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James L. Payne

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Were the Capitol Rioters Really Libertarians?


In the accounts about the Trump supporters who attacked the US Capitol, the media have sometimes alluded to supposed “libertarian” connections. The Wall St. Journal calls Parler, the social-media network which, it says, “served as a hub for people who organized, participated in or celebrated the storming of the Capitol” a “libertarian-leaning social-media site.”

In the same story it reported that one of the participants (Rosanne Boyland) “joined at least two libertarian-leaning Facebook groups.” A New York Times story reported that some people “arrested in the riots have been linked to the Oath Keepers.” This organization was founded by a man who, the Times noted, “once worked as an aide to the former Representative Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian”—as if this fact helped explain his riot-inspiring role.

Of course, terms referring to political beliefs are rather broad, incorporating a range of views, but this connection is implausible. To call an ardent, violent Trump supporter a “libertarian” departs substantially from the traditional meaning of the term.

The confusion stems from two very different conceptions of what it means to be “against government.” In the typical partisan battle, the agitators are against the particular people in charge of the current government: they are challenging King George, Tsar Nicolas II, Nancy Pelosi. They do not question the idea of government itself.
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