Thomas Knapp, Founder of the Boston Tea Party and Media Coordinator for The Center for a Stateless Society

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are soley those of the interviewee, and do not necessarily represent mine.

Interview originally conducted over a four day span between the 15th of October and the 19th of October, 2011, and published on August 15th, 2012.

Thomas Knapp is a media coordinator and analyist for the Center for a Stateless Society. Knapp is also actively involved in the anti-war movement and is the letters editor for Antiwar.com. He is currently based out of St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Knapp’s personal blog can be located here.

Knapp also founded the former Boston Tea Party in 2006, and later served as it’s Vice-Presidential candidate in 2008 alongside Charles Jay. The ticket appeared on the ballot in three states and was recognized as a write-in candidacy in a dozen more.

The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.
The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS) is an anarchist think-tank and media center. Its mission is to explain and defend the idea of vibrant social cooperation without aggression, oppression, or centralized authority

Evans:
Thank you for taking the time to do this with me.
Before I start jumping in and asking you all these specifics, there is one question that I feel should get its own personal e-mail.
Can you sum up for readers exactly who is Thomas Knapp and give an idea of what he stands for or has been involved with?

Knapp:
Who is anyone? Is it what they’ve done? Where they’ve been? I really don’t know that I’m special. I’ll try to keep it short:
Born in Memphis, mostly raised in south-central Missouri, currently live in St. Louis, average high school student, after which I became a Marine reservist (infantry NCO in the 1991 Gulf war), quick college dropout and blue collar worker (mostly factory jobs, with some construction, food service and retail mixed in there between the two major factory gigs). Married more times than I care to divulge, [and] three children.
As I got more involved in politics, I transitioned to political work, starting part-time in 1996 and going full-time (and self-employed) in 2000. I self-identified as a libertarian starting in the early 1990s, and somewhat later as an ideological anarchist … who happens to be a federal government appointee, starting during the George W. Bush administration (local Selective Service board member).

Organizations I’ve worked with (incomplete and offhand): Free-Market.Net/Henry Hazlitt Foundation, International Society for Individual Liberty, numerous Libertarian Party political campaigns, Rational Review News Digest (the newsletter I publish now, descended from — and currently co-branded as — Freedom News Daily and Libernet before that, which makes it by pedigree the oldest daily libertarian newsletter on the Internet), and at present I’m also media coordinator and senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society and letters editor at Antiwar.com.
Sorry I couldn’t make it any shorter than that — probably not terribly interesting, but like military mess hall food “it’s hot and there’s plenty of it.”

Evans:
Oh no, that’s excellent. There’s plenty there to start off with as well as describe you in great detail, thank you.

What goals do you or the organizations you work alongside with have for society?

Knapp:
For most of the groups I work with, the primary criterion is “freedom.” On any issue, they’ll ask what approach makes people more free, and support that approach, while opposing approaches that make people less free. The only exception I can really think of to that is Antiwar.com. Their primary criterion is “peace” — but most of them believe that peace and freedom are closely linked, so there’s no real conflict.

Evans:
How do you introduce them into mainstream thought?

Knapp:
For a long time, I was mostly an “inside baseball” guy — not necessarily preaching to the choir, but focused on the choir itself. That’s still the case with Rational Review News Digest/Freedom News Daily. We call ourselves “the freedom movement’s daily newspaper.” Our audience consists almost entirely of people who are already libertarians, and we try to provide them with information that they find useful or interesting.

Of course, I did “external” stuff, too. I stopped counting the published newspaper letters to the editor and op-ed pieces I had published after about 150. I ran for public office on the Libertarian Party ticket and tried to use that to talk to “the people.”

Since becoming involved with the Center for a Stateless Society, I’ve had to focus more and more on “mainstream outreach” because that’s really what C4SS does. We try to reach the mainstream through newspaper op-eds that examine current events and propose anarchist solutions (or anarchy AS the solution).

It’s too early to measure our true impact, I think, but since June of last year, we’ve managed to get about 380 “mainstream media” reprints or citations of our columns. When people in Winchester, Tennessee or Roxby Downs, Australia, or Seoul, South Korea or Dhaka, Bangladesh or Snohomish, Washington read about anarchy in their local newspapers, it’s our stuff they’re reading. Right now we’re averaging about one C4SS column reprinted each weekday, week in and week out, so I’m optimistic that we’re accomplishing SOMETHING!

Evans:
Do you think some of these goals could be achieved realistically in your lifetime or is this something where you’re “sewing the seeds” for the next generation to continue?

Knapp:
I’m sort of middle of the road.

Some libertarians or anarchists think that right around the corner we’ll discover some way to have a free society. Of course, most of those libertarians have been thinking that for 50 years 😉

Other libertarians are incredibly pessimistic — they think that it’s a hopeless task, and that all we can really accomplish is to maintain a “remnant” movement to keep the idea of freedom alive.

For me, I’m reconciled to the fact that I may not — PROBABLY won’t — see a free society in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish some good things, stop some bad things, try some new ideas … and who knows? Maybe some amazing events, good or bad, that we could never predict or cause, will come along to change circumstances. How many people would have believed you if you told them the Berlin Wall was about to come down, the week before it did?

Evans:
If someone wanted to start reading your newsletter, where could they find it at?

Knapp:
http://rationalreview.news-digests.com

That’s the web version. There’s also an email edition (subscription form is at the web edition), and a Facebook version at:

http://facebook.com/RRNewsDigest

It’s a “free” publication. We run some ads and ask our readers to pay us whatever they think it’s worth.

Evans:
More personally, as someone who’s so involved with organizations that either call for Government intervention to be at a specific minimum or for the State to be outright absent, what made you want to stay on board with your involvement in an agency such as the Selective Service?

Knapp:
I’ve wrestled with that one over the years, and I don’t have a pat answer to it. The draft boards exist whether I’m on one or not. Unless the draft is actually re-instituted, it requires minimal effort on my part (a couple hours’ worth of annual training, done online), and I’m not required to harm anyone. Even if the draft IS re-instituted, I won’t be drafting anyone. They come to the board AFTER they’ve been drafted, to ask for a deferment or re-classification. Would I rather it was me evaluating their requests, or someone else? My tentative answer is “me.” If that answer changes, I’ll resign.

Evans:
As someone currently active with Antiwar.com, would you say your past history with the Marines allows you to contribute a different insight then the others?

Knapp:
I don’t set Antiwar.com’s editorial line. I edit their letters column and do some administrative work (moderating comments on articles, for example). So, I don’t think my military experience is very relevant there.

Also, I discount the notion that having served in the military automatically gives one a more informed opinion on issues of war and peace, except in a very narrow technical sense (I may know what a fire team rush is, or what displacement by echelon means, and the non-veteran may not). I know veterans who remain gung-ho pro war, and I know veterans who are dedicated peace activists. So all you can really presume to know about a veteran is that he or she served in the armed forces.

Finally, if you look at the veterans who’ve become peace activists, I’m small potatoes. George McGovern was a B-24 pilot in World War II. Daniel Ellsberg commanded a Marine rifle company in Korea. Of all the peace activists who are veterans, I’d definitely

Evans:
The ground some of your columns have covered is definitely an achievement. You must have some very hardworking members. Are their, and your, efforts for organizations such as C4SS purely voluntary?

Knapp:
I’m not sure what you mean. None of us were conscripted. If you’re asking whether or not we get paid, the answer is yes — when there’s money to pay us with. I don’t remember the last year I averaged as much as the alleged federal “minimum wage” 😉

Evans:
Haha, you’ll have to excuse me. I forgot voluntary means more than just the way I was using it.
But yes, if you were paid or not was exactly what I was implying.

Would you say you see more optimistic members in what you involve yourself with or more pessimistic ones?

I [also] appreciate your statements on the relation between those who served and their involvement in the peace movement. That’s a very interesting subject that I feel people might automatically assume they know the answer too without ever actually asking someone who’s served.

Knapp:
Optimistic, I think. Over time, pessimists tend to just move on to other interests.

Evans:
You mentioned before you ran a few campaigns on the Libertarian Party’s ballot line. What kind of opportunities were you given to discuss your platform? Were there any challenges, misunderstandings, or other memorable moments from the local media or even just from people on the street?

Knapp:
When I was a candidate — for various offices up to and including US Representative –the opportunities I had to discuss my platform ranged from press releases to newspaper, radio and television interviews to appearances at public forums/debates. I’m sorry to say that I’m not that memorable a guy, and was fairly easily ignored! Most campaigns I “ran” were from the back end, as campaign manager or key staff. I tried to help professionalize things in that area, and think I made some real contributions to things like timely/interesting press releases and so forth.

Evans:
Switching gears to another party, you also have a history with the Boston Tea Party, having also served as it’s Vice-Presidential nominee. What role do you play with that party? As the Vice-Presidential nominee, how much was asked of you?

Knapp:
I founded the Boston Tea Party in 2006 when there was a fairly serious schism in the Libertarian Party.
I saw people preparing to leave the LP, and decided that it was important to give them a place to go that they might come back from (as a matter of fact, at our first convention, I proposed that the BTP become a caucus within the LP rather than a separate party, but I got voted down).

There was also some self-interest there — I had some ideas I wanted to try out, and I needed a party to do that. For example, as the BTP’s founder and first “interim” chair, I got to put together what was, so far as I know, the first online national political convention, and to see what happens when you put a group together around a platform that can’t be modified (“The World’s Smallest Political Platform”).

Actually, by way of transition, here are a couple of articles I wrote about all that:

http://lastfreevoice.wordpress.com/2008/06/06/a-brief-history-of-the-boston-tea-party-part-one/

http://lastfreevoice.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/a-brief-history-of-the-boston-tea-party-part-2/

Those leave off at the place where I’m the vice-presidential nominee, but someone else is going on the ballot for VP in Colorado, because I couldn’t get my paperwork in in time.

At that point, an idea that I’d heard before in the LP (I think from Dr. George Phillies) went on like a light bulb in my head: Why not have a different VP candidate in EVERY state?

The idea behind that was that a small presidential campaign without a lot of money could benefit from having “someone on the ticket” in each state to campaign on the ground, since the presidential candidate wouldn’t be able to afford to be everywhere all the time. And on the off chance that we won, the electors would be asked to vote in the electoral college for the “national nominee” rather than for their state’s VP ballot placeholder.

We were on the ballot in four states — Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana, if I recall correctly. I was only the VP candidate in Tennessee. We were also registered as a write-in ticket in a number of states, with a different VP candidate in each state (in Utah, the VP candidate was the late Marilyn Chambers of pornographic movie fame).

We got a few thousand votes. Our presidential nominee, Charles Jay, participated in a third party candidate presidential debate at Vanderbilt University, and also had an interview on Fox News. We did what media we could — and on a budget of single-thousand dollars, we ran almost as aggressive an Internet campaign (Google Ads and so forth) as Libertarian Party nominee Bob Bar did with his $1.1 million budget. If I recall correctly, his FEC reports showed about $800 in Google advertising, while we spent about $500 there.

Hey, we had some fun, got our message out as best we could, and gave libertarians who couldn’t stomach Barr/Root 2008 a ticket to vote for. I don’t regret any of that. It wasn’t until 2010 that I gave up on voting and electoral politics, and I still have friends who are involved.

Evans:
So far, we’ve discussed your involvement with organizations like Antiwar.com, The Center For a Stateless Society, the Libertarian Party, and The Boston Tea Party now. Readers will be able to understand the mission of groups like Antiwar.com very easily, and maybe even the Libertarian Party and The Boston Tea Party (even though your BTP is different), as “libertarian” and “tea party” have been media buzzwords.national nominee

We were on the ballot in four states — Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana, if I recall correctly. I was only the VP candidate in Tennessee. We were also registered as a write-in ticket in a number of states, with a different VP candidate in each state (in Utah, the VP candidate was the late Marilyn Chambers of pornographic movie fame).

We got a few thousand votes. Our presidential nominee, Charles Jay, participated in a third party candidate presidential debate at Vanderbilt University, and also had an interview on Fox News. We did what media we could — and on a budget of single-thousand dollars, we ran almost as aggressive an Internet campaign (Google Ads and so forth) as Libertarian Party nominee Bob Bar did with his $1.1 million budget. If I recall correctly, his FEC reports showed about $800 in Google advertising, while we spent about $500 there.

Hey, we had some fun, got our message out as best we could, and gave libertarians who couldn’t stomach Barr/Root 2008 a ticket to vote for.

I don’t regret any of that. It wasn’t until 2010 that I gave up on voting an electoral politics, and I still have friends who are involved.

Evans:
So far, we’ve discussed your involvement with organizations like Antiwar.com, The Center for a Stateless Society, the Libertarian Party, and the Boston Tea Party now. Readers will be able to understand the mission of groups like antiwar.com very easily, and perhaps even the the respective parties, but a Stateless society?

There have been populist movements from both the left and the right between 2008 and today about what the role of our Government should be, but they still call for our Government to play a role. Even when people are angriest at their Government, they still work to change it and not abolish it.
So why do you believe we need a Stateless society?

Knapp:
Because government’s like cancer.
You can’t make friends with it, because the incentives that make it work require it to kill you. Yes, you can temporarily put it into remission now and then with chemo or radiation, but the only way to ensure that it doesn’t just come back worse than ever is to actually cut it entirely out.

Evans:
How would matters of personal protection be handled, disputes be settled, and laws be enforced, and what are examples of solutions you have for the problems we’re seeing as a country today?

Knapp:
That’s one I have to plead “no even reasonably short answer available” to.

At the Center alone, we’ve produced around 800 newspaper-length articles, 100 magazine features and 12 scholarly research studies, most of which deal with exactly those kinds of questions.
Anarchists have been making concrete proposals of the sort since the early 19th century (the Center’s parent organization, the Molinari Institute, is named for the guy who proposed that “national defense” could be handled by the market back in 1849). I view the problem primarily in negative terms.

In the 20th century, Westphalian nation-states murdered, conservatively estimating, somewhere in the neighborhood of 170 million human beings. By “murdered,” I mean shot, bombed, marched into gas chambers, etc. That’s not counting incidental deaths caused by e.g. bureaucratic [and] regulatory matters like getting medicines approved.

For example, the 80,000 stroke victims who died waiting for propanol to be approved, or the thousands who died of traumatic bleeds while FDA sat on human body glue for 35 years[,] or the 20 Americans or so a day who die waiting for transplant organs because the market is not allowed to provide them — basically two 9/11s every year from that alone.

At some point, you have to look at the state and realize that from a standpoint of human life and health, it’s been a complete disaster, and that whatever we can come up with to replace it probably can’t help but be better.

Evans:
When you talk about murder and “gas chambers”, you invoke some very heavy imagery. How do you explain to someone that we should be Stateless without provoking heated opposition and even a fight?

Knapp:
Well, obviously the topic is hotly debated by all. I don’t mind a good fight! But in the main, when I’m arguing states vs. stateless with people, I try to point out that if we look at the supposed reasons for the state — to rescue us from the state of nature, “red of tooth and claw,” or to “secure these rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — the state has been a miserable failure at those things.

Evans:
What about when someone points to Somalia as an example of why we need a State?

Knapp:
I love it when that happens, because Somalia is a great example.
Their previous state bankrupted the country and left it in a state of civil war. When both warring state factions collapsed, the standard of living began to rapidly ascend.  At the height of its statelessness, Somalia had the fastest-growing economy in its part of Africa. Then the US, using the UN and Ethiopia, started trying to impose a state on it. Every time a new gang of usurpers declares itself the state and starts legislating with US guns to back up its “authoritah,” the standard of living in Somalia plunges. Every time the latest such gang gets sent packing, the standard of living in Somalia starts going back up.

Evans:
Could there be such a thing as a “voluntary Government”?

Knapp:
Of course. Government is just the means by which people regulate their associations with one another in groups. If you’ve ever ordered a pizza with several friends, or shared an apartment, or whatever, you’ve formed a temporary government for the purpose. The state is an organizational [and] governmental type defined by the fact that it claims a monopoly on the use of force in a specific geographic area — whether the people in that geographic area happen to want to listen to its demands or not. The state is the equivalent of pulling a gun to decide the outcome of that pizza-buying association and force everyone to “consent” to anchovies.

Evans:
Between your last response and this one, a friend of mine from Washington told me that some anarchists have joined the ranks of the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters as a form of outreach, however they were not met with arms wide open and had their signs blocked out and their microphones cut-off. Assuming that this was just an isolated incident, do you see the joining of OWS as a wise use of time and effort, or are there better ways?

Knapp:
I’m agnostic on the question. I assume that there have been anarchists at OWS from the start. I know when I visited Occupy St. Louis, there were already anarchists participating. The [director] of the Center for a Stateless Society just gave up his apartment and quit his “straight” job to spend all of his time at Occupy Kansas City.

Evans:
Lastly, on the topic of corporations, in an anarchist society, how would they be accepted? Wouldn’t they benefit from having absolutely no State regulations, and how would we punish them if they stepped out of line?

Knapp:
Corporations exist by state charter, and they are defined by specific privileges — limited liability and “corporate personhood” — which only a state can grant. There would be no way for a firm to claim those privileges in an anarchist society, because there would be no monopoly governing institution to grant them. That’s not to say there would be no more problems with misbehaving businesses (anarchy isn’t utopia), just that the problems would necessarily take on a different character, to which the society would presumably evolve solutions. Given that the corporation as we know it has only existed for a few hundred years, we can presumably survive without it.