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Reece Smith, Libertarian Convention delegate from Pennsylvania, brandishes a sign to support the emancipation of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht before former President Trump's speech. 5/26/2024 (Credit: A.J. Cooke).\

Politics

The Truth About Trump’s Historic Speech to the Libertarian National Convention

Most of the coverage about President Trump’s 5/25 speech at the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, D.C. has implied that he was constantly booed and heckled, while saying nothing of consequence besides brazenly asking for the Libertarian nomination.

The reality was less complicated: his reception was neither “negative” nor “mixed”, but best described as “alternating”.  The majority of crowd booed when he said things libertarians dislike and cheered when he said things libertarians like.

Trump also made historic – quite newsworthy – promises to the crowd which the mainstream press generally left unreported.

The speech was held in the Washington Hilton’s Columbia Ballroom, which seats 2,960 and was packed wall-to-wall with both convention delegates as well as Trump campaign volunteers. The Trump supporters – comprising roughly a sixth of the total crowd, carrying American flags and decked out in MAGA hats – were concentrated in the center-rear, directly in front of the broadcast media camera crews and apparently strategically placed to fill up half the screen.

During introductory remarks by Libertarian pundit-comedian Dave Smith – and again several times during Trump’s speech – Trump supporters unwisely attempted to lead chants of “WE LOVE TRUMP!” but were drowned out 5-to-1 by Libertarians chanting “END THE FED!”. In one dramatic moment, Smith called for an end to all funding for both Ukraine and Israel, then received a standing ovation from the entire crowd – including the Trump supporters.

Almost all of the heckling during the speech came from four or five individuals who cycled in and out of a private event in an adjoining room. They attempted – and failed – to lead chants of “LOCK HIM UP” as well as calling him a “MURDERER” and a “HYPOCRITE”; a couple of them repeatedly yelled unprintable expletives inviting the former president to perform an anatomical impossibility. Virtually all nearby Libertarian delegates – even those who had booed Trump repeatedly – stood around cringing awkwardly during these screaming sessions.

“Lock Him Up” is an inversion of the venerable MAGA rally chant “Lock Her Up” in reference to Hillary Clinton. In this case, it could either refer to support for the Biden White-House-led prosecutions of Trump for charges totaling nearly 1,000 years or it could also refer to the sentiment shared by many Libertarians that Trump’s – arguably tepid – support for foreign wars makes him a war criminal.

They carried themselves like campaign staffers and appeared to interact with people carrying promotion material for the Chase Oliver presidential campaign; when asked by Valiant News, the Oliver campaign implicitly denied any connection to the hecklers, explicitly stating that neither they nor the Libertarian Party hosted the event in the adjoining room. They further clarified that they support the 1st Amendment right to free speech for everyone either cheering for Trump or booing him; also that the same applies for President Biden.

“Those who were heckling are members of the Libertarian Party. We avidly support free speech, and the party gave Trump the reception he deserved for his track record as president and his campaign rhetoric,” Oliver said in response to questions about the hecklers and whether he supported the various federal/state prosecutions against Trump. “I am not a district attorney or a part of a grand jury, so I can’t make an informed opinion. Therefore, I have to trust those who do have that information to make the correct choice in accordance with our laws and Constitution. I am focused on running for president.”

A young man in a grey suit wearing a Biden-Harris pin seemed to linger briefly near the hecklers as well at one point, but there’s no other evidence that the Biden campaign planted them.

Valiant News asked the Libertarian Party press office to identify the nature and sponsor of the event in the adjoining room, but didn’t hear back by time of publication.

“Well in the last year I’ve been indicted by the government for 91 different things,” Trump opened his speech saying. “So, if I wasn’t a libertarian before, I sure as hell am a libertarian now. And, unlike Joe Biden, I don’t throw people in jail for disagreeing with me.”

Aside from the roughly 1/6th of the crowd who specifically came to support him, the rest appeared almost wholly agnostic with no dedicated anti-Trump presence. The whole crowd raucously cheered when he promised to support Second Amendment rights, while the majority of the crowd booed when he asked for the Libertarian Party to “combine with us” and give him their nomination.

An interesting side note: his speechwriter appears to be unfamiliar with libertarian culture and jargon. The speech did not mention the Non-aggression Principle – a cornerstone of libertarian philosophy – and his reference to his endorsement from the NRA – an organization many Libertarians bemoan as a weak compromiser – fell dead flat.

Aside from the reaction from the crowd – Trump’s speech was historic in the sense that it marked the first time a major-party nominee or presidential front-runner had ever addressed the Libertarian Party. Trump also made a number of surprisingly concrete promises in line with the Libertarian platform, such as commuting the sentence of Ross Ulbricht and abolishing the Department of Education. Trump also voiced his opposition to the creation of a Central Bank Digital Currency, something many libertarians believe to be a doomsday scenario where the US Dollar would be replaced by a federal cryptocurrency designed to track the purchases of every American and eliminate financial privacy.

Here are some highlights:

  • “That is why I am committing to you tonight that I will put a libertarian in my cabinet and also libertarians in senior posts.”
  • “The moment I win the election, I will appoint a special task force to rapidly review the cases of every political prisoner who has been unjustly persecuted by the Biden Administration so I can sign their pardons or commutations on Day One.” *crowd interrupts with chants of “Free Ross!”* “And I will ensure that libertarians are helping to lead that task force. You’ll be on that task force, many of you. As everyone knows it will be my great honor to pardon the peaceful January 6th protestors or – as I often call them – the hostages. They’re hostages!”
  • “And if you vote for me, on Day One, I will commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht – to a sentence of time served!” *crowd erupts in cheers* “He’s already served 11 years. We’re going to get him home.”
  • “On Day One, I will sign an executive order banning federal agencies from colluding to censor the lawful speech of American citizens and we will remove the rogue bureaucrats who conspired to take away your First Amendment freedoms!”
  • “I will ensure that the future of crypto and the future of Bitcoin will be made in the USA, not driven overseas. I will support the right of self-custody. To the nation’s 50 million crypto holders  I say this: with your vote, I will keep Elizabeth Warren and her goons away from your Bitcoin. And I will never allow the creation of a Central Bank Digital Currency!”
  • “On education, we will cut federal funding for any school pushing Marxist and communist race and gender theories on our children. We will keep men out of women’s sports! And I will not give one penny to any school which has a vaccine mandate or a mask mandate.
  • “We will shut down our out-of-control Department of Education and give it back to the states and local governments.”

Long before Trump took the stage, stacks of “Free Ross” signs had been passed throughout the crowd and most attendees were enthusiastically chanting for the release of Ross Ulbricht. Ulbricht is serving life in prison for charges relating to his creation of the Silk Road website, which was notorious in the early 2010’s for facilitating the sale of nearly $10B of illegal drugs and other contraband. Many libertarians – including Rep. Thomas Massie (KY-04) – believe the trial was rigged and/or that the sentence was extremely excessive. Trump’s promise to commute his sentence came as a very welcome surprise to the Libertarian delegates.

Whether Trump’s team planned the “Free Ross” moment from the start or took advantage of the movement with a last-minute speech change, it was an outstanding piece of political theater and a historic moment in the campaign.

What’s more interesting is how easily Trump was able to make a promise to release what many would call a “convicted drug lord”, while he could only promise to give “very serious consideration” to the release of Australian journalist and whistleblower Julian Assange in a pre-recorded interview with SCNR News founder Tim Pool. Nor did he mention Edward Snowden at all. It’s difficult to say whether this is due to the personal opinions of the former President, opposition by powerful Republicans in Washington or a genuine political calculation that those two whistleblowers are less endearing to voters than Ulbricht.

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A.J. Cooke
Written By

A.J. Cooke is Cuban-American freelance journalist and ghostwriter based in Northern Virginia. He grew up in Japan, Malaysia and Portugal. His father, Don Cooke, was one of the 1979 Iran Hostages and his grandfather, the late Ambassador Diego Asencio, was held hostage by M-19 guerrillas in the 1980 Bogota Embassy Siege. A veteran political campaigner, fundraiser and ghostwriter, Cooke writes mostly political news with a focus on data science and legal analysis.

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