Wikinews interviews 2020 US Libertarian Party presidential candidate Adam Kokesh

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Adam Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran, activist, radio show host, and currently a candidate for the US Libertarian Party's 2020 presidential nomination, spoke with Wikinews to discuss his background, political positions, and campaign for President of the United States.

Adam Kokesh
Image: The Adam Kokesh American Referendum Project.

Kokesh, who hails from Arizona, has been active in the anti-war movement since returning home from combat in Iraq. After an initial honorary discharge from active duty with the US Marine Corp in 2006, Kokesh was given a general discharge from the Marine Forces Reserve in 2007 after images of him wearing his uniform while participating in a protest with the Iraq Veterans Against the War were published in The Washington Post. Kokesh has also been involved in demonstrations in support of free speech, gun rights, and marijuana decriminalization. Some of these activities have resulted in his arrest. Kokesh previously hosted a show on RT and currently hosts a show on internet radio.

Politically, Kokesh supported the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Ron Paul. He was a featured speaker at Paul's Rally for the Republic in 2008. Kokesh ran for US Congress as a Republican in 2010 in New Mexico and for US Senate in Arizona in 2018. He announced his 2020 candidacy in 2013 during a jailhouse interview. He has based his campaign on the pledge to begin "dissolving the federal government in a peaceful, orderly manner" and to resign as president and take the title of "Custodian of the Federal Government."

Other contenders for the Libertarian Party's 2020 presidential nomination include former Libertarian Party Vice Chairman Arvin Vohra, businessman John McAfee, and New Hampshire state representative Max Abramson. Congressman Justin Amash and former Rhode Island governor and US Senator Lincoln Chafee are both reportedly considering runs. Former New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe and former Massachusetts governor William Weld were both previously considered potential candidates but Sharpe suggested he would not run and Weld has decided to run in the 2020 Republican Party presidential primaries, challenging President Donald Trump.

With accredited Wikinews reporter William S. Saturn, Kokesh details his background and activism, his thoughts on the Libertarian Party, the Presidency of Donald Trump, and the goals for his campaign and presidency.


Background & activism

 ((Wikinews )) Which presidential candidates have you supported and/or voted for in previous election cycles during your lifetime?

Kokesh: I turned 18 in the year 2000, but I was in training with the Marine Corps at the time of the election and did not pay much attention or vote. (I think politicians are smart to not encourage Marines to be active in politics. We generally have a low tolerance for bullshit.) In 2004, I voted for Michael Badnarik and supported him with my college Libertarian Party affiliate and representing him in a mock debate. In 2008 I was very active with Iraq Veterans Against the War and actively supported Ron Paul. When he didn't win the nomination, I voted for Cynthia McKinney because Ron Paul endorsed her and I lived in Washington, DC where I wanted my vote to count towards ballot access for the Green Party. In 2012 I supported and voted for Ron Paul in the Republican primary and Gary Johnson in the general. In 2016 I supported Gary Johnson.
Kokesh at an anti-war rally in 2007
Image: Sage Ross.

 ((WN )) Which historical or contemporary figures do you admire and consider as role models? Why?

Kokesh: I don't believe in having role models because it can limit you in your own self-actualization. This might sound semantic, but it's a meaningful difference to me to have teachers instead of role models so we can get useful lessons and inspiration from many people and still be ourselves. I admire a lot of people for a lot of different things and learn from everyone I can. Right now, I think about how I learned to distrust authority from my parents, courage from people like Ross Ulbricht, Ed Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange, patience from people like Ron Paul, intellectual persistence from people like Murray Rothbard, and compassion from people like my girlfriend.

 ((WN )) At what point during your time in Iraq did you realize the effort there was immoral?

Kokesh: While I was in Iraq, I didn't have the presence of mind or the awareness to come to the conclusion that it was immoral. I identified as a "Libertarian" at the time, but I can look back now and see that I was really an arrogant militant minarchist with poorly thought out libertarian principles. I was against the invasion of Iraq before it happened as a matter of policy more than principle. I supported the ongoing occupation because I thought of it as cleaning up our mess. It wasn't until I came home and got out of the Marines that I was able to get the right moral perspective.

 ((WN )) In what ways do you believe you have accomplished what you have sought through activism? In what ways have you failed?

Kokesh: I define an activist as anyone whose work is primarily motivated by a deep-seated sense of injustice. In that sense, most of us have some ideology or global vision for justice in mind, some unachievable ideal. Short of that, I have a realistic ideal that the Libertarian Party defines as, "a world set free in our lifetime." To me that means a voluntary society, not one that is perfectly voluntary in every interaction, but that recognizes the ideal of voluntaryism and in which there is no institutional coercion. So obviously, we haven't achieved that yet! I see the evolution towards a voluntary society as a mission for all of humanity in which no single one of us can accomplish anything alone, so I can't take credit for any of my successes, but I am very satisfied in what I have been able to accomplish as a media producer, author, and civil disobedience activist as a contribution to that mission. As for failures, I could point to many, but I don't think you're asking for a deep personal psychoanalysis here! I would say all my failures as an activist have stemmed from forgetting the true nature of our mission as libertarians, which is to bring peace and harmony to humanity through freedom.

On the Libertarian Party

 ((WN )) Why did you join the Libertarian Party?

Kokesh: I joined the Libertarian Party first in my mind in high school because at some point I was given the choice between being a Republican or Democrat and thought, "Wait a second! This is America! I'm supposed to have a choice, right? I don't have to be lame, do I?" Fortunately, I found the LP, but at first, mainly because I thought pretty much every politician I'd ever seen on TV was a crooked asshole. (I had never seen a Libertarian on TV at that point. It's still rare!) It wasn't until reading Rothbard about ten years later that I came to understand what the party and the philosophy were really all about.
Kokesh in 2013.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

 ((WN )) In 2016, the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee Gary Johnson received 3.28 percent of the popular vote, the most of any previous Libertarian presidential nominee. What can you do as the party's nominee to increase the vote share?

Kokesh: For the last three election cycles, the LP has pursued the losing strategy of hiding behind someone who we like and we think others will like, but doesn't represent what we believe. It's time for the LP to elect a libertarian again. If we can do this — it doesn't matter if it's me or any of the other great potential nominees — we're going to win a lot more votes! As for me personally, I think my advantages are that I'm good at making the message easy to understand and relate to, I have a broad base of existing support and name ID, and being a combat veteran gives me a unique advantage in challenging militarism, which is something our movement has struggled with. More importantly, I think there's something very inauthentic in saying, "You should be free! But this guy should be your President!" My platform of the peaceful, orderly, and responsible dissolution of the federal government in which I resign on day one is the only one right now that addresses this problem and is in line with libertarian principles. This strategy of uniting under the principles of localization rather than fighting for ideology is how we (in the long term if only starting in 2020) build a winning coalition of independents, non-voters, and reluctant old party voters, to WIN not just get more votes.

 ((WN )) What are your thoughts on your fellow candidates and potential candidates for the Libertarian Party's 2020 presidential nomination, specifically, former Vice Chairman Arvin Vohra, former New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe, and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld?

Kokesh: I haven't yet met a potential nominee for the LP that I didn't like! Having been to a handful of state conventions now with other candidates, I can say it's really beautiful how we've come to think of ourselves as a team seeking to do what's best for the cause and the party. I'd like to see more qualified candidates run who can bring more people into the party. I'll just mention one by name, Vermin Supreme, who I'm happy to see has been embraced by the LP as a kind of jester candidate. I want people on stage beside me who represent the message well and make it easy for people who need that personal connection to have someone they can relate to. Everyone who would stand with the LP can relate to being a jester and wanting to laugh while giving the man the finger!

On the presidency of Donald Trump

 ((WN )) What qualities of President Donald Trump and his presidency do you admire? What qualities do you despise?

Kokesh: I admire Trump's ability to tap into a very powerful part of the zeitgeist that lived in a lot of Americans who felt under-represented for a long time. I despise the attitude of meanness and divisiveness, although I recognize how that was connected to the sentiment that got him elected and he has to keep stoking that negativity until he can get people on more positive message. This brings with it an attitude of combativeness that is uncapitalistic. Even in the competition of capitalism, the ground rules include fundamental standards of cooperation. You compete to produce the most value, usually through cooperation, not steal or swindle so you can have the most stuff. I guess I should make this a compliment sandwich and end by saying that I also admire the very natural skin tone of his eyelids.

 ((WN )) What actions of President Trump do you support? What actions do you disapprove?

Kokesh: Of course if I look at all the little things, I could probably find lots of things that I support that Trump is doing, but there aren't any major policy initiatives of his I could get behind. The tax "cuts" sounded good, but without cuts in government spending, it's almost entirely just a reshuffling of who is paying for what exactly and most times government changes the tax code it's for the benefit of its sponsors at the expense of working-class taxpayers. The only legitimate borders for enforcement of anything are private property borders so I can't support a wall or any immigration policy that limits individual freedom of movement, limited only by not violating others' property where you're not welcome. I don't support tariffs because they're just another form of taxation and taxation is theft. The main things I support about Trump are the things he's not doing. He hasn't invaded any new countries, (that we know of) he hasn't been pushing for the right to torture people, he hasn't tried to make cannabis less legal. I wonder how many of those types of things are worth giving him credit for, or are things he would do if he could get away with it in the age of the (now somewhat matured) internet.


Kokesh speaking at a campaign event in 2018.
Image: The Adam Kokesh American Referendum Project.

 ((WN )) As President Trump learned early in his presidency, federal courts can effectively nullify controversial executive orders. If you are elected president, what will you do in the event a federal court rules your executive order creating a process to dissolve the federal government as unconstitutional?

Kokesh: I don't really care if someone in a black dress calls my policy unconstitutional because it IS unconstitutional. That's kind of the point. We are invoking the higher authority outlined in the Declaration of Independence which says we have not only a right, but a duty to alter or abolish systems of government that no longer serve us. The old parties and their overlapping sponsors will never let a Libertarian win with 34% of the vote VS 33% and 33%. They will kill one of the old parties to keep the system going before they will let us win. To win on this platform or any other meaningful libertarian one, will require a clear mandate that is undeniable even if they cheat at the margins. When the American people decide that we are not going to put up with this nonsense any longer, no lackey in a suit in Washington is going to stand in our way.

 ((WN )) On your website you state "American troops abroad will be immediately brought home in a responsible and orderly manner that does not endanger their lives." The qualifier "responsible" has been used previously to justify an indefinite military presence. Can you clarify what you mean by a "responsible and orderly manner" of withdrawal?

Kokesh: In this context, I would further define responsible as in a way that is security conscious and doesn't rush the logistics in a way that causes damage to equipment or facilities or allow weapons to "fall into the wrong hands." Responsible also means that it begins immediately and we do not spend a day longer than necessary on the process.

 ((WN )) What has led you to the conclusion that running for president is the best way to spread your message over other avenues?

Kokesh: I'm not doing this because it's the best way to spread "my message." I'm doing this because no one else is proposing a serious plan that leaves us without a federal government. I'm doing this to unite Americans to take a practical step towards freedom. We don't have to be united under one government to be united in American values!


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.