Exclusive Interviews
Eric Garris on Anti-War Activism, Military Adventurism and the Future of Economic Liberty
By Anthony Wile - November 14, 2010

Introduction: Eric Garris has been a political activist for over four decades. A former leftist, he discovered libertarianism during his involvement in the Vietnam antiwar movement. He managed over 100 political campaigns and is now a recovering electroholic. He was an early pioneer of libertarian activism on the Internet. In 1995 he founded Antiwar.com, which is now the leading anti-interventionist site on the web. He has also been webmaster for LewRockwell.com (the most popular libertarian website) since 1999.

Daily Bell: You are a kind of unsung hero of the libertarian movement. As co-founder or at least early supporter of at least two prominent libertarian websites – antiwar.com and lewrockwell.com – you have been responsible for disseminating many libertarian ideas. Explain these two websites and what they do – and how you relate to them.

Eric Garris: I have always been antiwar. Although my political views have evolved over my lifetime, that has been one constant. When I started working on the Web in the early '90s, I decided to choose a web domain and antiwar.com was available. I dreamed of creating the main information site for antiwar news and views and am happy to have achieved that goal. Antiwar.com is now the top peace-oriented site on the Web and is having a significant impact on the foreign policy debate. It is quite satisfying to be able to work full-time on a job that I am passionate about.

When Lew Rockwell approached me in 1999 to create a website for him, it was at first just an extra job. Lew has been able to turn that it into the top libertarian site on the Web and I am now doubly-blessed. I am a full-time promoter of both peace and liberty.

Daily Bell: Let us go back in time. You were born in France and raised by a mother who had a leftist point of view. How did that influence your upbringing?

Eric Garris: My mother is a leftist, but taught me to think for myself and to be skeptical of conventional thought. She never tried to impose any particular political or religious set of beliefs on me. She also taught me to distrust the government and to fight for what I believe in. I think she was actually quite libertarian in many ways, and I think I have brought her closer to that position today.

Daily Bell: You became a member of the new left in the 1970s, which is when you met Murray Rothbard. How did you meet him?

Eric Garris: Public school really radicalized me. Although I was a good student, I hated it. I started organizing against the oppressive system early in high school, and was regularly suspended for leafletting and holding unsanctioned meetings and rallies. At 15, I joined high school SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and started working in the (Vietnam) antiwar movement. I continued to work in and out of school on student rights, community, and antiwar issues. At 17, I was expelled from the Los Angeles City School District for organizing demonstrations.

During this time, I met socialists and communists of all stripes and was looking for a philosophy that appealed to me. I was never comfortable with any of the flavors or socialism. I never trusted government of any kind and eventually started calling myself an anarchist, although I didn't really understand the implications of that philosophy. I was sort of a voluntary-socialist anarchist.

I didn't actually meet Murray Rothbard until 1975, when I was already a libertarian. But many of the libertarians I met in the antiwar movement were Rothbardians, and I read a bit of his writings. His followers definitely helped shape my current beliefs.

Daily Bell: You were living in Venice, California then. What was that like?

Eric Garris: I grew up in Venice before it was a popular modern tourist spot. It was pretty run-down. In the early 20th century, Venice was a booming tourist Mecca but had deteriorated after it was taken over by the City of Los Angeles in the early 30s. When I moved there in the early 60s, it was a beatnik haven and soon became a hippie haven. Venice had zero influence in city or state politics, and a strong secessionist movement was developing. It had a left-wing flavor, but was very strong on voluntarism and was explicitly pro-secession from Los Angeles. By 1970, the Free Venice movement was a major part of the community and consisted of a wide range of voluntary community services (free clinics, food co-ops, low-cost legal services, etc.). They even tried to build safe sidewalks and playgrounds in a neighborhood that had none (the canals) and the city fought against this, ending in a confrontation where the city brought in wrecking machines to destroy the "illegal" sidewalks and parks, leaving mud in their wake.

Daily Bell: You ran for public office in 1972 as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate for the California State Assembly in district 61 and again in 1974. Running as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate in the 22 State Senate district, where you received over 20 percent of the vote. How did you manage to do so well?

Eric Garris: I got 4 percent for State Assembly in 1972 as the youngest candidate ever to run for California state legislature. Your info on the other race is incorrect. I only got 2.4 percent for State Senate.

Daily Bell: In 1990, you ran as a Republican for the California State Assembly in the 21st district and received 25,695 votes for nearly 30 percent of the vote. Was this your last try for public office? If so, why?

Eric Garris: That was part of my involvement in the Libertarian Republican Organizing Committee, an attempt to form a libertarian faction in the GOP. My 1990 race was with the support of the local GOP including the local Congressman, yet I focused on drug legalization and opposition to public education. It was fun, but I was facing a long-time Democratic incumbent, so I knew winning was not plausible.

After more than two decades in electoral politics, I find that it is not very productive or satisfying in the long run. I spent a lot of time and effort for little or often no return. I think there is a place for activism in electoral politics, but it quickly becomes an end in and of itself with the real goals quickly forgotten.

Daily Bell: You were obviously antiwar even in the early 1970s. What did you think of the Viet Nam war and the Cold War generally?

Eric Garris: War is the biggest infringement of freedom. It violates human and property rights like nothing else. Being antiwar is what turned me into a libertarian. I met libertarians in the antiwar movement and started adopting libertarian principles as my own, discussing and arguing with friends and colleagues. By the time I decided that I was a libertarian, I had already converted many friends to the philosophy by playing devil's advocate. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for libertarians today to do the same and lead the antiwar movement of the 21st century.

Daily Bell: You briefly gained control of the Peace and Freedom Party in 1974 and then left the Peace and Freedom Party to became active in the Libertarian Party. What were you trying to accomplish at the time?

Eric Garris: As I became a libertarian, I was still a leader in the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP) and by late 1973 had created a libertarian faction. The Libertarian Party was not on the ballot in 1974, and we ran a slate of libertarians in the PFP primary. Remarkably, we won all the races we contested, including a four-way primary for Governor. Our candidate for Governor, Elizabeth Keathley, ran an explicitly anarcho-capitalist campaign, and helped establish the exposure of libertarianism in California at a time when the LP was in its infancy. The following year we left the PFP and moved into the Libertarian Party which was working hard for ballot status.

Daily Bell: Please summarize your beliefs when you founded the Libertarian Radical Caucus. What was it supposed to do?

Eric Garris: As the Libertarian Party gained size and influence, there was a tendency for people to want to make it like a major party, which meant watering down the ideas to achieve success. To me this seemed a contradiction. What made the LP special was the philosophy. If you just want to win, why bother having a third party? To be radical simply means getting to the root of the matter. The goal of the Radical Caucus was to keep the party focused on the root of libertarianism, the ideas. We wanted to achieve the success that we knew adherence to libertarianism would bring: not a quick, phony victory, but the long-term success of actually achieving liberty.

Daily Bell: Is this when you met Justin Raimondo? How did you meet him and what attracted you to him?

Eric Garris: I met Justin during the Roger MacBride for President campaign in 1976. We had similar views about the goals for political activity and eventually we started the Radical Caucus. Justin has remained one of my best friends and closest collaborators.

Daily Bell: When did you launch the online magazine Antiwar.com?

Eric Garris: With the rise of the Web, I looked for a way to work in this new exciting medium. I claimed the domain Antiwar.com and started publishing antiwar libertarian articles. By 1998, Justin had joined in and we started updating the site daily. In early 1999, Antiwar.com became a leading website opposing the US war against Serbia and our traffic went through the roof. Since then, we have seen steady growth, with little ups and downs dependant upon events. Today, unfortunately, there is no shortage of US wars to oppose.

Daily Bell: How did you come to the decision to help found the online magazine LewRockwell.com?

Eric Garris: That was Lew's idea. He asked me to help because of the success of Antiwar.com.

Daily Bell: How big is Antiwar.com now? How big is Lew Rockwell.com?

Eric Garris: Antiwar.com gets about three million page views per month. LewRockwell.com has become the most widely read libertarian site on the 'net, and probably the most read radical libertarian publication of all time.

Daily Bell: Did you ever dream of the influence that you have now, worldwide?

Eric Garris: I absolutely dreamed of it, but I often wake up surprised to find that my dream has come true.

Daily Bell: What is going on with the Anglo-American war machine your estimation? Describe its mechanism and function. It is primarily economic? We have described it as Economic Keynesiansim.

Eric Garris: Surely, mainstream economists and the war party tend to believe in "military Keynesianism"-the idea that war spending is good for the economy. This myth is largely wrapped up in a flawed analysis of World War II. But I don't think economic wealth is the only factor behind the wars. The military-industrial complex benefits, the American and British governments themselves have an interest in continuing the wars. Governments in general will gravitate toward war, since nothing expands their power, size and activity, and shuts down the opposition, as much as a war. So in all these international conflicts, I believe the first, most important motivator is usually political.

Daily Bell: Why has the American military launched two wars in the Middle East. We tend to believe that it is part of a push of Westernizing Islam for purposes of one-world government by a shadowy Western (Anglo-American) power elite. Reaction?

Eric Garris: Some members of the power elite see it that way, and there are certainly those who want more centralized, globalist power structures; others who want the US and West in general to rule the world; and yet others who see one of these goals as a means to achieving the other. But there are simply so many motives for these wars, and not everyone with power and influence who favors them or benefits from them have the same exact reasons. Sometimes, their reasons even conflict. At Antiwar.com we spare no one in the War Party from criticism and exposure. But we also don't tend to believe that there's one unified theory that explains all of US foreign policy, expect perhaps the government itself and its propensity toward the power that war brings.

Daily Bell: Do you believe the current wars are part of a long war strategy? We think the elite wants to win in Afghanistan and does not want to lose.

Eric Garris: It's probably fair to say they don't want to lose. But it's unclear if they even know exactly what their intention or plan is. The advertised goals for this war have changed a few times in the long nine years since it began. Bush had different rationales from those of Obama. And the generals have their own ideas. Inertia and hubris can explain quite a bit of it. If nothing else, they do not want to lose face, which helps explain the stubbornness with which the US has persisted in another wars, such as Iraq and Vietnam.

Daily Bell: We do not think the Western wars of the 2000s are about drugs or oil but are primarily about reshaping Islam into societies that will be sympathetic building blocks for Western-style one-world government. Reaction?

Eric Garris: Drugs are probably a relatively small factor, as you say, although certainly some ideologues and economic interests care about the drug war aspect quite a bit. The US and other Western imperial powers-pretty much all imperial powers, in fact-do like to have friendly puppet regimes and satellites in as many places as they can be maintained. The US in particular has a somewhat informal empire that requires friendly foreign governments, however brutal, to function. But not everyone behind these wars is necessarily for one-world government as such. Many are probably happy with the status quo-so long as the wars continue, the Pentagon budgets swell, the international community is dominated or intimidated, the contracting money flows like wine, the public is swept up in a hysteria that keeps the warfare state firmly in power, there are many in the halls of power happy to keep things going the way they are.

Daily Bell: Where does Israel fit into this?

Eric Garris: Israel is definitely a major factor behind US policy in the Middle East. This is especially true with the provocations, sanctions and bellicose stance toward Iran. The Israel lobby is very powerful in America, and surely the Israeli government's policies, bankrolled by the US, are also a major cause of Muslim resentment of Americans. Israel is important in understanding 9/11 and other blowback against the US, and the entire cycle of violence of war and terrorism. As a Jew, I am particularly ashamed of what is being done in my name, and in the name of my culture. As an American, I resent my tax dollars being used to finance Israeli wars and US wars in the supposed interest of Israel.

But the Israeli people do not benefit from these wars, any more than the American people. And while Israel is a key element in these wars, which we openly and extensively discuss at Antiwar.com, it is far from the only factor. As with economics, drugs, or partisan politics, some critics focus completely on Israel while ignoring other important parts of the story. It is crucial that we be critical but also see the big picture.

Daily Bell: What is going on today with the power elite? We think it badly miscalculated as regards the Internet, which has exposed much of its operations. What do you think?

Eric Garris: The Internet has indeed been a blessing for peace and freedom. As bad as things have gotten since the 1990s, imagine how much these wars and government boondoggles might have been without the open discourse on the Web. In fact, the Internet is probably the biggest, freest sphere of human activity in our world. Thanks to it, war propaganda becomes exposed and the truth about war crimes and political lies comes out immediately. Information that would have taken days or even months or years to decimate becomes available within seconds. Lots of info gets out and then is out permanently, which might have never seen the light of day without the 'Net. This is why the administration, and other major governments, want to control, regulate and censor the Internet. It is why some politicians want the US government to be able to shut it down by executive decree. We must fight relentlessly against all infringements upon this last frontier of human liberty and free speech.

Daily Bell: Give us a sense of how Austrian-style free markets currently fit into what's going on. The elite is profoundly anti-democratic. We think free-market thinking is sweeping the Western world. Are you similarly optimistic?

Eric Garris: I'd say that in the longer term, I am optimistic for economic liberty. Markets give the people what they need and want, and politicians don't, and more and more people, certainly around the world, can see this. Look what's happened with China and much of Asia, Eastern Europe, and now even Cuba. The Swedish welfare state is in trouble. Totalitarian communism has a hold of a fraction of the world's population that it once did. In the short term, things do not look so great for the United States, but even here there has been something of a shift in attitude. Barack Obama and his followers will tend to deny that he is a socialist. There was a time in this country that being a socialist or fascist was not considered beyond the pale. Rhetorically, at least, much of the world has embraced free enterprise. With the financial collapse, things look scary, and the interventionists are on the offensive. But I remain cautiously optimistic. I don't think liberty is inevitable, however. We need to fight and work for it.

Daily Bell: Is the Anglo-American axis going to start a war with Iran? Will Israel do so?

Eric Garris: It seems likely, but I hope there is still a chance to prevent it. Whether it is Israel or the West that starts the war is irrelevant, since it will be a united effort. This is one of the scariest prospects because it has the potential to finally unite the Muslim world against the West. Iraq and Afghanistan have been horrible, but those who are pushing for an actual war with Iran are flirting with a regional, even world war.

We must continue disabusing people of the myths behind this war effort. Most Americans, according to some polls, think Iran has nukes. This is so far from the truth it is infuriating. People have not learned the lessons from 2003. If we repeat another war of aggression over lies about WMD, it would spell disaster that makes me shudder to think about. We need to do what we can to stop this from happening.

Daily Bell: Will the Anglo-American axis retreat from Afghanistan?

Eric Garris: Eventually, I believe the empire will collapse and the troops will come home, from Afghanistan and elsewhere. If nothing else, we will run out of money to maintain this unsustainable system of international bases and perpetual war. As hard as it is to imagine Americans giving up the empire, when financial difficulties force a choice, I believe America will come home. It will happen sooner or later. But if you wonder if the US will withdraw from Afghanistan well before this, or if the UK will leave first, I cannot predict this. Some believe that Obama would like to leave, but I don't buy it. I think the current crop in power wants to continue intervening in Afghanistan as long as they can. Their claimed war goals are pretty much impossible, and whether or not they realize that, they seem to be in it for the long haul.

Daily Bell: What happens in the next five years? How will the power elite cope with being exposed as it has been?

Eric Garris: It does seem like the politicians from both parties, Wall Street, the mainstream media, and even academia are losing favor with the public. Trust in the system is declining. First Bush and now Obama have really disillusioned a lot of people. The Internet has helped. So has the incompetence of the powerful. In desperation, they will try almost anything to maintain their grip. They will leap onto domestic and international crises, try to scare the public or even use censorship and other authoritarian means. I cannot know what will happen within five years, but let's hope their dirtly tricks continue to be exposed and the people start learning a more fundamental lesson from all this than to vote for the other party.

Daily Bell: How will the power elite cope with its fear-based promotions not working anymore? Global warming, peak oil, the war on terror – they are all more and more ineffective. Comments?

Eric Garris: Politicians and their cronies have long used one excuse after another to expand and preserve their power. When war is no longer working, they will focus on economic recession, or the supposed threat of a complete collapse, as another excuse. When that wears off and no longer convinces, they will point to domestic crime or another war. This has worked for centuries and longer but it is less easy these days. But even as we shouldn't overestimate the enemy, never underestimate their ability to come up with more excuses for keeping them around and with growing budgets and power. The public learns lessons but is often easily tricked into lining back up behind the latest war effort or crusade.

Daily Bell: What about central banking? How will the elite cope with losing control of the money-printing machinery as it seems to be doing?

Eric Garris: I am no expert on this field, but as I understand it, without central banking, the empire and US government as we know them would probably not exist. Direct taxes alone cannot allow for quite this much war and intervention, and definitely not for the degree to which the world is tied to the US dollar and debt. But eventually, as foreign countries stop buying debt, as Americans stop playing the game or start withdrawing more of their money, the house of cards will eventually fall. But will the central bankers pull off a trick in time to save their charade? This assumes that they know what's going on and understand the precariousness of their operations. I'm not sure they do. I actually believe many central planners are true believers in their own imperial projects, however arrogant and impossible. Many in the War Party really believed they could turn Iraq into a free democracy. Many in the banking establishment really believe they can dictate economic reality forever, with a few well-calculated interest rate adjustments. It is insane, the extent of their hubris. Thank goodness, for the sake of liberty, that they cannot control the world nearly as much as they'd like to, and perhaps think they can.

Daily Bell: Where does antiwar.com go from here? Where does lewrockwell.com go from here?

Eric Garris: We will continue the good fight. Keep trying to build these publications, expand the readership, and improve in every other way. The struggle for peace and freedom never ends and there is always more to do.

Daily Bell: What do you do next?

Eric Garris: I am going to stay the course. I have enough major projects to keep me busy all day every day. But it is not my nature to close myself to possibilities. As of now, however, I have a full plate.

Daily Bell: Can you summarize how the libertarian movement you have helped lead will push forward in the 21st century and what it has already helped accomplish? Are we on the verge of a new libertarian era, or a coming dark age? Any resources or books you would like to direct readers towards?

Eric Garris: I am always reluctant to endorse such extreme predictions. Maybe one of them will happen-I do not think either is impossible. But I have my doubts we will see such a dramatic swing toward total liberty or total slavery and impoverishment, at least in my time. Nuclear war remains a continuing threat to all of humanity. A global depression is possible. And so is an overall international move toward free markets and peace.

As to the reading, I am an Internet guy for a reason. There are good books but many of them are online anyway. Of course, I recommend Antiwar.com for foreign policy news, opinion and history, and LewRockwell.com for stuff on liberty in general and especially economics and police-state issues. From these sites, you will learn about many other publications and organizations, as well as find book reviews and extensive bibliographies. Libertarians have the wonderful problem of having too much to read at their fingertips – A problem my generation of libertarians only dreamed of when we started out.

Daily Bell: How does Antiwar.com support itself?

Eric Garris: We have ten employees, which accounts for most of our budget. For several years our primary support has come from our readers. Every quarter we do an online fund drive and our readers keep coming through. Right now we are in the middle of our fund drive so I encourage everyone to go to Antiwar.com and make a contribution to keep us going. Antiwar.com is the most cost-effective organization I have ever worked for.

Daily Bell: Thank you for your time and the great work you have accomplished.

Eric Garris: Many thanks to you and your readers!

After Thoughts

Many thanks to Eric Garris for his invaluable work and for sharing his anti-war efforts in this interview. It is a necessary quest as America's serial wars are bankrupting the country at home and murdering and sickening innocent people abroad by the thousands. The US and its allies have, in fact, irradiated Iraq and Afghanistan with depleted uranium weapons; women and children continue to be blown up in drone attacks; and yet the serial wars against terror show little signs of winding down quickly. In fact, with threatened expansions into Iran and Pakistan, they show signs of spreading.

And yet … there is probably nothing more important facing the West and the US in particular than how to reduce the military-industrial complex's footprint. Many of the West's problems have to do with the fading solvency of the dollar, and little has contributed more to that erosion than the serial wars being fought by the US and NATO under the umbrella of the "war on terror."

The numbers are absolutely staggering, and even more surprisingly they are seemingly unreported. Southeastern Connecticut's "theDay.com" runs an article entitled "Interventionist Polices Impoverish Us All" that includes the following about US spending: "According to the War Resisters League, current military spending makes up 36 percent of federal government spending. Another 18 percent they report is for veterans benefits and interest payments on the national debt, which the league contends only exists because of our military spending."

These numbers are constructed on the indescribable agony of brutalized and failed states. Over 50 percent of America's spending – some US$3 trillion – can be seen to be directly or indirectly tied to military efforts domestically or abroad. This puts into perspective as well the formal efforts of the current "neo-con arm" of the US "Tea Party" that refuses to focus on military issues but is relentlessly enamored of social spending reductions that may save perhaps US$100 billion at most.

Meanwhile, the spending continues. There is plenty of news this past week on how NATO and the US military in particular are refocusing the "disengagement" from Afghanistan by several years. While the US may BEGIN to withdraw troops in 2011, the removals will be restricted by "facts on the ground" and the progress that the Afghanistan police and military are making in becoming proficient law and order and fighting forces. The target date for a real exit is now 2014.

Why the migrating time frame? Without war the state is much reduced in permanence and power, and its ability to act peremptorily is much constrained. Civilian protest in the last 20th century has proven an effective device against some of the worst depredations. But those that plan the current Western wars and promulgate them have been clever. By expanding NATO, as we wrote in an article recently, and creating linkages with numerous nations, the Anglo-American axis is able to field an army from dozens of countries, each contribution of which is minor.

Because the contributions are minor – several thousand men apiece – the resultant protests are similarly reduced. Gone are the days when nation states fielded vast armies against one another (at least for the moment, or until NATO attacks Iran). The elites that profit from war still make tremendous sums, however. The profit paradigm has shifted somewhat. Afghanistan is the first "global" war in the sense that many countries make relatively small contributions, and yet the aggregate is significant.

What is also significant is that very obviously this is a template for a certain kind of future war. Big War seems unpopular at the moment with the powers that be (again, that could change). But it is one reason why even the expansions of the West's current military footprint have been fairly modest. Those planning the violence need to keep in mind modest horizons lest the resources and manpower necessary to drive these wars becomes overlarge. The contributions then become noticeable and subject domestic disapproval. It is all something of a balancing act.

It is also wasteful and unnecessary. The US itself operates 700-1,000 overseas military and intelligence bases. The Iraq war is supposedly over, but that shattered country's citizens are having a great deal of trouble building a Western style "democracy." The US, staying put with some 50,000 troops, (not much of a draw down) is committed to a presence in a country continuously falling apart. Meanwhile, war escalates in Afghanistan despite some 130,000 US troops, and more from NATO and private sources. The war in Iraq alone is said to have cost US$1 trillion, and no doubt that is an extremely low figure.

The US is very much the "enforcement arm" of the Anglo American alliance. Yet how necessary is this employment? The blood, treasure and tears that continue to drench America's overseas adventures have no real justification if not to continue to extend the Western elite's empty dream of global domination and, tangentially, provide employment opportunities for military brass.

Hopefully at some point the war on terror will confront a public that has grown terminally weary of the domestic bankruptcy and foreign ruin that the current "long war" on terror is producing. Both of the wars that the US has participated in have been justified in numerous ways, and yet the justifications are palpably untrue. Saddam Hussein was not planning on dropping nuclear weapons on nearby neighbors and the Taliban did not knowingly shelter Osama bin Laden while he planned an attack on the United States. In fact, bin Laden made several definitive statements that he did NOT plan an attack on the US, and the elaborate caves that he supposedly lived in were never found. The FBI does not accuse of bin Laden of blowing up the World Trade Towers either. Anyway, he is probably long dead.

Given these facts, as stated above, one wonders what the US, especially, is doing in continuing and even potentially expanding these wars. The Taliban are not foreign terrorists and Pakistan is yet a US ally. The real targets as we have stated many are most likely the Afghan Pashtuns and their independent tribal lifestyle that stands athwart the Westernization of the region. Yet is this struggle worth a decade of ruinous combat and more to come?

The US it seems is willing to spend another trillion to defeat the Pashtuns and then submerge them in a Western-style state. Yet one must ask, seriously, if the US and its allies are capable of achieving such goals. Here's hoping the voice of AntiWar.com continues to grow and that those who run it, including Eric Garris, have a definitive impact on reducing such "long wars." May they keep up the good fight.

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