Photo by Maria Izaurralde
Last week, I spoke to activist and libertarian talk show host Adam Kokesh. Less than 24 hours later he was taken into custody by federal agents.
Kokesh is an Iraq War veteran. In 2007, he was issued a general discharge from the US Marine Corp after being photographed by the Washington Post while attending an Iraq Veterans Against the War protest in his uniform. The resulting incident made the papers and the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars publicly backed Kokesh, then accused the Marine Corps of trying to silence and punish members of the military for exercising their constitutional rights. This would be the first in a series of controversies surrounding Adam and his politics.
Adam's latest agenda is probably his most controversial to date. A couple of weeks ago on his talk show Adam vs The Man, Kokesh announced his plans to celebrate Independence Day by marching into the nation's capital with 10,000 followers, all of whom would be armed with loaded firearms.
Adam and I talked on the phone for nearly a half hour about, among other things, his protest, privacy and security, and his Jeffersonian values. While his motivations aren't always clear, one thing was obvious: Adam Kokesh does not like the US Government. It's not that he hates the people running the government, but he believes government has invalidated itself by betraying the principles from which it was founded. At times Kokesh sounded downright anarchistic, but overall he was more empowered by the idea that government should belong to the governed.
The day after our conversation, Adam was arrested at "Smoke Down Prohibition," a public protest for the legalization of marijuana that takes place every month in Philadelphia. Basically, large groups of people gather in public and simultaneously spark up joints or smoke bowls of weed to protest the fact that it's illegal to do so. Also, they get high. It's not complicated. Before last Saturday, no arrests had ever been made at one of these events, despite the fact that police were always present and laws were broken every time.
There are several videos on YouTube that document the moments before and during Adam's arrest. In one of the clearest videos, Adam isn't sparking up. He continues talking into the microphone while everyone else is flicking their Bics. Within seconds, the police move in and Adam yells, “Everybody get closer. Show some love. Come on, we’re going to make it difficult for the police here.” That didn't work out so well.
Moments later, Adam is being dragged away from the crowd by police. He doesn't appear to be committing any crime in the video. In fact, the only charges against him are for events that transpired after he was engaged by the officers: assault on a federal police officer, impeding the duties of a federal police officer, and resisting arrest. Almost immediately after being grabbed by the officers Adam's hands go up into the air, palms up, signaling that he has officially surrendered and isn't resisting arrest. No assault of any kind appears to take place.
According to Lucas Jewell, Adam's podcast manager, the arrest is in direct response to the upcoming Independence Day march, not the Smoke Down Prohibition demonstration. "They walked by a big black guy with dreads smoking a blunt and snatched Adam when he hadn't done anything illegal." The fact that Adam was originally taken to a local jail but then picked up by agents and transferred to a Federal detention facility has only fueled this theory.
Kokesh went before a judge at 1:30 PM Monday and was reportedly silent the entire time. According to Jewell via the Adam Kokesh Facebook page, another hearing was scheduled for this Thursday. Jewell writes: "The reason for the detention hearing is because Adam will not speak on if he owns fire arms [sic] or his address."
It's unclear if Adam will be released in time to conduct his march on DC, if it will be canceled, or whether the arrest will inadvertently cause even more people to show up on July 4 with loaded weapons slung over their shoulders. If the arrest was indeed a preemptive strike by law enforcement attempting to stop the open carry march before it took place, the tactic of targeting Kokesh in public might very well backfire.
Here's part of my telephone interview with Adam Kokesh from Friday, May 17.
VICE: Hi Adam, thanks for talking with me. How many people have signed up to join your open carry march?
Adam:The total is over 4,000 now, so we're well on our way to meeting our goal of 10,000. There are a lot of people who have signed up by e-mail who said they're going to be organizing buses. So I think with all of the support we've gotten outside of Facebook we're close to 10,000 already.
Is your protest specifically just about the 2nd Amendment or is there a broader theme behind your armed march?
It's definitely broader than that. While the 2nd amendment is an important part of how we are able to keep government in check— at least the founders intended it that way—this is really more about fundamentally altering our relationship with government and making sure that the government fears the people and not the other way around.
You allude to a famous Jefferson quote often. He said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” What exactly does that mean to you?
The people have to live in such a state that their rights are privileges because they know the government can take them away at any time; I think that's the state of fear of government that a lot of people live in today. When that's the case it's because rights are threatened. When you fear someone else it's because they are a threat to you peacefully exercising your rights. Human beings are capable of ruling their own lives and shouldn't have other people exercising authority over them in any way. But, in a situation where the government truly exists at the pleasure of the people, then the government should constantly be in fear of the people and should acknowledge that at any time anybody in government can lose their job, or, as the founders said in reference to the declaration, the people have the right to alter or abolish said government.
How do you feel about these recent public comments by President Obama: "Unfortunately you've grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that's at the root of all of our problems... They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."
Well, in a way, everything he said is perfectly true because the government is not a separate entity as a product of the will of the people. In the other sense, when he says that the people who say "tyranny is around the corner," it's true that they're lying. In any sense that you'd be able to define it, tyranny is already here. If the government is corrosive and only sustainable by assertively violating your rights, I would say that it already is. I think those saying tyranny is around the corner are really the one's that are saying there is some hope left in the political system or if you just do what we say, we're going to be able to fix this or if we just believe in the conservative hype we'll be able to vote our way to liberty.
In the sense that Obama meant it, of course it was absurd that he was saying "don't worry, everything is OK." It's an insult to the intelligence of his audience to suggest they don't know better.
Some people say the notion that the 2nd Amendment is in jeopardy is just a weapon of mass distraction; that gun control is just the next divisive topic to help Democrats and Republicans continue to appear different on the issues now that the polls have shifted on gay marriage. Do you agree with that?
I think most Republicans don't have any credibility when it comes to claiming that they're different from Democrats. The gun control debate is a little more significant than the gay marriage debate. I understand it could be a distraction from the real exploitation that the federal government represents but it's so much more fundamentally important because it deals with the nature of government as a violent monopoly. If you challenge that monopoly they don't like it. There's often a negative reaction and they arrest people illegally, as we've seen in Ohio, in Texas, and events all over the country where people are openly carrying legally and end up getting arrested, accosted, and sometimes assaulted by police officers. So, we're using the gun control to speak to something that goes a lot deeper.
Do you think gun control arguments politicize tragic events such as the Newtown shooting or are the debates necessary?
I think it's necessary to quell the knee-jerk reaction of those who would turn to government to attempt to solve problems, but that's why those conversations happen. Whenever there is a tragedy the government seeks to exploit it. You know, never let a good crisis go to waste. So, I think it's important that we fight back and resist that when there is such a tragedy and this is one way of doing it.
While we're on the topic of politics and guns, do you think the tens of millions of dollars spent by groups like the NRA place the value of the money above our influence as individual citizens on the political process?
I think, really, the problem of money's influence on politics isn't the money that is used to communicate ideas for whatever reason. The problem is that people are willing to vote without thinking. In a sense, voting is an act of aggression because you are saying that if I happen to have the majority when I cast this ballot, it's legitimate for the government to force my will on you; to name a leader for you that has certain policies that you may or may not agree with. To impose a tax on you or pass a law that is going to be forced on you. As long as people believe that somehow voting is appropriate as a way to organize society through force, then we're going to have a problem with influence from various places that are going to try to effect how people vote and who the guns of government are pointed at. I think that's a much deeper problem.
Is privacy the civil rights issue of our generation?
That's a good question. I think it's a very important issue as we see our lives fundamentally altered by technology. I think, in a way, technology provides great mechanisms of accountability. I'm not against surveillance, in a sense. I'm looking forward to having a camera mounted in my contact lens. It's really just a matter of who's controlling it, who is doing what with that data, and who is accessing it for what purposes. But I think privacy is going to become something that we're also empowered by technologically to create for ourselves if we need to. The problem is when you have this technology in the hands of government.
The information we're talking about when we talk about privacy... we're talking about the NSA recording every single digital phone call that takes place in the United States. Every single one. And we found that out unequivocally after the Boston bombing when it was revealed that the FBI was going to “find these conversations.” And you're like... there it is. The question is, who controls this information? Should it be a gang of violent thugs in our government? Absolutely not. But should we have that record? Should it exist? I think so.
It was recently revealed that the Justice Department obtained the telephone records of journalists working at the Associated Press. You're a member of the media, you have your own show. Do you feel this is an all-out assault on the 1st Amendment?
Do I think it's an assault against the 1st Amendment or is it just more intimidation? I don't know, because when I heard about that story and it was the Associated Press that was being targeted, I was definitely surprised. What happened to the AP is not unique to journalists, it's the entire American public. I think we all are threatened by this and we should be worried if it turns out that the government is targeting and influencing journalists—I think that the record is clear now that they have. Is it an assault on the 1st Amendment? The 1st Amendment is a bunch of words on paper. The assault is on individuals and their privacy. All of these transgressions just demonstrate how illegitimate this government is. If there is such a thing as legitimate government, this is not it.
Going back to your protest on July 4th, if the police chief does amass a police presence on the Arlington Memorial Bridge to prevent your demonstration from entering DC, how will you react?
If there is a line drawn then we will march up to that line and we will request permission to pass. If denied, then we'll take our grounds for a lawsuit with us and turn around peacefully.
Thanks for taking the time, Adam.
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