Amid a culture where sensitivity training and trigger warnings appear to be gaining popularity, the New Hampshire affiliate of the Libertarian Party (LPNH) is forcefully pushing back.
LPNH, which has a reputation for sending eyebrow-raising tweets, has recently made efforts to up the ante even further. On Aug. 25, the state party’s official Twitter account posted a photo of John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, crying over her father’s coffin with the phrase “Happy Holidays.”
The backlash came from all directions, including fellow Libertarians, political pundits of all stripes, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who said, “That should pretty much be the end of the Libertarian Party in New Hampshire.”
This is a horrible, disgusting tweet. I already know the response will be that McCain advocated wars and military actions that are horrible and disgusting. That doesn’t justify being cruel to his family and loved ones. If you want to bring people to libertarianism, show humanity.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) August 26, 2022
The following day, LPNH responded with a sharp indictment against “warmongering politicians” who inflict suffering on those “who suffer the wrath of US foreign policy.”
They refused to apologize and have shown no sign of stopping their efforts to broadcast what LPNH Chair Nolan Pelletier called an “unabashedly antiwar” message to anyone who will listen.
“Currently neither major party can say that they have taken this stance; they instead turn a blind-eye to all the conflicts and wars that our country wages illegally,” Pelletier told Timcast. “I believe that critics who condemn us are entitled to their opinions, but their opinions most certainly do not align with my own.”
Smashing the Overton Window
While the McCain tweet may not be the most controversial tweet the LPNH has sent, one prominent figure within the party said it certainly brought the most attention — and gained them thousands of followers.
“The intent was to push back viciously against the commemoration of John McCain and shock people into asking the question why we would post something so tasteless,” Reed Coverdale, a “Free Stater” Libertarian and host of the Naturalist Capitalist podcast, told Timcast. “It opened up an opportunity where people would finally pay attention to us and we could supply exposition that would have otherwise gone ignored. … We admit that this [tweet] is far over on the offensive side, but we think it started an important conversation.”
He added: “Not every tweet has to have the vicious tastelessness of our McCain tweet, but unfortunately if we just post … about how bad the Federal Reserve is without giving it any flair, it will never get the attention it needs.”
Coverdale, a heavy haul truck driver who assists with social media for LPNH, said “99.9 percent of our tweets are informative and face value text, but they aren’t picked up on the radar. That’s why we occasionally send something a little more nuts. … We view ourselves as having meaner tweets than Trump, but it is coupled with way better policies.”
Coverdale does not personally send every tweet for the LPNH account. Pelletier explained that most tweets are put out as part of a collaborative effort. Though he said there are “a lot of members on our communication team,” only a small group selected by Pelletier and the communications committee chair has access to the account.
Coverdale explained that the Overton Window in New Hampshire is in a different place than it used to be. For example, a 2021 tweet advocating for the legalization of child labor was strongly condemned at the time. However, within a year, the state legislature put an end to most child labor laws.
“That tweet was a 10 last year,” Coverdale said. “Now, it would be a 4.”
Child labor laws don’t prevent 4-year-olds from working in the coal mines, they prevent 14-year-olds from working in flower shops.https://t.co/ku08IbJ45D
— Libertarian Party NH (@LPNH) June 7, 2021
The original tweet regarding child labor was deleted during a shakeup in LPNH leadership. Coverdale said there was a coup within the party in 2021, “and before the legitimate party got the keys to the Twitter [account] back, the usurpers deleted all the tweets.”
In a letter from June 12, 2021, former LPNH chair Jilletta Jarvis referred to a “hostile take-over” of the organization and condemned the “strategy of so-called ‘bold messaging,’” claiming such efforts were “designed to discredit the Libertarian Party in the state and in our nation.”
Coverdale views the role of LPNH’s leadership differently:
“We see ourselves as the tip of the spear that pushes the Overton Window in a drastic direction that gives others around the country a place to speak even if they don’t feel comfortable going as far as we do. For example, bringing up John McCain’s war crimes and saying that he was an awful person is an easy position to take after we have smashed that Overton Window with a sledge hammer.”
Portions of the criticism aimed at the tweet focused on Meghan McCain’s appearance in the photo, and whether or not the inclusion of a grieving daughter distracted from the intent of the central message.
Coverdale indicated that the inclusion was intentional, saying the late senator’s daughter “has done nothing but grift off his legacy of murder and occupation and normalize neoconservatism to housewives and soccer moms from The View.”
Meghan McCain reacted on Twitter by saying, “I really fear for the future of the world and how we have come to treat each other — especially on social media. I hope no one ever does anything like this to any of you.”
Coverdale crystalized LPNH’s position in an email to Timcast: “We view these people as the most evil purveyors of violence and destruction in America and think they deserve to pay a social price for their wickedness, not be honored on the anniversary of their deaths.”
Even though he recognizes that reactions to the tweet were split, Coverdale pointed out that their line of attack ultimately paid off: “We made national news, got interviews with local papers, and were branded in our brash opposition to warmongering, which is better than the complete lack of press we’ve had.”
Criticism from Other Libertarians
Still, eminent Libertarians beg to differ.
Justin Amash, a former Michigan representative who switched from Republican to Libertarian in 2020, called the McCain tweet “horrible and disgusting” — “if you want to bring people to libertarianism,” he said, “show humanity.”
Amash, who served in Congress for a decade, has been critical of LPNH’s “horrible messaging” for over a year.
When the affiliate tweeted that “John McCain’s brain tumor saved more lives than Anthony Fauci” in June on 2021, Amash accused LPNH of being insecure and disingenuous.
“When you message like that, it actually indicates an insecurity in your ideas,” Amash told Reason on June 25 last year. “It suggests that you don’t have profound ideas and the way to get attention is to say things that sound extreme or sound shocking because you don’t really believe in what you’re saying. You’ve just got to get some attention some other way.”
Spike Cohen, the Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 2020, offered a more nuanced critique of LPNH’s messaging.
“The corporate media’s strategy for neocon warmongers like John McCain is to gloss over their crimes and treat them as sympathetic characters,” Cohen told Timcast. “LPNH’s tweet fed directly into that strategy.”
In his view, a more effective approach would have juxtaposed a photo of McCain’s funeral with images of the innocent families victimized by drone bombings. Cohen said he would have rather have seen an emphasis placed on the contrast between McCain dying in the comfort of his home and the millions of victims of his policies who didn’t have that luxury.
“That would have still created a controversy and gone viral, and it would’ve forced anyone who took issue with it to defend McCain’s murderous policies,” he said. “Instead, they put up a distraction that made zero mention of McCain’s crimes or his victims, and instead mocked his mourning daughter, and the corporate media milked it for everything it was worth.”
However, Cohen said “there is absolutely no comparison between … every single tweet combined from every LP account ever, and the mass murder that has been committed by people like John McCain, [who] is a monster … responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people.”
He added: “I look forward to LPNH going viral with content that focuses on the real harm done by our opponents, and our solutions to put an end to that harm for good.”
In response to Amash and Cohen’s view that messaging like the McCain tweet is counterproductive and off-putting, Coverdale said, “That’s totally fair. However, LPNH does not represent the entire party, we represent New Hampshire, and we don’t expect everyone to be as aggressive as us or to back us up with every tweet we make.”
He added: “When you go hard, not everyone is going to receive it well.”
‘Live Free or Die’ in Unchartered Waters
A recent pair of viral videos posted to Twitter by comedian Alex Stein prompted LPNH to re-post the McCain image on Sept. 14.
In the videos, Stein confronts Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw, calls him “Eyepatch McCain,” and says, “You lost your eye for weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.”
“The war in the Middle East was based on lies and millions of people died unnecessarily,” Stein posted on Twitter. “I stand by what I said.”
“Well, America, this is what happens when our culture degrades boys and doesn’t teach them to be men,” Crenshaw wrote in his retweet of the confrontation video. “They end up like Alex Stein, a shameless, pathetic provocateur that is so desperate for clicks he will shame a group of veterans for their service.”
LPNH replied to Crenshaw by retweeting the McCain image from Aug. 25 and writing, “We are looking forward to one day tweeting about Dan Crenshaw the way we will continue to tweet about John McCain.”
We are looking forward to one day tweeting about Dan Crenshaw the way we will continue to tweet about John McCain pic.twitter.com/NiRveHoCX5
— Libertarian Party NH (@LPNH) September 15, 2022
The tweet prompted Canadian YouTuber and journalist Viva Frei to respond, “Who is vitriol like this supposed to appeal to? for goodness sake, @LPNH, who are you trying to appeal to with rubbish like this? Are these ‘libertarian’ values?”
The affiliate called Frei’s opinion “worthless” and contended that “mocking the deaths of war criminals is absolutely libertarian.”
In a separate post, LPNH said, “It’s really simple. Stop dropping bombs on children and terrorizing the world. We will stop mocking you.”
Though the affiliate has remained consistent in their aggressive and unapologetic approach, Pelletier said LPNH is “constantly trying to improve our messaging to get the desired results. To say that we hit our goal 100% of the time would be untrue, but we learn from our mistakes and our successes.”
He further acknowledged that there is a line between messaging that is bold and mean, aggressive and tasteless. However, the location of that line, he suggested, is “extremely subjective” and LPNH team members are persistently “trying to find where that line is.”
“I don’t think this approach has ever been taken by any other state affiliate before, so it is new territory for us, and we are trying to tread carefully,” Pelletier said.
“New Hampshire was trying to get secession on the ballot, while New York was banning [the] purchase of whip cream for those under 21,” he said with a laugh.
Pelletier, a New Hampshire resident for about two decades, pointed toward some initiatives that distinguish the “Live Free or Die” state from others. The Free State Project involves the mass migration of over 20,000 people who have opted to move to New Hampshire for the purpose of maximizing their impact in a single state to promote liberty. One of LPNH’s most important current efforts is the Defend the Guard Act — legislation prohibiting a state’s National Guard from joining active combat without a formal declaration of war by Congress.
“Basically, it would force elected officials [who are] beholden to the Constitution to actually uphold the Constitution!” Pelletier wrote in an email.
The legislation, House Bill 1092, was kept alive in the House of Representatives following a vote in February. It is currently awaiting a debate on the House floor.
Beyond these efforts, Pelletier said New Hampshire’s “unique political atmosphere” makes it possible for multiple organizations and groups in the state to advance issues including liberty, homeschooling, bodily autonomy, secession, and gun right among many others.
“We intend to keep pushing the envelope, but we also intend to perfect our messaging to the point that we get the intended reaction from every tweet,” Coverdale said. “This is an art form for a political party affiliate, so we’re in uncharted waters.”