The Night the Anarcho-Libertarians Called the Cops


When my recently-chastened and possibly rapey arch-nemesis Dr. Michael Shermer labeled me the “meta-ideologue” in an L.A. Times piece about fifteen years ago, he demonstrated that even a stopped clock can be useful for harvesting parts. I am indeed what he clumsily attempted to describe – a man fascinated by and completely hostile to most forms of political ideology. As I explain in my book, ideology and principle are two different things. One needn’t have an all-inclusive, rigid worldview in order to have principles.

My outing brought me into contact with a conspiracy fringe I had hoped never to see again. And, in truth, it’s gotten much worse in twenty-five years. Like the quirky elderly uncle who goes from lovable eccentric to fetid annoyance once he stops wearing his adult diapers at the dinner table because “I just wanna let my poo flow free,” conspiracy theorists have dropped any attempt at maintaining the veneer of respectability that a shrewd, diabolical overseer like Willis Carto demanded back in the pre-Internet days when one man with a newspaper could control an entire political genre.

One sub-genre of the fringe that annoys me slightly less than the others is the “anarcho-libertarian-voluntaryist-agorist” set. I like these guys because they’re typically pretty nice folks in person. But some of them have taken admirable principles (live and let live, less government control over people’s lives) and turned them into a massive, overreaching ideological crusade about transforming society in a way that makes the long-dead folly of the “New Soviet Man” seem almost attainable by comparison.

Oh sure, let’s all live in a police-free state, growing what we eat, bartering at the marketplace (“how many nanny goats would ye take for a SB6141 high-bandwidth modem, merchant?” “I cannae say, traveler, as the apprentice hunchback who handles me digital technologies is out balin’ hay at the moment”). Everyone will get along and shake hands like gentlemen. If trouble arises, private security and voluntary jails will be there to handle those pesky ragamuffins who haven’t read “Atlas Shrugged” enough times to, you know, get it, man.

The problem with ideologues is that they dream from their couches. They’re all theory and no practice. They’re Marx envisioning a solution for a world he never experienced. They’re Elizabeth Warren lecturing entrepreneurs on how businesses should be run, when she’s never owned one. They’re suburban-raised kids calling cops “worse than gangbangers,” when the closest they’ve ever come to knowing “gangbangers” was that episode of Cosby where Theo and Cockroach cheated on an exam.

Practicality is the arch-enemy of the theorist. The theorist is obsessed with telling society what it should be doing. I take great pleasure in explaining why it won’t be doing that.

And with that I present my Christmas 2014 post, “The Night the Anarcho-Libertarians Called the Cops.”

The year was 1993, and I had been invited to address an anarcho-libertarian-voluntaryist-agorist (from now on, ALVA) dinner club, the Nock Forum or the Mencken Menagerie or the Hess Hoedown or the Mises Kabuki Klub, or something like that. I accepted the invitation because Michael Greene, the organizer, a fat balding disheveled libertarian (I realize that everything I just wrote is redundant), was a friend of mine. Greene had two restaurants he worked with – one in the heart of Hollywood, and one in Cerritos.

Naturally, he stuck me in Cerritos. For those of you who don’t live in Southern California, let me illustrate how bad that is. Have you ever seen footage of those homeless trash-collecting landfill dwellers in the Philippines? They don’t want to be seen in Cerritos.

But I accepted, under the condition that I could attend the Hollywood event that would precede mine, in order to hawk my upcoming Cerritos appearance to a larger crowd.

So there I was, in Hollywood, in the banquet room of a massive family restaurant, getting ready to upstage the geneticist who was to be the main speaker by pretending to have a mental breakdown on-stage because my speech was going to be in motherfucking Cerritos.

As the ALVAs filed in, bartering their chickens and precious metals for iced teas and diet Cokes, a strange sound began permeating the room. “Beep beep beep…Beep beep beep…whoooooorsh…KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM!”

Half the crowd thought it was the FBI flooding the room with neuro-disrupters; the other half smiled at the belief that the aliens they always knew would contact them finally did (I’d never seen Brad Linaweaver smile so big).

But no, twasn’t feds nor Martians. A kid, maybe ten, maybe eleven years old (I detest children, so I’m no good at guessing their age, because I try never to look at them) was playing a large coin-operated video arcade game (the arcade games being located in the banquet room most likely to spare the regular diners the fucking racket).

Roly-poly Michael Greene waddled up to the boy. “I’m sorry, son, but we’re about to begin our event. You’ll have to stop playing.”

Dejected, the boy left. The smile on Greene’s face said it all: “Even a child can exhibit the reasoned understanding upon which my voluntaryist utopia shall be based.”

A child, maybe. But not a father. The boy returned, following behind his enraged dad. “Did you tell my boy he can’t play the veejo games?” the father yelled. His anger was palpable. As was his accent. Oh shit, he’s Persian. If you’ve lived in L.A. long enough, you know what that means. He’s not going to back down.

“I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve reserved this banquet room for the evening in accordance with a contract which we entered into with the owner of this establishment,” Greene pleasantly replied. (voluntaryism shall prevail!)

“Fukk you and your contract. I eat here like everyone else. My son gets the damn veejo games. I’m a customer.” (voluntaryism in jeopardy!)

“Sir, we have speakers who we’ve invited. The sound of the video games will drown them out and annoy our paying audience.” (yay reason!)

“You should haff fukking thought about that before you booked the veejo game room in a family restaurant.” (reason failing…someone page Nick Gillespie!)

“My friend, everyone here has paid $15 a head to see these speakers. I have a responsibility to them,” Greene countered. To which the dad pulled out his wallet, threw $30 down on the table in front of Greene, and said “there, I’ve fukking paid. My boy plays his veejo games, and you stay out of my fukking face.”

Reason was losing the day. Clearly, this was not a man who would have appreciated the impish, delightful flourish of highlighting the “love” in the Ron Paul “Revolution” bumper stickers.

Greene went to get the owner (a fellow ALVA), as Xerxes Jr. went back to blasting aliens.

The owner entered with a smile, calmly explaining that Greene’s organization had a once-a-month contract to use this room. “Boolshits,” the dad spat back. “I eat here, my son has the right to play the games.”

The owner was clearly correct. This was his establishment. He could rent out the banquet room as he wished. Michael Greene was clearly correct. He had a paid contract. Angry dad was clearly wrong. But he wasn’t moving. Reason had failed, because angry dad was acting out of emotion at this point – stubbornness, pride, antagonism.

Greene and the owner caucused. It was mutually decided to call the cops.

Soon enough, two large men in blue strolled into the banquet room. The owner met them by the big double door. And angry dad? I can’t phrase it any better than Chazz Palminteri in “A Bronx Tale” (slightly paraphrased here): “His face dropped. All the courage and strength was drained right from his body.”

Angry dad knew he was defeated. There would be no more fighting, no more arguing, no more veejo games. He took his son back to their table in the main dining area. A final arbiter had arrived, and, by sheer presence, without a word spoken, the situation was defused.

The event went on as planned.

Okay, so, that’s how it went down. But…shit…how can I say this…it’s not enough to know that Greene and the owner called the cops. It’s really more important to know why they did. Because there’s a lesson there.

The couch dreamers, the mom’s basement ideologues, have no experience in the practical aspects of running a business. Yes, the restaurant owner could have removed angry dad himself. He had a perfect right to remove an unruly patron. Between the owner, the wait staff, the busboys, and the kitchen staff, there were maybe twenty-five guys. Against one. Angry dad wouldn’t have stood a chance.

But he would have put up a fight. And every patron in the restaurant, dozens of families, would have seen the spectacle. Tables would have been overturned, drinks spilled, dinners ruined. Crying kids, (more) angry dads, demands for refunds, maybe even lawsuits. See, I’ve seen this happen. In my years of event organizing, I’ve seen what happens when a restaurant tries to evict a drunk or angry patron on its own. I’ve seen it happen in bars, but bars are different than restaurants. Bouncers are part of the bar “experience.” Privately-hired meatheads are as much a part of bar life as the skank throwing up in the restroom. It’s part of the scenery.

But a family restaurant? Or a high-class eatery? Brawls can kill that type of establishment. In 2005, I was at an event at Caffe Roma (an Italian restaurant run by Persians…God bless L.A.) in Beverly Hills. A giant drunk Scotsman became unruly after one whiskey too many. The owner decided to handle it on his own, ALVA style! End result? Five patrons with injuries, two waiters bleeding out on the sidewalk, a dozen toppled tables, and maybe $2,000 (at least) in lost business from the ruined meals.

Going back to that night in Hollywood in 1993, ushering in a voluntaryist utopia wasn’t the restaurant owner’s concern. His business was his concern. Practicality won out over couch dreaming. The ideologues can theorize about how “we don’t need cops! Just stock your restaurant with voluntary militias armed to the teeth and ready to fight,” but people with practical experience will counter that family restaurants lose customers if they look militarized like some TSA checkpoint, and patrons rarely return to establishments at which staff and customers have engaged in “Dukes of Hazard”-style brawls.

An ALVA might say, “I shall not submit to the police, no matter how ‘practical,’” to which I say, fine, that’s not my point. My point is, the police offer a practical solution that most people won’t give up, as evidenced by the fact that even ALVAs decided to call them when reason failed.

Do cops always manage to defuse a volatile situation merely by their presence? Of course not. Sometimes they escalate it. But that comes down to training, not dismantling the entire system. But here I go drifting into opinion, when my main purpose was simply to describe an event that happened, an event I witnessed. The night the anarcho-libertarian-voluntaryist-agorists called the cops.

I thought it would be cool to finally get that story onto the ‘net, in memory of Michael Greene (RIP, 1996) and the time he was forced to face the harsh mistress that is practicality, all because of a Persian, a child, and a video game.

P.S. — My event in Cerritos was better-attended than I thought it would be, but I was stood up by my date, a young actress-model-thingy named Jennifer Synnott, who booked a modeling gig that night. In my anger, I retaliated by abusing the audience for two hours with pointless anecdotes and jokes with no punchline, demonstrating that, even sober, I was still a dick.

So keep that message in your heart this holiday season: I’m a dick.

Merry Christmas.


8 Responses to “The Night the Anarcho-Libertarians Called the Cops”
  1. Lea says:

    ….or….he coulda unplugged the machine….it’s what I woulda done….And unless angry dad wanted to physically remove the body blocking the plug, I’d say ‘resolved’…

  2. Is free health care a conspiracy theory too far?

  3. Part of this perceived issue of practicality may have something to do with the lawsuits (mentioned as a practical inconvenience above) that our failed system allows people to bring against each other shouldn’t exist, coupled with the fact that, let’s face it, most people are pussys. Practically speaking, from a place in modern reality, Mr Cole/Stein is correct, these fucking pussys wouldn’t feel secure and certainly wouldn’t be able to handle real situations without backup from their thuggish blue-shirted friends. I would suggest that A: these idiots ought to take their own safety/issues seriously enough that they learn how to handle it themselves and B: practically speaking, I shouldn’t have to fit the bill-for-the-bulls if they find they are unable to handle adult situations on their own (as in, I don’t want cops so I shouldn’t have to pay for em.). If people feel it necessary to have on-call violence at the touch of a phone that’s their business, shouldn’t have to be mine. Do it all privately. Fire and EMS ought to run the same way in my obviously not humble opinion, but I digress…

  4. Artie James says:

    It just goes to show that many 1993 Libertarians haven’t polished their negotiation skills. They did not grow up in a voluntaryist society, they grew up in a statist one. So it’s only natural that training kicks in, instead of the many lessons we will have to learn in order to not have institutionalized violence. I can honestly say that many libertarians are convinced by it’s morality on paper before learning to apply the lessons. In the above story, they failed to apply the lessons to maximum effect. That does not mean the lessons are wrong, just that those that try to understand them and apply them are inept.

    The father backed down because those cops are allowed to kill him. Who want’s that? Time to walk away and enjoy the rest of your evening…

    One necessity of a voluntaryist society would be a greater general knowledge of self defense. Not only that, but market competition among differing security agencies would mean more options for rational security and trained experts in non violent conflict resolution. Also, market soutions for safety would offer less overall cost, and minimal abuse than the bloated police state we currently live in.

    Imagine how safe if the common sense of the society culminated in the marketing of the phrase “A stun gun in every pocket.” Instead we have the LA prison guards toast (via 2009) Warden: “What do I always say boys?” Guards: “Not in the face” Surely, just a fun humorous jest about beating prisoners in places where the bruises can’t be seen, sure until the investigations upturned ritualized pattern abuse. I’d be tempted to take a few overturned arcade machines to avoid that human rights disaster.

    I have a few questions about the above:
    How many of the meetings attendees were utilizing their right to bear arms?
    How many of the organizers and speakers?
    What competing security insitutions were known by the parties to call in this situation?
    How well has dial 911 been advertised and marketed for years with stolen money?
    Why didn’t a few of the guys agree to move the kid’s favorite arcade machine into the hallway?
    It reads to me like the kid’s game was interrupted and he lost his quarter, certainly a violation of the NAP, so maybe they should have paid the kid his 25 cents back and thereby alleviate the father’s anger.
    Why not just unplug all the machines?
    Why not just stand there and wait until the fire subsides?
    Why not just let them play the games and deal?
    Why not just make friends with the father and invite him to join the meeting?
    Even better, reboot the video game and reset the sound volume to be lower…
    Lastly, why didn’t they just give a sincere apology so the guy wouldn’t lose face?

    I doubt the people then were as aware of Cop brutality as today. Then, It was harder to see murder gotten away with so often as the excuse “I thought I was in danger” after every execution. Then, police were still thought to be doing the job of protection and property right enforcement, today more steps may have been taken before calling police.

    There are many people that attend such meetings. It’s hard to say how pure their philosophical leanings were. We don’t know them. They can’t even speak for themselves. This is a one sided tale, told from the murky perspective of a non-ideologue (coining the term “unideologue”) In this piece you’re using one person’s actions to malign an entire philosophy. This Intellectual deficiency in this sort of discussion is serving to mislead others from rational thought. Imagine if a guy who stood for honestly, …lied, Would you then write a piece condemning honesty?

    If the irony in this post is supposed to indicate that it’s hypocracy for antistatists to use the instruments of the state when needed, I would say that it’s an incorrect criticism. It’s a sort of Reverend Jeremiah Wright type of reasoning. When Libertarians criticize theft of funds to pay for roads, arguing that roads will naturally be needed and the state isn’t necessary, that doesn’t mean that Libertarians that have cars and drive around on state funded roads are hypocrits. What choices do they have? When a slave on the plantation, walks on the path they made by force, would you criticize the slaves that lamented being free for not walking in the bushes?

    This would mean that if the state were to take away food, and have us all standing in food lines. While wating to get rations from guys that all look like Hugo Chavez, somebody were to speak up and say “this isn’t right! People aught to be able to freely trade to procure food!” Your pieces would be quickly written, joining in to scoff at the poor guy, (who was later beaten in secret). And there you are just a scoffing, “what an idiot stands in a line when he doesn’t believe in how the food is being distributed. Ha! What a moron! If only we were to improve the TRAINING of the government food police, their wonderful service would be even better.” Followed with a hefty ignorant dose of “If you don’t support the food police, then you’re anti-merican.”

    I personally would not have called the cops in this situation. Especially today. Today’s sort of cop might have come in there in a full swat gear with a team of guys and shot everybody in the place and fill out the police report to say “I thought they were going for a weapon.” Must’ve been all those KABOOMS from the arcade cabinet setting those poor frazzled overworked police on edge…

  5. Marcy Fleming says:

    Ayn Rand would have called the cops ASAP and that’s why she disavowed libertarian anarchist nutcases like Karl Hess, who became a Communist anyway.
    Artie, you need professional help. Hate to disagree with Tom Szasz but maybe you should be committed. Your thought is rambling, stupid, incoherent and just plain nuts. By the way Rand hated barter too as it is a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist institution. Most of these nuts never understood Atlas Shrugged. I have advanced degrees in philosophy and psychology and John Galt’s 60 page speech is more profound than anything I studied at Cambridge. Check out ARI Watch, which critiques the Israeli run Ayn Rand Institute and it’s cultish adherents.
    Has nothing to do with Rand’s Objectivism philosophy but simply their own mental illness.
    Objectivism:The Philosophy Of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff is very good, in fact the only good work by Peikoff,
    who is otherwise quite dense. Thank you for your forum here.

  6. Ross Milburn says:

    I admire David Cole and he is a fine writer, but he is mistaken to criticize the ALVA group in this story. Libertarian beliefs vary, but the essential principle that unites us is the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) which prohibits the initiation of force. When the coercive state fades away (and it will, for biological reasons), all relationships will be voluntaryist and mostly contractual, and that requires laws that determine the property rights and equal human rights of all persons. Laws have to be supported by the force necessary to locate and overpower likely miscreants, and that requires a professional police force with global reach. Such a police force will work directly for the community, and have no more rights or authority than ordinary people. Police operations will be transparent and open to the public that employs them. This is because representative democracy will have been replaced by direct democracy. Libertarians who believe that they can defend their interests without a professional police force really are impractical. My view is in line with the practice of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who had rules against coercion by their leaders and who implemented the law directly only because they lived in tiny groups.

  7. Matthew says:

    While I was entertained by this story, as I usually am with David Cole’s writing, I have to point out that David Cole has not bothered to understand anarcho-capitalists with sufficient depth to make his opinion worth much. Anyone familiar with our ideology will get ample evidence of this in the above piece. Anarcho-capitalism does not require that everyone play along and become a “New Libertarian Man” anymore than a statist order requires that every single individual infailingly support the state. A libertarian order would have police; they simply would not be monopolized. There would still be conflict; the libertarian philosophy simply instructs as to how the conflict should be resolved and when violence would be permissible.

    There was nothing in this piece to serve as an argument against libertarian anarchy.

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