Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner

On November 29, FBI agents arrested hacker and cryptocurrency developer Virgil Griffith. His alleged crime: Talking.

Yes, really.

The FBI alleges that Griffith “participated in discussions regarding using cryptocurrency technologies to evade sanctions and launder money.”

Griffith, a US citizen who lives in Singapore, gave a talk at conference on blockchain technology in April. Because that conference took place in North Korea, the US government deems him guilty of violating US sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s regime.

But last time I checked, the First Amendment protected Virgil Griffith’s right to speak, without exceptions regarding where or to whom.

And last time I checked,  the US Department of Justice’s jurisdiction didn’t encompass Singapore (where Griffith lives), China (which Griffith traveled through), or North Korea (where Griffith spoke). The charges against him include traveling, while outside US jurisdiction, to places the US government doesn’t like.

In what universe is it the US government’s business where an individual travels to or what that individual says while he’s there, inside or outside the US itself? Certainly not any kind of universe in which America remains a free society.

What kind of state arrests people for going where they please and saying what they choose without that state’s permission? A police state.

Griffith’s arrest is wholly illegal under the US Constitution and wholly unacceptable to anyone who holds freedom as a cardinal value.

Virgil Griffith is just the latest political prisoner of the US government to come to public notice.

The US government imprisoned US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, journalist Barrett Brown, and others for telling us the truth about that government’s conduct, and would love to do the same to Julian Assange,  Edward Snowden, and others for the same reason.

The US government imprisoned Ross Ulbricht for running a web site on which people bought and sold things that government didn’t want them to buy and sell.

The US government has held, and continues to hold, too many political prisoners to name in a single column.

The US government increasingly attempts to dictate where all of us may go, and what we may say while there, on pain of arrest and imprisonment.

That’s not right. That’s not freedom. That’s not America.

Virgil Griffith and the others I mention aren’t the criminals — their persecutors are. At some point, we must bring them to justice if human freedom is to survive. Until then, resist much, obey little.

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Tom Woods: Economics Is About Social Cooperation, Not Money or Greed (31m)

This episode features a lecture by historian and Austro-libertarian Tom Woods from 2015. What is it, fundamentally, that fascinates us about economics? Some people hear economics and think greed. But to the contrary, what fascinates us about economics is the phenomenon of social cooperation, which takes place on a global scale despite the lack of any global authority directing it. Purchase books by Tom Woods on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (31m, mp3, 64kbps)

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NATO is a Brain Dead, Obsolete, Rabid Dog; Euthanize It

In early November, French president Emmanuel Macron complained that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization  (NATO) is experiencing “brain death” as its member states go their own ways, with “no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making.” US president Donald Trump’s reply: “Nobody needs NATO more than France.” The two continued their duel over NATO’s future at an early December meeting of the alliance’s members in London.

Unfortunately, 2019 Trump isn’t nearly as smart as 2016 Trump, who noted that “NATO is obsolete.” In fact, it became obsolete 25 years before Trump called the fact to our attention. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact — the two enemies NATO was supposedly formed to protect Europe from — dissolved in 1991.

Wars of offensive choice, rather than defensive necessity, followed in the Balkans and Libya. NATO participated for more than a decade in the  US occupation of Afghanistan. Its current direction includes dangerous membership overtures to Ukraine and Georgia — countries bordering, and overtly hostile to, Russia.  NATO’s claim to be a “defensive” alliance of any kind has long ceased to pass the laugh test.

If the organization was merely brain dead or obsolete, that would still be good reason to dissolve it. But it’s actually far worse than that.

If there’s any real logic to NATO’s continued existence, that logic probably centers around its $1 trillion annual expenses. That’s a lot of money fed into the maws of various military industrial complexes by an entrenched multi-national bureaucracy who love their own paychecks, pensions, and prerogatives.

Maintaining those two welfare programs requires NATO to operate as an active and perpetual threat to world peace, a rabid dog wandering the globe in foaming-mouthed search of opportunities to “defend itself” against opponents who represent no threat whatsoever to it or to its member states.

Even if it attempted to maintain a truly defensive posture, NATO would still be too dangerous to keep around. Its 29 member states, stretching as far east as Turkey, each have their own grudges among each other and with external parties. Sooner or later, an otherwise insignificant spark is bound to set the whole book of matches alight.

When a person is brain dead, we mercifully turn off the ventilator. When an organization is obsolete, we shut it down and move on. And when a rabid dog threatens the neighborhood, we shoot it before it can bite us or our neighbors.

Nearly 30 years late is better than never. Let’s euthanize NATO.

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Stephan Kinsella: How to Think about Property (41m)

This episode features a talk by libertarian theorist and patent attorney Stephan Kinsella from 2019. He explores the roots and structure of property rights. Purchase books by Stephan Kinsella on Amazon here.

Listen To This Episode (41m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Non-Intervention: An Imperfect Solution to a Terrible Problem

On November 27, US president Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The bill, passed by veto-proof majorities in Congress amid large protests in the “special administrative region,”  allows the president to impose sanctions on officials who violate human rights there, and requires various US government departments to annually review Hong Kong’s political status with a view toward changing trade relations if the US doesn’t like what it sees.

In response to the bill’s passage and Trump’s signature, the Chinese government in Beijing denounced US “meddling” in China’s “internal affairs” and threatened “countermeasures.”

Some non-interventionists agree with Beijing’s line on the matter, claiming that Hong Kong is intrinsically part of a thing called “China” and that the US simply has no business poking its nose into the conflict between pro-democracy (and increasingly pro-independence) protesters and mainland China’s Communist Party regime.

I happen to disagree with Beijing’s line, but that doesn’t mean I think the bill is a good idea. Non-interventionism is sound foreign policy not because the situation in Hong Kong is simple, but because it’s complex.

In 1842, the British Empire forced China’s Qing dynasty to cede areas including Hong Kong to it as a colony. In 1898, that same dynastic regime granted Britain a 99-year lease on Hong Kong.

When Britain’s lease ran out in 1997, Hong Kong wasn’t returned to the Qing dynasty. That dynasty no longer existed. It had been replaced in rebellion and civil war,  first by a notional republic under Sun Yat-sen’s Nationalist Party, then in 1949 by Mao’s Communist Party.

But Britain still returned Hong Kong to “China,” albeit with some negotiations for “special administrative status,” meaning more personal, political, and economic freedom than the people of mainland China enjoyed. Now the Beijing regime is acting to erode the prerogatives of that “special” status, and the people of Hong Kong are unhappy about it.

The problem is that the Westphalian nation-state model that has prevailed for the last 400 years treats given areas as “sovereign” even if the governments  within those areas change. “China” is the territory enclosed by a set of lines on the ground (“borders”) agreed to by politicians once upon a time, and nothing that happens within those borders is anyone else’s business, forever and ever amen.

Yes, Hong Kong was “returned” to a “China” completely different from the “China” it was torn from, but nobody gets to tell the new “China” what to do within the agreed borders. At least, it seems, not for more than 20 years or so.

I don’t like that, but I don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether I like it or not.  Beijing doesn’t get to decide how Washington treats us. Washington doesn’t get to decide how Beijing treats the people of Hong Kong.

That being the case, the choice is non-intervention or some form of conflict, up to and including war. I prefer the former — and I hope we evolve out of the nation-state political model before the latter destroys us.

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Trump Sentences Accused War Criminals to Death

On November 15, US president Donald Trump pardoned two US Army officers accused of war crimes (one convicted, the other awaiting trial ).

Trump also re-promoted US Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher from Petty Officer First Class to Chief Petty Officer. Gallagher was convicted of a minor war crime (posing for a photo with a corpse) after he was accused of murdering the victim, but acquitted when a fellow sailor swung a deal for immunity, then reversed his testimony and claimed responsibility for the murder.

When he learned that the Navy intended to remove Gallagher from duty as a SEAL, Trump intervened again, by tweet —  “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin” — and had Richard Spencer fired as Secretary of the Navy for not treating the tweet as an order.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize Trump’s actions, but I only have room in this column for one of those reasons:

He has effectively sentenced future US soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to battlefield execution.

Gallagher’s crimes were reported by his SEAL comrades.

He was investigated and charged with those crimes by the Navy itself, which has morale and publicity incentives to only go after “the worst of the worst” for actions on the battlefield.

He was tried and convicted by a jury of his military peers in a process that actually offers more protections for defendants than the civilian justice system (for example, an enlisted defendant can demand that at least one third of the jury be enlisted personnel rather than officers).

When Trump short-circuited that process — first with the pardon, then with the re-promotion, and finally with the demand that Gallagher be allowed to return to his former unit — he very loudly sent a message to every member of the US armed forces:

“When you have a bad actor in your midst, take care of the problem yourselves. If you go through the proper channels, that bad actor will get off with little or no punishment and be sent right back to your ranks.”

Above and beyond the damage done to their direct victims, war criminals endanger their fellow troops. They make enemies out of people who might otherwise remain neutral or even friendly. They motivate those enemies to fight harder and to seek harsh vengeance.

If the military justice system doesn’t charge, try, and punish people whose crimes endanger their comrades because the president panders for votes from “support the troops” types, the (unsupported) troops will deal with such matters on the spot.

We who are veterans can attest to “blanket parties” for serial screw-ups,  “dry showers” with scrub brushes for guys who don’t maintain  personal hygiene in close living quarters, and other “light” punishments for minor offenses.

For endangering the lives of comrades, military vigilantism extends all the way to summary execution. In Vietnam, it was referred to as “fragging.”

Trump isn’t sparing future Eddie Gallaghers their punishments. He’s just robbing them of their rightful day in court.

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