by Peter Eyre
I was born in 1980, in Ponca City, OK – a town of about 25,000 two hours north of Oklahoma City. My old man – a chemist graduate from Madison by way of Purdue – worked at the Conoco refinery, the area’s biggest employer. My mom – who’d been a nurse at the hospital – opted to stay at home with me and my older bro.
Growing up I played sports (sometimes poorly) and inherited my dad’s love of riding bicycles. My folks were supportive. One book they gave me, The Way Things Work, instilled in me an interest to investigate what was beneath the surface. When I was ten a tree house we’d started building wasn’t getting finished, so I knew some change was in the air.
We moved 700 miles up the road (I-35) to a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Save for math, school was easy enough but I tended to get into trouble for stuff. When younger – I got nothing more than checks next to my name on the blackboard. When older – I did nothing serious enough to get me caught up in the legal system, but I have had to apologize for some things I did in 11th and 12th grades.
Though I spoke with Army and Marine recruiters in 10th grade, like most of my classmates, I ended up heading off to college. My worldview at the time was aptly summarized by my second tattoo – an American flag surrounded by the text “Love it or leave it.” I majored in Law Enforcement. A mandatory class in the Ethnic Studies department was the impetus for that becoming my second major. In both programs I found that more and more, I was often the lone voice of dissent.
Drug policy was the issue that got me into the ideas of liberty. James P. Gray’s Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It was one of the assigned books in a Sociology class I took, and provided me with a logical framework of potential alternatives. I consumed other books on the issue and in a Law Enforcement class, wrote a paper calling for the decriminalization of drugs. My Ethnic Studies classes caused me to question democracy, after it became clear that a majority doesn’t make something right. It didn’t make sense to me that people should celebrate the political victories of women’s suffrage or the ending of enslavement but ignore the fact that it was the same institution that had “legalized” such inequalities in the first place. Ride-alongs and time spent as an intern with the St. Paul Police Department only reinforced my belief that systemic changes needed to be made.
I went off to grad school at Western Illinois University, where I majored in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. The program was geared for those heading into the field rather than academia. My grades were good – 3.85GPA in undergrad and 3.91 in grad school. I attended conferences around the country and was active with many organizations on campus, including the College Libertarians.
Thought-provoking discussions at our meetings caused me to question the Statist Quo. I took my views on drug policy to their logical conclusion – get the State out of the way. The same happened to marriage and education and other issues. I quit thinking about working for federal law enforcement agencies since I couldn’t support any of their missions. Still, I thought I could have a positive impact working at a big police department. After all, wasn’t protecting people and property a proper role of government?
I tested with New York City Police Department, Seattle PD and LAPD, and scored at the 94%, 98% and 100% levels, respectively. But, after a questionable reading on the lie detector test administered by the LAPD, they found that I hadn’t been truthful about my use of “illicit” substances. Consequently, they dropped me from consideration. I thought more about my future. I withdrew my name from consideration with the NYPD and Seattle and interviewed and was then offered a job in the private sector working for a surveillance company. I had my choice of placements around the country and was to be given a car and quite-decent salary, but then I received an email that changed the course of my life. I had previously applied for an intern position at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., thinking that such an environment would be very beneficial to my intellectual development. I didn’t know anyone in Washington, D. C., but I knew it was an awesome opportunity, so off I went into the belly of the beast.
I exited the train in Union Station with two bags and my boxed-up bicycle in early January of 2005 and began my internship in the Foreign Policy & Defense department. The caliber of those I was surrounded by was impressive. Most of the other interns came from big-name schools and were well-read. I felt like I had some catching-up to do and I worked hard to get the most out of my time there. Weekly seminars by Cato staff on public speaking, op-ed writing, research techniques and more helped me become a more-effective communicator of liberty. In-house events and those around town exposed me to a lot of ideas and policy proposals. After a short time I got up the courage to question those I felt less-than consistent. And for the first time I was exposed to economics (I hadn’t had a single class in high school or college). Austrian economics specifically opened up to me an entirely new perspective on the world, one centered on the actions of individuals rather than on mega-data like GDP or nation-state imports/exports. This was instrumental in my progress to seeing political boundaries as arbitrary.
That summer I was fortunate to be one of about 40 in the Koch Summer Fellow Program (KSFP). John Hasnas led one of the sessions during our opening week, and though I wasn’t assigned to his group, I made time to talk with him at the suggestion of others in the program. I found his views thought-provoking and today continue to share his essay “The Myth of the Rule of Law” with others who believe law created and interpreted by man is a good thing. Through the KSFP I interned at the Drug Policy Alliance. While some colleagues there advocated for the government to be completely uninvolved with drug policy, most sought to redirect government involvement from enforcement to treatment. Healthy conversation ensued and working through political channels to bring about systemic change became even less attractive.
I read Atlas Shrugged for the first time and finally understood the “Who is John Galt?” reference I had months before seen on a t-shirt. In June, I went to the Porcupine Freedom Fest (PorcFest), the summer event hosted by the Free State Project, after its founder Jason Sorens addressed our KSFP class. It was the first time I was around people who openly carried weapons and were living the free lifestyle. Their attitudes were very infectious. In August 2005, I was hired by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), which I still believe is one of the best bang-for-your-buck non-profits advancing liberty.
I worked at IHS for over 2 1/2yrs, last serving as director of the campus outreach program, which demonstrated to me the benefit of coupling online and in-person communications. While there I read Bruce Benson’s The Enterprise of Law, Carl Watner’s I Must Speak Out, the Tannehill’s The Market for Liberty, and Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalismjust to name a few. At some point while at IHS I realized that I was an anarchist, although I initially hesitated to describe myself as such, fearing I’d do more harm than good since I might fail to adequately address the critiques posed by others. That self-censorship soon passed.
In early 2008, I left IHS for Bureaucrash, a then-principled activist-oriented organization. It was a tough decision, but it was my logical next step. The intellectual foundation and skills I’d acquired over the past few years and the discretion afforded in my new role facilitated the creation of tools and content that helped advance the voluntary society. A vibrant social network meant individuals could connect online, share ideas and even meet in-person. Events, videos, merchandising and other efforts reinforced this community’s growth. A year later, I left DC to “search for freedom in America” through the Motorhome Diaries (MHD) with my friend Jason Talley, who, too, had been active in DC’s libertarian think tank world.
We set out in our RV, dubbed MARV, the Mobile Authority Resistance Vehicle, and pointed our cameras at those advancing the freedom movement. We held meetups in over 50 cities and did media and outreach. Shortly into the tour we received an email from Adam Mueller, who I subsequently nicknamed Ademo, and who later changed his last name to Freeman, to show that he owned himself. He expressed interest in joining our project. A week later he took the train from Milwaukee to Chicago, and we picked him up as we headed west. A month later we were stopped in Jones County, MS for having a temporary, rather than a permanent, metal license plate. This led to our unjust arrest and the search of MARV, and underscored why we were doing what we were doing – the police state was alive and well, but so was the liberty-oriented community, who made hundreds of calls to our captors, raised bail money, and helped get more attention on our rights-violations. I still get teary-eyed when talking about the spontaneous nature of the support we received from friends and other lovers of liberty. After seven months we had visited 41 states, met thousands of people, and uploaded 200 video interviews from policy wonks, activists, thinkers and, yes, three politicians (including Ron Paul and Adam Kokesh).
In early 2009, I joined Ademo at Cop Block (CB), a police accountability project he’d started after being harassed by an individual working for his local police department. Its tagline, “badges don’t grant extra rights” and proactive tactics have resonated with a lot of people, including a growing number of contributors. Though everyone approaches the issue from a different angle and with a different tone, we all seek to communicate that it’s the monopoly on the provision of law enforcement that must cease to end the rights-violations from those wearing badges.
A couple of months later, after I bought Jason out of his half of MARV, Ademo and I founded Liberty On Tour, through which we sought to advance the voluntary society. Taking what we learned from MHD, we spent a few months on logistics for our next tour. This time, over 30 organizations such as FEE, FFF, Freedom’s Phoenix, Free Keene and Strike The Root stepped-up. We included their brands on our video intros and outros, wore their swag, adhered their graphics to MARV (a rolling billboard for liberty), distributed their materials, and more. By this time we had relocated to Keene, NH, to be involved with the growing community of doers on the ground seeking to achieve “liberty in our lifetime!” A few weeks before we hit the road we traveled to Greenfield, MA, to bail out a friend. We were filming, as we often do, which eventually led to us being kidnapped and caged by aggressors wearing badges. Together we were threatened with three felonies and five misdemeanors. After over a year of legal hoops – we had a trial. By that time, only three charges remained (including the wiretapping). We represented ourselves (though the judge assigned us lawyers over our objections) and communicated that it wasn’t us but those wearing badges that were the criminals. People were supportive and emboldened to stand up for their own rights. The jury found us not guilty. When the jurors left, they received a standing ovation from those present to support us.
We completed another cross-country tour – 13 cities in 13 weeks that departed from Keene and ended in Miami, complete with more unfounded arrests – and this past summer (2011) did a shorter tour focused mostly on the growing liberty community in New Hampshire. My experiences in these roles only further strengthen my belief in and advocacy for consensual interactions.
Right now, I’m brainstorming with Ademo about future plans for Cop Block and Liberty On Tour. The former has had enormous traction due to its decentralized nature and the sheer number of people whose rights have been violated by those wearing badges, so it’s likely we’ll focus efforts on that front.
The ideas of liberty and of voluntaryism specifically have made me a better person. Most individuals mean well, but they’ve only been exposed to the misinformation peddled in gun-run schools and by the mainstream media, which communicate that it’s ok for people working for the government to do things that would be wrong for others to do. Introduction to the ideas of self-ownership, one mind at a time, can only encourage the peaceful evolution toward a more free and prosperous society. And oh yeah – that American flag tattoo is now covered by a big circle-A, which has been an excellent conversation starter about my journey, and the ideas of liberty.
‘A’ Was For America: My Journey to Voluntaryism Ⓥ By Peter Eyre