Gary Johnson days leaving the party." (Those campaigns got the party its highest ever national vote totals and percentages.) The L.P. should spend less time and energy perfecting the most polarizing tweet to attract the most hate-retweets, DiBenedetto said, and more time organizing such initiatives as the door-knocking Frontier Project, which actually won a state legislative seat for Libertarian Marshall Burt in Wyoming last year. If a Mises Caucus–style candidate wins the party's presidential nomination in 2024, he said, state parties unhappy with that approach might disaffiliate from the national party.
Francis Wendt, the Region 1 LNC member who resigned June 19, wrote in his farewell letter, "I will give the [Mises Caucus] credit, they have a very active base….However, activists are only part of the equation. You also need candidates, leaders, staff, and donors. Twitter trolls don't do that. Email blasts don't do that. Regurgitated messages from people that only show up for a day (convention) don't do that. Knocking doors does that. Writing checks does that. Making calls does that. Sitting up till 3 AM pouring over research does that."
In his resignation letter, Bishop-Henchman sounded a warning of his own. "Toxic people exhaust or drive out good people," he said. "Our mechanisms for removing such individuals and addressing such bad behavior are designed to be effectively impossible, and culturally, too many people who should know better passively tolerate it rather than confront it. It turns off donors, repulses allies, and makes team projects unviable."
But for the victorious Mises Caucus crowd, it was Bishop-Henchman and the pragmatists who lost sight of basic libertarian respect for property and due process in the New Hampshire battle and are now taking their balls and going home when things for a change don't go their way.
LNC member Joshua Smith remembers when "this [whole Mises Caucus thing] was just me and 50 other people chatting on a Facebook page." Today he finds his faction victorious after a bitterly fought battle over a party already struggling for respectability and vote-share, one in which an affiliate with fewer than 200 members can shake a national political party to the core.
"But now," he says, echoing a common Ron Paul fan meme, "It's Happening!"
**The article previously stated, according to sources on the scene, that Kauffman had paid for Brennan's LPNH lifetime membership. Kauffman, and other sources, say that is not true, and Brennan provided evidence it was not. The author regrets the error.
***The sentence preceding the three asterisks was added since original posting.