Here’s our interview with Libertarian Party presidential hopeful Vermin Supreme. You might know Vermin as the candidate from the last few election cycles who ran on a platform of free ponies and mandatory tooth brushing, or you might just know him as that guy with a boot on his head. But this year, he’s running a slightly different campaign.
Rather than his usual dog and free pony show, he’s seriously promoting left libertarian and anarchist ideas such as mutual aid and non-domination to the largely right libertarian audience in the LP. In this interview, we discuss this campaign, as well as the use of humor as a de-escalation tactic at tense protests, his history of activism within anarchist communities, and where he sees himself standing within anarchism ideologically.
Zachary Woodman: Hello and welcome to this episode of Mutual Exchange Radio. Today, I have the honour of talking to someone who needs no introduction, Vermin Supreme, a current presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. Hello Vermin.
Vermin Supreme: Hello there. How are you?
Zachary Woodman: Excellent. How are you surviving this apocalypse?
Vermin Supreme: I’ve created a new content outlook outlet. Every evening around 5:30, I’ve been livestreaming on Facebook, about an hour of nature because I live up in a beautiful Cape in Massachusetts and there’s a lot of ocean, and bodies of water, and little streams and things.
I’ve been spending about a half to an hour just sharing some scenery with the people because a lot of people are completely shut off and sealed in and aren’t getting out to nature at all.
Zachary Woodman: Yup, I am in that boat.
Vermin Supreme: You’re welcome to tune in and watch the nature with me anytime.
It’s my presidential service, I guess.
Zachary Woodman: Yes. Far more wholesome than what most candidates are doing these days.
Vermin Supreme: Yes. I mean, anybody can rant and rave and try and whip people up into a frothing frenzy, but I’m not about that, unless circumstances warrant that of course.
Zachary Woodman: We might touch on a little bit of the covert stuff later because it might be interesting to get your thoughts on it, depending on how you feel.
But first, I wanted to talk a bit about what exactly you’re accomplishing with this campaign. Let’s talk about your history of political activism. How did you get into being a presidential candidate?
Vermin Supreme: Correct. It has been a long, slow climb.
From what I understand it to be, it’s a skill set that I have developed over the past 30 years, utilizing communication strategy that I’ve also developed. And essentially, I’m this highly respected political satirists dude, which is funny because it’s true. But it wasn’t always that way.
In the late eighties, I was living in Baltimore, Maryland. I was hanging with the art weirdos, used to do bookings and promotions. I had a couple of nightclubs after many years of putting on parties in various locations, including warehouses and parking garages and all sorts of strange locations that we would find.
We would just throw in too many bands and too many kegs. I wasn’t particularly political back then. And that’s when I became Vermin Supreme, when I was doing the bookings and promotions. At that time, it was all booking agents and all club owners and all promoters were vermin, and I was going to be the Supreme Vermin.
And of course, back then it was sort of tail end of the punk rock days. You know, the art weirdo scene being what it was, it was not unusual for somebody to take on a name like that. And at the time, it eventually became a very short leap from different club owners being vermin to politicians being vermin.
But I eventually burnt the fuck out on Baltimore, Maryland, and was plotting my exit. I had one foot out the door, but yet I was still looking for some reason or project that would let me hang out there some more, ’cause rent was cheap and that will tend to keep me places.
So I declared that I was running for mayor of Baltimore, Maryland. I thought I knew a lot of people and felt that would be something to do. It didn’t keep me there at all, quite frankly, and within the next couple months I was still aching to get out of there.
And then my exit rolled on up in the form of the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, which was a cross country anti-nuclear-weapons march that went from LA to DC in ’87, and it rolled into Baltimore. What I saw was an amazing mobile city on wheels. 5,000 people were onboard at that point and on all the equipment that you would imagine was required to move people down the road.
There was several racks of port-a-potty trucks. There was giant water tanker trucks. There was port-a-potty pumper trucks. There was mechanical repair shop trucks. There was all these school buses that actually functioned as schools because there were so many kids on the march that they had their own school system going on.
They had a town hall, they had all these kitchens, they had three or four different kitchens and prep trailers and reefer trailers, hauling all the food. And it was really an amazing and impressive and eye opening event for me because I had read about it a couple of weeks before that, in a Mother Jones article, and essentially it made it sound as though it had collapsed in the desert.
So when it actually showed up on my doorstep, I was thoroughly surprised and delighted and went to my local thrift store and bought a clean pair of clothes and bought a crappy sleeping bag and jumped onboard this group of people that was marching to DC and spent about three or four days getting there.
And then there was a weekend of protest and civil disobedience and people throwing their shoes over the white house fence and concerts and all these things. I met a bunch of anarchists, who became my fast friends. I’m still in touch with them after all these many years, and they were responsible.
The anarchists were specifically responsible for the march continuing because when it collapsed in the desert of Barstow, California, it was because David Mixner, the political operative whose vision it was, overextended financially. He had this vision of this huge white bread march across America, with movie screens so that people could watch movies with, and they had their own tents printed up and their own milk crates printed up with their logo on it… and so it collapsed financially. And when it did, all these repo people were coming to take the equipment, and the direct action anarchists were preventing that from happening by disabling the equipment, and lying down in front of it. And so they saw to it that the march continued.
They were a very big part of this particular march and movement, and they were able to finagle some financing and to purchase some of the equipment. So they bought a porta-a-potty truck rack – I think it had eight port-a-potties – kitchen trailer, prep trailer and info trailer and a water trailer.
Their mission became supporting these mobile demonstrations, community peace marches. The first one I was on was in Florida. It went from King’s Bay, Georgia, where five nukes were being deployed down to Cape Canaveral, where they were testing them.
And then we had people going back country, to try and disrupt the actions there, trying to disrupt the launching tests. We sat tight for some friends of ours, who had been arrested, and so we were personally their little Cape Canaveral action community committee or whatever.
During this time, I started attending these political events, and also, at the same time, started attending rainbow gatherings. You know, I’m sure you’re familiar with the rainbow galleries.
Zachary Woodman: A little, can you refresh?
Vermin Supreme: Okay. Essentially, they’re a temporary autonomous zone.
They happen every year. The national or the annual, they try to stay away from the word “national”, event is the first. First weekend of July, with a week of setup and a week of breakdown. Imagine if you will, 4,000 people sitting in concentric circles, in a giant meadow in the middle of a national forest.
All of a sudden, they are waiting for dinner, and out of the forest comes, from a hundred different kitchens, people carrying five gallon buckets of food down to all these people and they start serving people. And other people start going around the circle, giving information about all the various workshops that might be occurring that evening or tomorrow, and the talent shows that might be occurring, and all the sort of entertainment notes and things that are happening. Then the magic hat goes around and, because it’s a non-commercial hat, the magic hat collects the money. The only place you can throw your money is there becaus you can’t buy anything, you can’t sell anything with it. It’s a completely non-commercial event. And so everybody kicks down, and then it goes to the centre circle, banking council counts the money, they announced the amount, anybody who wants to join the banking counsel can, it’s totally transparent. The kitchen council meets the next day, representatives in a spokes council, horizontal type fashion, put in their shopping lists. They interface with the supply council, and they get the money from the bank council that goes, buys the supplies, brings it to the kitchens, and they do it over and over again. So all these people get fed. It’s a wonderful thing. There’s 10.000-20,000 people out in the woods, sometimes more, sometimes less, in a completely leaderless experience, where anything gets done: chopping vegetables, building a kitchen — it’s sort of Flintstones meets Gilligan’s Island — to workshops, to digging shitters, to tapping the springs, to unrolling the water pipe to make it a functioning water system, to clean up and make it all disappear, and then decompacting the land and then receding the land… like that. That’s where I learned a lot about anarchism and functioning anarchism, and anarchism in practice and exercise. It is an anarchistic organism, although it does not identify itself as such. That is where I picked up a lot of my chops and a lot of my skills. Because it is such a free place, you can sort of make what you want of it and create what you like. For the first several years, I was sort of an entertainment high holy, sort of carrying on my stage craft, being a stupid clown and trying to entertain people and finding things that I thought were funny and doing them over and over again just to make people laugh.
And then, after several years of that expression of self in that environment, I realized that once again because we provide all these services for ourselves, I became much more aware of things that would happen that needed some sort of intervention. And I found out that, yes, we do provide our own security.
It’s one of the functions. We have a council, a security council, and we culturally appropriated the Sanskrit word of Shanti Sena. It means “peacekeepers” or some such. I paid more attention to that. So I started bringing in my clowning skills and my humor skills into this crisis intervention arena.
Let’s be frank, it’s glorified camp counselor type of shit. And on a good day, it’s just people having a disagreement, but sometimes it gets real heavy as you can imagine — because there are no tickets, there’s no barriers to entry. It attracts all types of people, good, bad and ugly — including predators and people without the best of intention.
So we have to deal with that. And of course, because it is such a huge counter-culture event, the government, the state, has been actively opposed to it, since its beginning in the early years. They sent out the national guard and all these hippies, they just went around them and gathered.
Over the years, there’s been permit schemes, where the government is trying to tell us we needed permits for more than 75 people gathering. These have gone up and down to the Supreme court. And we continue to win, but a lot of times the national forest service, which is a subsection of the department of agriculture, will have the incident. Can mean they will spend up to a million dollars a year on this incident command law enforcement team, specifically to target the rainbow gatherings. They come out in force. They set up their own cop camp up the road. They patrol the roads up and down. They’re there. They pull people over, they Jack people up, they search people’s shit. They make arrests. They come through the gathering. They arrest people for nudity out in the middle of nowhere. They ticket people for having their dogs off the leash, for drug/marijuana possession. And a lot of times they do it in a really outrageous fashion and try and create incidences that caused great crazy movies in the vernacular of the rainbow, where a lot of things have to be done. And so, one of the security features that we provide are escorts to these cops. And of course, I’m not referring to sexual escorts. I am referring to cop blockers, cop watchers and cop walkers. And so I would spend eight hours a shift walking with cops and propagandizing cops and warning the hippies that the cops were in their area, and making fun of the cops and having fun with the cops… Once again, it’s a blessing that I am gifted with this random DNA roll, with the upbringing or whatever, but I can generally do it in a way that is to piss them off too hard. *laughs* So after doing that, after building those skill sets… and of course, I felt very comfortable doing that because I knew my people were watching my back.
I’ve been arrested a few times at demonstrations, but I’ve been arrested many more times at the rainbow gatherings. And it’s generally me jumping into their shit. When I get arrested there, it’s generally because I’m interfering on behalf of another situation that’s going on as a distraction.
And, more often than not, they run me through the paces, and want to see the ID, and want to know what my name is, and don’t believe what my name is, and blahbity blahbity blah. And then, they eventually cuff me and drive me down the road a quarter mile and kick me out again.
So I was able to take those skills out into riot world. In demonstration situations, you have your protestors and you have your line of cops, and in between there’s this no person’s land, which is essentially a vacuum where anything can and often does occur. It could be like a wing nut protester, like totally flying through and jumping into the cop’s face too hard or something.
Or it could be the cops fucking taking a cheap shot with their pepper spray, or whatever, and things sort of fall apart from there. So, I discovered that I could step into that vacuum, and seize that situation with my bull horn and calm voice and sensibleness but humour.
A lot of things that I like to do in that situation… that I will read to the cops from riot control manuals, just so that I let them know, what kind of professional behavior I expect [from] my oppressors. I read important safety information to the crowd, so they’ll be more aware of situationally, what’s going on and where they might have an exit, and what to do in case they were pepper sprayed or tear gassed or that type of thing.
Zachary Woodman: So it sounds like your job has been to constantly use humour entertainment as a way of both informing and de-escalating – informing people and de-escalating situations.
Vermin Supreme: I would agree with that assessment.
Anecdotally, just a lot of feedback I get, it seems that people really do believe that I really do make a difference in preventing violence in a number of those situations, through these methods that I’ve developed. I believe they’re transferable skills also.
I’ve given workshops on the tactics of using the bullhorn and the tactics of deescalation and made the material available to people who might want to take that practice up. I certainly do encourage it. You know, back in the day, there was sort of more peace marshals or peacekeeper type of vibes that did act in some sort of MC type, master of ceremonies type of role, letting people know what’s going on and then try and avoid the crowd panic. And once again, all these things that I do, I don’t do them a lot. I do them every so often ,but when I do, it’s a pretty powerful thing, man. It’s always wild.
Zachary Woodman: So you transformed from a, not rabble rouser, but rabble calmer and cop calmer for that matter…
Vermin Supreme: *laughs*
Zachary Woodman: …cop whisperer and rebel calmer, to presidential candidate. First, obviously, more as a satirization the whole pageantry of the elections. And now, it seems to have evolved into something.
Vermin Supreme: It sure has. It sure has. As I had referenced, I had run for mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, in ’87 and how that played out, you know, I told you, I bailed on Baltimore, joined that Peace March, started going to demonstrations, going to rainbow gatherings, and then a year passed and I realized, “Oh shit, I was supposed to be running for mayor”. And so I did a month long drug study as a human lab rat and made enough money that I was able to hire some computer type setter to type set my platform that I wrote while I was in there, and I printed up some posters that said, “Vermin Supreme is your mayor. Demand a recount.” Like that. And then went back to Baltimore and actually did run a pretend campaign for a couple of days. What I started doing was bringing my satirical campaign to the rainbow and to these various political demonstrations. We used to do a lot of stuff out at the Nevada nuclear test site; a lot of big scale encampments and thousands of people doing civil disobedience of that way. I became known as a candidate and then I started running up in the New Hampshire primary, just showing up and pretending to run in ’92, and discovered that, because New Hampshire is such a small state and every candidate goes up there right after the Iowa Caucus, every candidate has campaign headquarters, they have campaign buses, they have campaign staffs, they have campaign rallies, and they’re bouncing all around the state all at the same time…. so It’s very easy to interact with them, interfere with them, ask them stupid questions and get some publicity. That’s what I started doing. At that point I started wearing the boot on the head, that became a thing. And of course, there’s media from around the world. So there’s this international and media thing going on there at the same time. So I came across that part of the formula, you know, interacting with the duopoly candidates and getting publicity as a result of it and having fun and asking them, challenging them to the [dueling Shane’s a grudge match to the death and the steel cage with doom] and did that every four years. I did that for eight election cycles, approximately almost 30 years, and developed quite a level of notoriety just by doing that. And of course, that part of it is particularly easy for me. Obviously it’s a particularly easy target pissing on the duopoly, if you will. It just seems that it’s very enjoyable. I like it. It’s improv-campaigning because I’m on the street and interacting with the cops and the demonstrators and the other candidates and citizens.
It’s just a lot of fun. It’s always different. This year we had ponies. I had Lord Bucket Head up there and all of this stuff. When I was a younger person, I was easily dismissed. You know, it’s like, “Oh God, look at that hippie. Look at that scraggly hippie guy with a boot on his head, talking crazy shit!”.
So it took a long time before I became all gray and these awesome lines in my face and stuff that has given me a lot of gravita, that goes along with the levity. And so now I’m like the elder statesmen of wing nuts or some shit. This past year, I’ve been running as the Libertarian. Let me tell you, it took me many years to be able to accept and say that I’m a libertarian. Oh, you know, back in the day, boy, I bought into every stereotype of libertarians, I bad mouthed libertarians.
Zachary Woodman: I think our audience is probably very heavily split on the term themselves. I myself, after spending years calling myself a libertarian, have a level of ambivalence towards it at this point.
So what exactly was the process and what has that come to mean to you?
Vermin Supreme: Well, what is a libertarian? A person who believes in liberty, I guess? I’m dabbling with the Libertarian Party, or I joined forces with the Libertarian Party if you will. It took me a long time. If I could just talk a little bit about my transition in my understanding, how I dispelled a lot of these things.
The beautiful thing about New Hampshire, and another wonderful thing about New Hampshire, is that it is such a small state and it does have The Free State Project. Their idea was to get enough libertarians to move up there, where they could have a big sway on the political goings on there.
And they’ve had semi-success, they’ve got a bunch of state reps elected in. But I guess 2012 is when a lot came together for me because I was just starting to become a little more acquainted with The Free State Project and the Free Staters. It was the Occupy the Primary, one of the last Occupy actions. It was the year that I glitterbombed Randall Terry.
Zachary Woodman: I think that’s the first time I heard of you, when that happened.
Vermin Supreme: I mean that was crazy, ’cause it went viral and got turned into a meme and went a long way towards making me this larger-than-life figure. Thank you, bronies.
But if you watch the unedited five minute video… Somebody clipped off the ending. It was very lucky for me that they did, because in that ending, I led the people, the audience, in a mic check and it was like, “Mic check! Welcome to the New Hampshire primary. You’ve been occupied!”. And I said that to Randall Terry while I was shaking his hand. But the person who made that edit of that C-SPAN tape left that part off. And so as a result, I wasn’t pegged as any particular thing. It was perceived to be a nonpartisan event. I wasn’t specifically referencing a party or a candidate.
So it was understood as a much broader swipe, and as such was appreciated by the right and the left. And that is essentially what gave me this huge audience, that really spans the political spectrum from the hard right to the hard left, to places that creep me out, quite frankly. But I can’t help that.
All I can do is address it, when it comes to my attention and what have you. And we shut down Newt Gingrich’s event, literally, we shut it down. He couldn’t even get to his own campaign headquarter cause we surrounded it and we were screwing with Santorum and it was just so much fun. But at any given event, there would be the Occupiers over here and there were the Free Staters over there, and we were all demonstrating and protesting the same politician, be it for different reasons perhaps – at any moment the whole thing could transition, everybody would join in and make it a Vermin Supreme rally.
It was very, very funny and very fluid. I felt like I was being a uniter, which I always felt I’ve tried to be. Our campaign manager that year was a woman named Chris, and she had been in an accident, and she ended up in a wheelchair ,and she was with the Free State Project. She made me understand that her community came together. And not only did they see her through her immediate plight, they also helped her longterm to help her create her own position with the Free State Project and do the grants and everything to keep her going, gainfully employed as a productive member and all that stuff.
And so it was at that point that I really had to question my preconceptions, my stereotypes of the libertarians. And I had to give them the credit.
Zachary Woodman: What stereotypes?
Vermin Supreme: That they were selfish bastards? *laughs* Selfish, greedy, capitalist bastards. “I got mine”, you know, “fuck you”. I used to say, quite frankly, “libertarians have no soul”. I would quit but that was prejudice. I was coming from a place of prejudice, flat out, not knowing real libertarians, or it turned out I did, but I didn’t know they were libertarians.
Once I started really knowing libertarians and what they stood for, I understood that there was quite a bit in common in the Venn diagrams in terms of wanting to end the state. I mean, the Libertarian Party is the only party that welcomes anarchists for goodness sake. Then in 2016, some libertarian started reaching out to me, to do different things, and I was invited to the international Students for Liberty conference.
Zachary Woodman: I believe I briefly met you there.
Vermin Supreme: Oh, okay. And that was great because they gave me no content restrictions. They didn’t tell me what to do. They just brought me down to interrupt the president’s opening remarks and he was in on it.
That’s when I did my scorching bullhorn rendition of the star spangled banner and gave him a lesson on ponynomics and then on my way out, I threw a bunch of a confetti, a glitter on them, and told them that Peter Kropotkin told me to turn them into a bunch of social anarchists.
Because Kropotkin, I read that when I was pretty young, and Emma Goldman, and when you read things when you’re younger, I think they make a real impression. And they really informed my outlook on things. Then the rainbow gatherings gave me a more practical application and then running in the streets, of course.
When I would see the black bloc or the red and black bloc, inevitably, I would run with them, run interference for them because they are anti-authoritarians. And I knew that they would be confronting the police state literally or committing some sort of a symbolic property destruction.
As a result, I knew there was going to be some excitement and the kind of excitement that could perhaps use my particular skill set. I catch a little flack for that from civil libertarians because, “Ouh Vermin, Antifa!” and all that but you know… Those were different times. That’s before they were punching Nazis, man. *laughs*
Zachary Woodman: We’ll get back to the campaign in a second, but I guess the other question that I think a lot of people have is: How exactly would you describe your political ideology? Cause you say libertarian and then you say Kropotkin.
Vermin Supreme: I tend to define myself as a rainbow anarchist. And that’s mainly because, once again, I learned a lot I know about practical anarchy from the rainbow gatherings. I also have an appreciation for many of the stripes of anarchism.
I am an anti-statist, I am an anti-authoritarian, and when I say I’m a libertarian, I generally say that I’m a left-anarchist libertarian. That’s another one of the stereotypes that I did not understand about the Libertarian Party, that took me a long time to grok and understand, was that it is not a right-leaning monolith.
It has a spectrum. It has a left and right spectrum going on there. I’m talking to older lefties. It’s like, “You do know they have a Libertarian Socialist Caucus. Did you know that?”. Add they’re like, “Really?”. That simple fact that the Libertarian Party has a Libertarian Socialist Caucus, just that alone tends to make people really have to reconsider what they think that the Libertarian Party is. My own campaign is causing people to take a second look at it. I’ve got a fair amount of political goodwill and capital, and certainly I’ve taken some hits for my involvement with the Libertarian Party, but I have found so many beautiful people and they are quite receptive to the concept of mutual aid. They tend to call it volunteerism or whatever, and charity. One of my things going in I was always afraid to discuss with the libertarians, was my distaste for their framing of helping other people as charity, when my understanding was much more towards the lines of mutual aid. But I never wanted to mention that to them, ’cause I was afraid they would co-opt it. But here I am, trying to sell them on mutual aid and trying to reframe it. So I think, part of this run, I’m finding that I’m trying to recontextualize the culture of the Libertarian Party.
I was recruited into this particular run. In 2016 I did go to the national convention. I did say that I was running, that I was seeking their nomination, that was the tail end of it. That was probably the last of the not real campaign we just say.
And it was in making it so.
Zachary Woodman: What exactly, besides just entertainment obviously, which is what I think most people who aren’t familiar with you think all that was accomplishing, do you think that those fake campaigns were trying to accomplish — more in terms of like directing people to leave certain pageantry of electoralism?
Vermin Supreme: Oh, I certainly think so. It has always operated on a lot of different levels. I understand that a lot of different people ascribe different levels of import to it. All the way from, “Vermin, what you’re doing is so critical for democracy, blah blah blah” to, “That is the stupidest shit I ever seen!”. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and their own reality and their own understanding of it. I’m offering my critique of the stinking, rotten system and I think that’s why a lot of the platform planks have held up so well.
I mean, I was ranting about the mandatory toothbrushing law, and the secret dental police, and the preventative dental maintenance detention facilities, and all of those things long before the Patriot act was even written. It was sort of my clarion cry, it was my Cassandra cry, it was me really putting out my disgust with the system but trying to just make it palatable by being satirical and funny. You know, the free ponies. Oh, everybody likes a free pony but, “Oh, it’s a federal pony identification system. Oh, Whoa!”. “Free Ponies” entered the political vernacular. I mean, you hear people referring to it as if I did make it up!
Zachary Woodman: I remember hearing conservatives saying that and then I later found out where that came from and I was… *laughs*
Thought that was hilarious.
Vermin Supreme: Yeah, I mean, it really is. I guess it was successful if you consider that sort of thing successful — putting out a meme that fucking becomes a real thing, I guess.
Zachary Woodman: So a lot of anarchists… one thought they might have is that there’s just no point in spending any time in these elections, even in the satirical way you used to. The system is fundamentally broken. Direct action gets the goods. What’s the point of elections in the first place and all that. So what would you say to them about the worthwhileness of either your old approach or the approach you’re taking right now?
Vermin Supreme: Well, I think the old approach was valid.
When I started up, I was a little concerned that I would encourage people to vote. But you know, as I get older, I just give less fucks sort of. I think that I have helped humiliate and de-legitimatize and mock the system. I think those are valid ways to bring it down a peg, using humor as a weapon. The fact that I rolled into the New Hampshire primary and threw out my thousand bucks and come in third or come in forth in 2016, came in third in ’08, getting more votes than a lot of the other real candidates… To the point where they have to ask themselves, can they get more votes than Vermin Supreme before getting it on the New Hampshire primary ballot? And I can say, anecdotally, people tell me that they have been inspired by it. They tell me that I’m creating space. People say a lot of things and I think that they’re all valid.
The system is rotten. Politics is rotten. And that’s part of my selling point this election year. I’m telling the libertarians, “This is your opportunity!”. I’m not trolling the LP, I’m offering them the opportunity to troll America. And they’re all concerned, “Well, we’re a serious party. Could we put up a joke candidate and not have it backfire? And not have people think we’re a joke?”. And it’s like, well, other than the…
I try to explain to them in terms of messaging and framing, all they have to do is say, “Yeah, no, we’re the Libertarian Party, serious party, who had serious ideas. However – the pivot is always important – the duopoly electoral presidential system has risen to the level of the joke. So with love and with spite, here’s Vermin Supreme. Fuck you!”. So that’s how I’m framing it, quite frankly. These 30 years of satirical campaigning, or however you want to identify that, has given me this level of notoriety. This vast reservoir of goodwill and political capital, and this cast of characters and fan base and all of these things and social media…
Essentially, it’s a package that I’m offering. I making a legitimate offer to the Libertarian Party and the delegates. I’ve got a couple dozen people that are all principled libertarians who absolutely believe that my candidacy and me being at the top of the ticket is the way to go.
I mean, they believe that it’s a best way to propel the party forward. Now, there’s a shit ton of people who just… I think people would disagree and a lot of people will vehemently disagree and extremely vitriolically and slanderously disagree. And that’s how I know it’s working!
Zachary Woodman: Right. A lot of what you’re doing is promoting a sense of bottom unity, so to speak, between left- and right-libertarians, which, you know…
Vermin Supreme: Anti-authoritarians.
Zachary Woodman: …which, you know, at C4SS a lot of us sort of slot into the middle bottom. So, we’re of course going to be amenable to that sort of political coalition building project.
Vermin Supreme: Mmm.
Zachary Woodman: But a lot of people on both sides are, obviously, skeptical of that long-term goal. And you’ve addressed some of the concerns that the left has about right-libertarians being selfish and all that and how those are often stereotypes. We can get into some substantive ideological disagreements for a minute, but a lot of right-libertarians, who I’ve heard, who are more traditional minarchist types, tend to view you as in some ways an entryist or something like that.
What would you say to those people?
Vermin Supreme: Entryist, in what way?
Zachary Woodman: The socialists, those damn reds, are trying to take over the Libertarian Party. *laughs*
Vermin Supreme: Well, I mean, yeah. Okay. Don’t tell anybody though. *laughs*
Well yeah, I am a left-anarchist but my running mate Spike Cohen, he is an AnCap. That’s okay. I got no problem with the anti-authoritarian right and my main thing, that I’ve been trying to push, is compassion and love. And my understanding as an anarchist has never changed it. The only way that we will ever be able to disengage ourselves from the state is to do it ourselves and to create the functions that the government reports or that the people need. We have to do it. We have to make that happen. But on the other hand, in my current incarnation, I’m not above playing the minarchist advocate. It’s like, “Oh, that’s your problem? I will use the government for that. Fine. Just that though.”
Zachary Woodman: In the minarchist society, there’s obviously always been the perennial debate, going back to the seventies and right-libertarian spaces between AnCaps and minarchists, but even some more AnCappy people have this, “Oh, it’s the damn reds taking over”, right?
Vermin Supreme: I mean, the Libertarian Party is a party of caucuses, you know? I mean, there’s a lot of different little caucuses and some are definitely more one way or the other, let us say. And there’s certainly some tension between the two. And because it seems like libertarians love to fight and tear each other up and tear each other down, inevitably they’re going to do that. So, I guess there is that possibility that my campaign could bring in a number of young people. That’s a legitimate thing that I believe that I will be able to do: Bring a bunch of young people to the party. And when Bernie dropped out of the race, we got a lot of interest and people coming our way from his camp. Same with Tulsi and same with Yang, quite frankly. We’ve got a couple of Yang staffers onboard. It is interesting that a lot of people that would seem to be diametrically opposed jumping, you know, socialist leaning, over to the libertarian leaning. But once again, it’s a spectrum.
So yes, I suppose their concerns are are valid but I think the way I’m sort of looking at it is, we’re just trying to balance it out, trying to even it out. I think the paleo-strategy and the Libertarian Party strategy in the past, trying to appeal to more of the right, right-wing….
Zachary Woodman: You don’t want to hear my rant on those people. *laughs*
Vermin Supreme: Yeah. I think it’s more about balancing and bringing in more open minded individuals. I mean, libertarians… are we opposed to a universal healthcare? Not necessarily. We’re only against if run by the government. Boom. There it is. I don’t know how to address that particular, all I can say for sure is that yes, my campaign staff is comprised of libertarians from the left and from the right. And they agree that this is the way forward. You know, I can’t help how some cranky people feel about it, or some people who are scared of some communists or something.
I mean, come on. The Libertarian Party professeses that their ideas are so good that they do not even have to sell them. I think if you are from the left or from the right, and you’re willing to work within the framework of the Libertarian Party platform and you fully agree with the non-aggression principle, then you are certainly welcomed into my party.
Zachary Woodman: So what about some of the more specific ideological disputes that sometimes arise between the left and right? Like about the relative goodness of markets? Obviously we at C4SS have always advanced a particular set of responses to that question. But, you know, throughout the history of anarchist though, there’s always been this tension about the extent to which markets should be an organizational feature of just stateless society.
Where do you see yourself personally falling in that debate?
Vermin Supreme: I’m pretty open to it. Back in the day, you will find quotes where, and even in the not too distant past, where I say I’m anti-capitalist. And at that time it was pretty quick, simply because capitalism is hierarchical and blah blah blah.
Now… I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck so much. People have to exchange things. People have to move goods and services back and forth. During my recent rambling podcast, I’ve just been talking about what a perfect time this is for the gift economy to start. You know, start gifting.
People, start giving away shit! Now is the time. Look around your house. What do you have that’s going to bring somebody else joy? Let’s start doing that thing. And barter…. I mean, what do I care if people want to barter and give things back and forth? All I have to say is: If you don’t own the means of production, don’t complain about the people who do. *laughs*
Just kidding. I thought that was funny. I’m going to make that my Facebook post.
I think what I have found or what’s similar people tend to agree is that a lot of it is semantic. [?], we’ll talk about capitalism. Perhaps they’re mainly referring to the corporatocracy and the corporate state and capitalism. And maybe they wouldn’t be opposed to something like a Mom and Pop Capitalism, you know? So there’s that. It seems when people throw out these different terms, they really mean different things. To the right, it’s socialism, that’s the government giving stuff to you for free.
So, it’s really people talking past one another because they’re not understanding the terms that are being used and they’re not willing to agree on what the words mean that they’re using. And I think that’s a big part of the miscommunication between the various belief systems.
Zachary Woodman: Yeah. That’s mostly in public discourse in particular. Even though there’s still intellectual disagreements among anarchists about what markets can and can’t accomplish…. definitely in the public discourse, that’s what’s going on 90% of the time when people are fighting both capitalism versus socialism.
Vermin Supreme: I would love to see a post-state-society… That’s something my grandkids might see if the planet is still a functioning biosystem at that point. And I don’t have any kids, so I’m going to…
Zachary Woodman: I am more pessimistic than that. I think that’s something my great, great, great grandchildren might see. *laughs*
Vermin Supreme: In my mind, a lot of the arguments over the finer points of these disagreements are, you know, maybe they’re not totally moot, but they’re almost irrelevant to our current situation. And one of the things that has always brought me great joy is that my understanding of how anarchism works… it works great because it works every day.
We are doing anarchist activities any time that we want to cooperate to make something happen. Bookstore, the food co-ops, direct action cells, whatever. That is anarchism and it exists. Now, I’ve also come to understand that, you know, pure gray market capitalism also exists in the black market. *laughs*
So that’s interesting too.
Zachary Woodman: So your main approach is, you just want to have the best strategy for finding non-hierarchical means of organizing and you’re interested in a variety of strategies, whether they come from the left or right and doing it.
Vermin Supreme: I am open to all those things. As far as hierarchies, as long as they’re voluntary… I mean, I’m okay with that.
Anarchy has never been against leaders. No, leaders rise and fall as they’re needed. If a person has a specific skill set that can lead the collective to this direction or that direction and then when the direction is no longer useful, that person is no longer a leader.
Once again, maybe just the term leader is a turn off.
Zachary Woodman: So this is a question that can be clarificatory for some. Who would you say are your biggest ideological influences? In terms of authors, not necessarily just actions that you’ve done because I think you’ve answered that question already.
Vermin Supreme: I think it was a Kropotkin and Mutual Aid that really made me start thinking about things like that and then Emma Goldman as a follow-up. Then I was reading just other fiction books like “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo, which just like horrified me so hard and really solidified my thoughts against the war and “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller there, which is fucking such a funny book about the horrors of war, and I don’t know, I guess like that. I guess like that….
Zachary Woodman: Yeah. Interesting. As we wind up here, what do you want to accomplish the most with this campaign? Some of that is implicit in what you’ve already said.
Vermin Supreme: Well, I sort of put it in the hands of the people who recruited me, my campaign staff Desarae and all the crew.
Cause they have a much better understanding of the Libertarian workings and the party politics. Whereas I do not have that and I don’t really try and follow the gossip or even too much of the business cause it doesn’t interest me so much. I guess it’s arguable that the Overton Window is trying to move a little bit in our direction of ponynomics. I’ve always been about creating space, conceptual space. You know, why don’t you have a pony? Well. Yeah. Okay, the U S can afford all these wars, but they also can afford a fucking pony for you. And where is it? Why ain’t you got it?
You know what I used to do, the Mayday parades and the Mayday messages… It was all about, “you may be an anarchist and not even know it. I mean, do you believe that you should be able to live your life without the government telling you when and where and how to do everything? Or do you believe that you can make your own decisions that are best for you? Well, you may be an anarchist! Happy Mayday, you know? I mean, did you know that today’s the International Workers Holiday? Did your boss tell you that? No, obviously not because he’s a piece of shit”.
Zachary Woodman: *laughs* Alright.
Vermin Supreme: Well, I’m just riding it. It’s this actual campaign where we’re actually seeking the nomination and actually have strategic calculations and going to all these fricking debates and debating all these people, all these other candidates, and a little bit of a strangeness going on there for sure.
But ultimately, I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a new exercise for me. It’s almost, I don’t want to say it’s a new character, but it’s my new character. Serious Vermin, right? And they started having these debates where they made novelty headwear prohibitions at several debates.
So it’s like, “Okay you don’t want me to wear my boot? Fine, fuck you. I won’t wear my boot”. We’ll see how that goes. Because I’m trying to convince them that the boot may be a magic boot, it has allowed me to communicate my message to millions of people and exponentially put out my message…
But it’s not attached to my head. I’m not my character. I’m not always on. I’m not always disruptive. Very reasonable man, very reasonable offer. They can take it or leave it. And ultimately, if I don’t get the nomination, that makes my life a lot easier.
If I become a national fucking nominee that is fucking huge. Huge fucking headaches, huge fucking stress. Full on excitement, full tilt craziness but also the negatives. And, you know, I’m sure the payoff is fine. I’ll sell more books, get more college gigs, which was never a fucking motivation in the early years.
But now, why the fuck not?
Zachary Woodman: Yeah. Alright. Well, I think that’s where we’re going to wind up with one more question. What are the three books you’d recommend that the audience read if they want to learn more about your thinking?
Vermin Supreme: Well, of course, you definitely want to read “I, Pony – Blueprint for a New America”. Now that is a book that I have written. It’s a novella actually. It’s about a hundred pages with about 15 different artists. It is a story about a future, long after a Vermin Supreme presidency, after everybody has received their pony, after zombie power fuels the nation and after the secret dental police has set up checkpoints every couple of hundred yards or so. It is a warning from the people of the future to you, the people of their past, your present, that Vermin Supreme is a madman and must be stopped!
Zachary Woodman: Is “I, Pony” an intentional reference to “I, Pencil” or…
Vermin Supreme: I think it was a nod to “I, Robot”.
Zachary Woodman: In the libertarian circles, if you’ve made that a joke about “I, Pencil”, that would…
Vermin Supreme: Oh, okay. Okay. Yeah. So that’s a fucking awesome book. “Catch-22” is always fucking hilarious, man. I read it so long. I should read it again. It’s so fucking hilarious. I don’t know if it’s relevant anymore. I don’t read so many books these days.
Let’s see what else? Go ahead, read. Read “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo. It’s such a fucking powerful, horrifying little book.
Zachary Woodman: Alright. Well, Vermin Supreme, thank you for coming on Mutual Exchange Radio. This was a fun conversation.
Vermin Supreme: I wanna I want to thank you also. I loved your inauguration coverage of my inauguration a couple of January’s ago. Logan Marie Glitterbomb wrote it and it was a beautiful piece, and it’s always beautiful running in the streets with y’all and whatever may happen. But I almost feel like I don’t have to preach the whole love and compassion and wash your hands and brush your teeth and checking on your neighbours.
But let me assure you that there are a lot of libertarians doing a lot of mutual aid, as we speak. It’s a very heartening thing to see. The Ohio Libertarians have set up a free lunch program for the kids who ain’t got no lunch and all these things. Check out the platform, lp.org/platform.
Know that the Venn diagram… that you’ll agree with a chunk of it and there’s some you won’t. But if you feel like you can work with it, it is the party that welcomes anarchists and there is a Libertarian Party Socialist Caucus, if that’s the way you lean. I assume you do if you’re watching this podcast. *laughs*
Zachary Woodman: Alright. Thank you!