Spike Cohen on police brutality, pandemic lockdowns, satire, and running for VP as a Libertarian

Spike Cohen was selected as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee last month at the party’s virtual convention. In a wide-ranging interview with Hot Air recorded June 4th, Cohen discusses running with Dr. Jo Jorgensen as a so-called “fusion ticket,” bringing in new voters, whether he’s a ‘joke’ candidate, and the militarization of police. Minor edits for clarity.

Full disclosure: Cohen and I are friends, as I appeared on his show in 2018 at MuddiedWatersofFreedom.com.

You can read my interview with Jorgensen here.

Taylor Millard: There have been riots and protests ever since the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Private businesses have been destroyed. The President has suggested sending in the military whether state governors like it or not. What is your response to all this and what would a Libertarian administration do?

Spike Cohen: Well I think it’s obvious that Donald Trump and those who are supporting these types of military actions against protesters are feeding directly into the exact problem that got us here which is the militarization of our police forces, the turning of our neighborhoods into war zones, and the treating of us, our loved ones, and our neighbors as enemy combatants. Let’s look at the timeline here of what led to where we are right now and I actually made a video of this, breaking down every part of this…Let’s look at the timeline: most people were staying home to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. They had no interest in taking to the streets for anything because they were worried about the pandemic. And then after one story after the next of police casually murdering their friends and loved ones, especially people in marginalized communities like communities of color, and the poor, and gender and sexual minorities and so on…They finally decided that they had enough and they took to the streets in largely peaceful and unarmed protests. Well what did the police do? The police did what they always did to peaceful, unarmed protests. They cordon them off into small corners of the city and then fired tear gas and pepper balls at them minutes after the curfews were over. And so they basically created the conditions of people who originally came out for peaceful purposes, who were protesting police brutality, and were almost immediately brutalized by the police which is what they were there protesting. And so, many times after being angry and confused and attacked by tear gas and pepper ball, they went violent. They started fighting back against the aggression of the militarized police that were attacking them.

Separately from that, because the police were occupying themselves in putting all their resources and personnel into cordoning off the peaceful protesters…opportunistic looters took the opportunity to be able to look the entire rest of the city that was being left unpatrolled and unpoliced. They knew that if they looted and business owners called 911 that no one would show up. They took advantage of that. So not only did police create the conditions for these protests and looting in the first place, but then by their actions against the protesters and their inaction against the looters, they created the perfect conditions for the destruction of private property and the looting that we’ve seen that’s been so horrific. The idea that government should be doubling down on that by bringing in the military and turning our neighborhoods even further into warzones is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. What we should be doing is allowing the protesters to protest, have the police focus on protecting property and life from damage and from harm, and also for the police to stop casually murdering our friends and neighbors. And all of that lends itself to the Jorgensen/Cohen plan which is to end qualified immunity, to end the militarization of our police forces, to end the police to prison industrial complex, to end the brutality that is happening in marginalized community, to maximize the civil liberties protections that so many of us are denied often denied, especially those who are the most marginalized among us. That is the solution to this, not to continue pouring gasoline on the flame.

Millard: I’ve talked to some people who have actually said, “What about these bricks which have shown up? What about antifa? What about that sort of thing?” Is it a combination of events you think of what’s going on or do you think police and politicians deserve blame for the current unrest?

Spike Cohen: I think that the police and the politicians have absolutely created the conditions for this and need to undo what they’ve been doing in order to stop the damage, stop the unrest, and allow our communities to heal. I’ve heard rumors about the pallets of bricks being left in strategic locations and things like that. I really haven’t had the time to vet that to know if that’s a real thing or just a rumor. I really don’t know about that.

When it comes to antifa…this is the perfect example of how all of this is going to end up ending poorly for all Americans. Donald Trump is talking about labeling antifa a terrorist organization. There’s just one problem with that. Antifa is not an organization. It has no organization structure. The only thing that binds various “members” of antifa together is simply being anti-fascist. If you are against fascism, if you are anti-fascist, you are de facto antifa. You don’t have to support the violent things that some members of organizations that align themselves with antifascism do in order to be antifa. If you are a libertarian, you are antifa. If you are against fascism of any kind, you are antifa. And if Donald Trump gets his way, not only will it be illegal to be against fascism in the United States, but we’ve seen what happens when someone is labeled a terrorist: you don’t have a right to an attorney. You don’t have a right to a trial. You don’t have a right to not be sent to a foreign country where you can be tortured. You don’t have a right not to be waterboarded. You don’t have a right to not be taken to some detention facility like Guantanamo Bay and be kept there indefinitely without a trial or even a stated reason for holding you outside of “he’s a terrorist,” and that’s what happens when you take an idea, in this case anti-fascism, and call it terrorism. I also think that the fact the government is trying to essentially ban anti-fascism has caused them to tip their hand a bit more than they intended. But all that to say, this is a perfect example of continuing to feed the fire that is causing this unrest.

We don’t need to be allowing government to dominate our communities and treat us like the enemy and call us terrorists for being against fascism. We need the opposite of that and that’s what Jo Jorgensen and I propose.

Millard: Alright, there’s a ton of passion in your argument. A ton of clarity in your discussion and what you and Dr. Jorgensen are in favor of. You were Vermin Supreme’s running mate in the Libertarian Primary.

Spike Cohen: Oh yes

Millard: How do you convince people you’re not a joke candidate especially when in certain, I’ve seen you on shows where the hosts are shirtless or you yourself have partially unbuttoned your shirt to show chest hair. How do you sit there and say to people, “Hey, this isn’t a joke.”?

Spike Cohen: So, I would say to the people who think that we need to present some traditional aspect, some traditional presentation of so-called respectability that our current president is a bright orange man who speaks at a low scream, gold plates everything, and brags about the number of Playboy bunnies and porn actresses that he has had sex with.

The concept of respectability politics is dead. There are certainly those who want to have a more traditional presentation in the way that politics is presented to them and Jo Jorgensen is a perfect example of that kind of traditional presentation. She’s presenting a radical, principled libertarian message in a way that will speak to people who primarily desire a “return to normalcy and a return to decency” in our politics. I, and Vermin Supreme, are speaking to largely speaking to people who don’t find respectability in that and are so disgusted in the state of things in this country that they don’t want to hear anything from any politician. And so, as a result, and if you listen to the arguments for why they don’t want to hear from politicians, why they don’t vote, why they don’t participate in the process, we hear a bunch of pretty libertarian sounding reasons: they don’t trust the government, they don’t trust politicians, they think that all of government has it out for them, they think that anything a politician says is a lie, they wish that they could be left alone. These are people that could potentially be open to the libertarian message but the problem is they don’t want to hear anything from anything.

What Vermin Supreme stumbled on with his nonlinear message is that he can reach them through satire. He can reach them through humor. I reach them through humor. And where they would turn off the very second they heard from a politician, when they heard someone entertaining them, now we have their attention. Now they’re enjoying themselves. And not only are they enjoying themselves but because they’re not being challenged or bored to death by a politician their cognitive defenses go down. They’re just enjoying the show. And they realize there’s an underlying political message there but they’re just being entertained. And over time as they’re become more and more entertained and drawn in they start to wonder about that underlying political message. What is this all about? What is the reason that they’re doing this? I need to know more! That’s when we hit them with the actual libertarian message. That’s when we tell them that they own themselves and their lives and their bodies and their labor and their property and that we as libertarians will stand with them against anyone who twould try to take that from them. But you can’t do that until you get their attention and you until you lower their cognitive defenses. We call that boot-pilling.

And it worked fantastically. Back in April the Libertarian Party had a presidential recruitment competition where each of the presidential candidate teams tried to see how many new recruits they could get to the Libertarian Party. We completely dominated winning that contest getting nearly twice as many new recruits to the party as every other single candidate combined. That is a proving of the proof of concept of the idea of using satire and non-linear messaging to reach out to voters or prospective voters who do never want to hear from a traditional politician. Now with that said, the vast majority of my campaigning has been and will continue to be serious in nature because in many cases it isn’t fitting or appropriate to use satire or humor to reach people. But in those time when it is appropriate in those few times when it will be helpful to have someone campaigning alongside me who has a boot on his head and wants to give everyone free ponies. We will certainly do so because we don’t want to leave any chips on the table. If we’re to spread the message of libertarianism, if we are to affect the greater body politik and change the cultural conversation away from statism and towards an anti-authoritarian, libertarian position…we need to be reaching everyone. Especially the people who are disgusted by politicians.

Millard: So, you and Jorgensen, the best way to put it is, fusionism of two kinds of campaigns.

Spike Cohen: Absolutely, this is a fusion ticket. And again, I will say the vast majority of my campaigning is serious. I do like to delve into satire when appropriate and in the right spaces but I am a serious campaigner. I was when I was Vermin Supreme’s prospective running mate and I am now as Jo Jorgensen’s prospective running mate. But we are absolutely a fusion ticket. We are absolutely a unity ticket. We unite the factions of the Libertarian Party and we unite the ideas of how to reach various voters and voting groups. Where Jo is going to be fantastic and has been fantastic at reaching out to the traditional voting blocs, I have also been equally fantastic in bringing in people that typically do not want to hear from libertarians, especially younger voters, left-leaning voters. Even though I myself am a right libertarian, I have been very good at reaching left-leaning voter with an emphatic message, an edgy message. People, again, who are not interested in politics at all. Bringing people in from all the different factions and exposing them to the libertarian message and to libertarian ideas that present themselves as the greatest solutions to the problems that we face which are often either imposed on us or made worse on us by the very government that we oppose.

Millard: So, is retaining Libertarian Party membership important, especially when the party is still trying to build itself out?

Spike Cohen: Absolutely. The goal is to increase membership. The goal is to increase the number of votes. The goal across the board is to increase exposure to the public to libertarian ideas and to the Libertarian Party which will naturally lend itself to us getting more votes, not just to the presidential ticket but for all the way down the ballot. The local, state, and regional races, as well, that Libertarians are running in that are much more easily winnable. To increase party membership both in the state and national level. And to more importantly…to change the cultural conversation. We’re never going to see the major wins we want to have as long as the vast majority of people are falling into the Republicrat rope-a-dope back and forth conversation between two groups of people arguing over how much bigger government should be. How much more expensive government should be. How much more control over our day-to-day lives government should have and how much of a greater scope it should have in our overall life. We are the only one presenting a change in that conversation and we need to be able to reach as many people are possible to make that change in that conversation so that people can go from asking how much bigger government should be to asking whether government should even be involved in different parts of their life. How much of their own life should be completely ungoverned? Whether we even need a government and, if so, what should it absolutely be involved in and what should it absolutely not be involve din? Only libertarians are the ones presenting that change in that conversation and we need to be as vocal and as effective in reaching as many people as possible in order to do that.

Millard: Okay, so how do you do that? Because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic – even though people are rightly focused on the killing of George Floyd – but we’re still in a pandemic. People are still being asked to practice social distancing. They’re still being asked to not congregate in large areas, if it’s a Black Lives Matter protest it is a little bit different, but how do you get your message out and how do you campaign and how do you make sure there’s ballot access for Libertarians during a pandemics?

Spike Cohen: So, the ballot access one is the most difficult one because, as you said, right now there aren’t a lot of large gatherings if they’re even allowed in the first place. And in many states in order for a third party, anyone who isn’t a Republican or Democrat, to be able to even get on the ballot in the first place they need to get thousands, or even tens, or in some cases even hundreds of thousands of signatures depending on the state to be able to get on the ballot. That, of course, is functionally impossible when every possible way to do that is either banned or just heavily discouraged. And so, as such, the Libertarian Party of those various states that are affected – those various state affiliates have been in the process or suing for what we’re calling ballot access relief. Which is basically saying that “considering that we qualified for the ballot in the last cycle and considering the conditions are such that we can’t meet the petition needs that are set forth in the various state laws that we should be able to get access relief this one time and be allowed to be on the ballot on the strength of the fact that we would have almost certainly qualified under normal conditions.”

Now when it comes to the actual campaigning aspect of it. I think that the situation that we are in has presented ourselves in three different ways with incredible opportunities.

Opportunity #1 is that the Republicrats have completely overblown their hand here by presenting Donald Trump and Joe Biden as their options for president. Donald Trump is one of the least popular politicians in modern times and Joe Biden isn’t that far behind him. Especially within his own party. He is one of the least like politicians within the Democratic Party and he’s their nominee. And that’s presents an incredible opportunity.

Another opportunity that presents itself: we are living in a dystopia that has been created exclusively by the Republicans and the Democrats. They’re the ones who set forward the regulations that made it impossible for health care workers to test and contain this virus when it first got here which lead us to this massive pandemic that we’re facing now. And state governments, run again exclusively by Republicans and Democrats, overcorrecting for that failure by forcing everyone to stay home and not be able to work. Making people choose between breaking the law and not being able to provide for their families. Forcing people to only go to large, big box retailers and then go straight home and not being able to patronize their small businesses or even go out and enjoy time with neighbors and loved ones. They’re the ones who created these conditions. People are resentful of it and they innately understand that something is inherently wrong here even though every signal they’re getting from government and from crony corporate media is that everything is fine and that they’re under control and that they simply need to listen and everything will be okay. They innately know that not to be true. And our message fits perfectly with the reality that that isn’t true. That the Republicrats put us in this situation and that only good Libertarian solutions can get us out of it.

The third opportunity that’s being presented is that this whole thing has been a great equalizer in terms of coverage. No longer can Democrats or Republicans fill up stadiums with astroturf and present this air of inevitability. No longer can Joe Biden or Donald Trump get in front of cameras with dozens or hundreds of people standing behind them with Joe Biden and Donald Trump stuff on their shirts and hats and presenting this idea that they’re so popular and that they’re the only real choice and why doesn’t the person watching this support them too.

Now, as I like to say it, “We’re just a bunch of schmucks in front of our webcams.” The difference is those schmucks in front of their webcams are having to defend the terrible nightmare of a situation that they all put us in with protests in the streets, of police brutality during a pandemic while people are struggling to be able to make ends meet because they’re still not allowed to work or run their companies because they’ve been deemed “non-essential.” They’ve created that reality they have to defend it standing in front of a webcam, alone, on their terrible podcasts. We’re in front of our webcams explaining why they’re terrible ideas got us where we are and how our much better ideas are the perfect solution to the problems that the Republicans and the Democrats have created. So, I find that to be an incredible equalizer and our use of viral marketing and leveraging social media in the very first presidential campaign that will be almost entirely run on social media will be an incredible equalizing event for us to be able to get an unprecedented number of voters and support in this election cycle.

Millard: What other challenges or opportunities do you think there are in this election cycle?

Spike Cohen: Oh man, there’s a lot of them. I think part of the problem with how I answer things is I’ve probably answered that three or four times [laughs] in my long rants that I do.

But the other challenges and opportunities? I think, again, that the reality that we’re all just campaigning on social media for the best part, really does away with the lie that Republican and Democrats are inevitable. We don’t have to worry about filling stadiums. We don’t have to worry about creating these huge events with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people. We simply show up with the better ideas and demonstrate that our ideas are better than the ideas that the Democrats and Republicans are saying from the safety of their studies, in front of their webcams. So, I think, that it is an incredible thing. I think that right now we are seeing a situation where the American people are recognizing just how screwed they are as a result of bad central planning.

So, I think that not only is this a great opportunity for us to expose them to good libertarian ideas and solutions, but also to show them how this entire situation speaks to the libertarian philosophy of how things should be run. That non-aggression against others isn’t just good from a moral standpoint but that it simply works better. Because if a government is simply able to take from others whenever they see fit, they’re not going to be good stewards of what they have because they can simply take more and more whenever they want to. And the rest of us aren’t going to be as good of a steward of what we have because we know it can be taken from us at any moment. And that the situation that we’re in right now, is that being played out on a massive scale: government simply taking whenever they want and us realizing that we don’t really truly own anything – including ourselves. And libertarians, with our ideas, will be able to inject ourselves into these cultural conversations and change people’s mind to realize they do own themselves. They do have Natural Rights and they should be able to exercise them and only libertarians are going to be able to do so.

Millard; Are you worried about anyone being turned off by y’all’s messaging?

Spike Cohen: I think whenever you have a bold message that you’re spreading to large groups of people that there are always going to be some who simply reject it. And some for understandable reasons and some for reasons that aren’t very understandable. But that’s the reality of politics. Some people are going to reject us outright because we aren’t Republicans or because we aren’t Democrats. Or because they don’t like the way that we worded something. Or because they don’t like how my hair looks or because they don’t like something that Jo said or whatever. That’s understandable. That’s the reality of politics especially on this wide of a scale. But I think that the vast majority of Americans innately understand what we’re saying to be true. That the only way we’re going to get out of this is to remove the bad central planning that has been implemented by Republicans and Democrats.

Keep in mind, Taylor. They have been in control for over 100 years, now. The Democrats and Republicans have had almost 100% of control of government from the White House and the Supreme Court and the Congress all the way down to the local level. There have been a small relative handful of non-Republicrats in positions of power, even at the local level. They own this, completely. And so the reality that we are facing right now is entirely because of their bad solutions. So even if people aren’t yet ready to embrace the doctrinaire libertarian ethos. They’re at the very least open to the idea that there has to be a better way. And we’re the only ones presenting that very way.

Millard: Is there something to incrementalism when it comes to libertarians and, let’s say, you and Jo Jorgensen end up in the White House and the Vice President’s mansion. Are y’all going to be pushing incrementalism or is it going to be a super bold vision?

Spike Cohen: We present a super bold vision with the understanding that whatever seat at the table we get will decide exactly how incremental our steps need to be. That’s been the case of every major social change that has happened in this or in any other country. If you look at the movement to end chattel slavery, if you look at the movement to allow women’s suffrage, if you look at the civil rights movement. If you look at any major movement – the antiwar movement – any major movement in this or any other country. The best way to get the changes that you need in any level is to present the most bold and empathetic way of presenting your message, in the most dynamic and engaging way to the public, and then based on your success in getting whatever seat at the table you’re able to get. That decides how good of a position you’re in to negotiate the incremental changes that you want. Ideally, every single election would be won by Libertarians and we could go in and make immediately, sweeping changes without any sort of compromise and we could live in Libertopia by this time next year.

Now, obviously the odds of that happening are fairly low. So, then what do we do? Well, depending on whatever seat we get, however many elections we win, that determines how much of a position we have to bargain at that point. And that’s how any negotiation works. What I reject is the idea that we need to be negotiating on our ideals even before we get that seat at the table. Especially in the position that we’re in right now, where the biggest goal we have is to just make our message known in the first place. We need to be presenting a bold and radical interpretation of what we want. With the idea that we present it in the most empathetic and engaging way to present it as what it is: a common sense solution to the problems the American people face. And once we get that seat at the table, then we can start bargaining. Then we can see how many steps it’s going to take to get from where we are now to where we want to be.

Millard: You hoping to end up on the debate stage with Mike Pence and whoever the Democratic vice-presidential nominee is?

Spike Cohen: That is the thing I am the most excited about. I think that we have a real shot at getting the 15% in two or more reputable polls that is necessary to qualify for that debate. And if that happens, all bets are off at that point. Remember, Taylor, Ross Perot was basically a longshot until he got on that debate stage. And he did so well in that, and disrupted things so much, that at a few points he was actually the front runner. He had to drop out and then come back in order to not be the front runner because I personally think he did not want to win the election. But he got close enough that he actually had a shot. And that was all on the strength of him having a disruptive and amazing performance in the debates.

I think if we can actually make the debate stage: all bets are off and we very well could end up winning this thing. Because who better to put in front of two aging men with very credible rape accusations against them and a history of insensitivity towards marginalized communities and an even worse history of the very victimization that have lead us to the system that we are in right now both in their voting and their governance. Who better to be in front of them than an accomplished and strong and wise doctor? A wise woman who can lay out exactly what they’ve done wrong and the best way to move forward. Who better to put in front of Mike Pence and whoever has the misfortune of being Joe Biden’s running mate than someone who can articulate why, like I can, the reasons why they, the Republicrats, have failed us and how libertarians are the ones with the best solutions. I think if we can actually get on that debate stage, which we have a real shot at, that the potential for us to win on the strength of that goes up exponentially.

Millard: Explain the social media profile pictures because there’s a story behind them.

Spike Cohen: Sure, so, it depends on which one you’re asking about. The one that seems to have angered people the most is the one on my personal Facebook page of me lying on the beach. They are angry that I am not wearing a shirt…at the beach…in the water. At the beach without a shirt…very upsetting to them. And we totally understand how upset they are which is why we have formed the “Libertarians must wear shirts at the beach” caucus to give them a space to express their frustration.

The bigger part of the story is that that photo was part of a series of photos that was done for the Libertarian Party Dad Bod calendar which I am “Mr. April” in. You can actually purchase them for $12 shipped at LibertarianDadBod.com and that calendar has helped to raise thousands of dollars for Libertarian Party candidates and for state and local Libertarian affiliates.

So, the people who have benefited greatly financially from that were not the least bit upset about the fact that I took some photos of myself in the ocean without my shirt on.

The second photo that got people angry is the photo of me buttoning my shirt down two buttons and exposing the incredible chest beard that I have on my torso. The story behind that is that I was helping to auction off a “Libertarian Party Dad Body” calendar which was being signed by myself a few other people who were attending that convention who were also on the calendar. And we raised hundreds of dollars that night and all I had to do was unbutton my shirt two buttons and give a little fun show to the audience.

Obviously, without the context, it could be seen as odd but I am proud of those photos. Because in both cases I did some humorous things ‘cause I don’t think anyone could remotely consider me a sex symbol. But I did some humorous, silly stuff that helped raise hundreds and thousands of dollars for the Libertarian Party. And I notice that some of the people who are the most upset about it have, in fact, not raised hundreds or thousands of dollars for the party.

So, I respect their opinion. But I also respect the opinion of the people who are grateful that I did those things. I also respect the opinion of the people who are not turned off by that. Remember, Taylor, we are the party of people who believe in bodily autonomy. And that attracts all sorts of people. It not only attracts people like me and you who typically present ourselves somewhat traditionally or normally. It also [attracts] people like sex workers. It attracts people like bronies and furries and comicon people and people who like dressing up and engaging in play. It attracts people who have been called freaks and losers their whole lives because they recognize that they own their bodies and that they own the way that they present their bodies.

And if my unbuttoning my shirt two buttons helps give them a little feeling of relief that we are actually standing with them and not just the people who wear suits and ties all day long. Then I think that that’s a good thing. Especially since those actions directly helped raise money for the party.

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