by MICK LLOYD-OWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hey're talking in taverns. They're holding meetings and swapping books. They have the Internet, and they're not afraid to use it. Some even wear guns -- a symbol of revolution. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul -- an ideological libertarian -- seems to have won more than an elephant race in the Spokane County Republican caucuses. He's kindled a movement that's invigorating the local GOP with the energy of youth -- and it may well take the reins of the local organization.
As a result of what some are calling a "coup" at the Spokane County Republican Convention on April 12, Paul supporters will make up 107 of the 114 delegates to the state convention. Paul's support was even strong enough to alter the party's stance on the war in Iraq, essentially withdrawing support from the Bush administration's current policy (echoed by John McCain).
"I'd say at least 70 percent of the people at the convention had never been to a convention before," says Curt Fackler, chairman of the Spokane County Republican Party. "I'm excited about it, because it's bringing a lot of new people into the process."
"Normally they turn out a hundred people or so [at the county convention]," says Robert Stokes, a longtime activist among local Republicans. "This time they had 500 and something. The last time that happened was in 1984 when they had a comparable situation with Pat Robertson."
Stokes, 64, considers himself a "small l" libertarian whose interests are best served by remaining within the Republican Party -- although he distances himself from those he considers to be lockstep conformists to the neoconservative agenda. "What brought me in [to the Ron Paul camp] was detestation of the global war on terror and everything associated with it, both domestic and foreign," he says. He suspects this sentiment is common among Paul supporters. The last straw for Stokes was a debate in South Carolina in which Rudy Giuliani demanded that Paul "recant" for suggesting that 9/11 may have been a backlash against U.S. policy in the Middle East.
"That takes us back several hundred years, when you use the word 'recant,'" Stokes says. He found the Paul supporters online and went to the first meeting.
"They were young people, students, non-political people that came out of the woodwork," Stokes says. "Or they were long-departed ex-Republicans. The interesting young people that I've run into have been previously apolitical ... but people who are active thinkers."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & aul supporters are networking in Spokane -- as they do around the country -- through Meetup.com, a Website for finding local people with common interests. "It's a good way to get organized and get the word out," says Rob Chase, one of the organizers of the Spokane group. "It's definitely a grass-roots thing -- almost like an Internet campaign. People send Youtubes and articles." The Spokane Meetup group has more than 350 members. Nationally, there are more than 100,000 doing the same thing.
Chase, like many Paul supporters, complains that his candidate hasn't gotten a fair shake in the mainstream media. "In the debates, the anointed of the Republican Party get 18 to 20 minutes," Chase says. "The little guys -- from their point of view -- get two to three minutes. It's a difficult thing to overcome -- like being blacklisted."
Libertarianism is a principled political philosophy, he says, which doesn't lend itself to 10-second sound bites. "You have to understand the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and Austrian economics," he says. "A lot of people on the Internet do read this stuff, and that's why it's been an Internet phenomenon."
About 70 of them met at Auntie's on Saturday morning to hear speakers and socialize. A small table offered pamphlets decrying the Military Commissions Act of 2006, explaining Paul's free-market position on health care, explaining Washington gun law and suggesting that the Twin Towers (and WTC-7) were brought down by controlled demolition. Group organizer Jeff Whiteside disowns the 9/11 conspiracy material, but says the group will not prohibit its distribution. A stack of the Outpost Weekly proclaims: "Ron Paul Landslide at County Conventions."
"It's the revolution I really wish would come," says David Koch, a 22-year-old materials engineering student at WSU, sporting a Raining Jain T-shirt and a firearm at his side. "It amazes me to finally see a candidate out there that looks like nobody is pulling his strings." Koch's personal mission is to promote firearm safety and education through OpenCarry.org. He and some like-minded friends carry firearms openly -- and legally -- to make a statement about constitutional rights, to invite questions about the law, and to try to convince the public that good people have guns, too. "Carrying openly goes right along with Ron Paul's saying: That at the end of the day, the entire government and society in general comes down to what kind of citizens they have."
"I'm a patriot," says Jason Picket, 31, when asked why he came. "I love this country and I love what it stands for, but our Constitution's being trampled and unfortunately the media is not giving it the coverage it needs. You turn on the news, and you don't see anything about the Military Commissions Act, or how habeas corpus is gone. But people are starting to get the idea, and the Internet's helped a lot." A polished Smith & amp; Wesson .45 with blue abalone grips adorns his hip. He wrote the pamphlet on the table, emblazoned with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "... all power is inherent in the people ... it is their right and duty to be at all times armed."
"In the last six years -- whether you're a Bush man or not -- we've lost so many rights it's insane," Pickett says.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & taple topics of conversation among libertarians are individual liberty; limited and decentralized government; free market economics and a foreign policy of nonintervention. As evidenced by Paul's campaign as a Republican, there is a wide swath of gray between the views of libertarians and conservatives.
Gabriel Kellmer, 28, is a first-timer at the meeting. "I came from a Christian, Republican family -- that whole deal," he says. "But why do we vote Republican?" The question for Kellmer has become a personal quest. "Most Christians vote on one issue, and that's pro-life -- and I very much believe in that. But nobody knows what the Republican Party does, and how many more people we kill -- by our policies -- than babies. That's huge, but nobody wants to look at that." He's also bothered by the escalation of the national debt under the Bush administration.
"We want to think that the good people are Christians, and those people have moral standards, right? But of 14,000 pastors in Germany at the time [of the Holocaust], all but 800 of them sided with Hitler and said he was God's man. They had the Swastika and the Cross. Why is that?" Kellmer asks earnestly, as if expecting an answer. Quoting both the Bible and the Matrix fluidly, he shuns the "Christian" label, saying it carries too much baggage that he can't defend. "Christians do crazy things," he says. "Follower of Jesus," however, is a term he can live with.
Ironically, the man who inspired this flare-up of libertarian zeal is considered by some of his own supporters as a non-factor.
"What motivates me has absolutely nothing to do with the 2008 presidential campaign or who wins or loses. Never has," Stokes says. "It is simply stupid to try to interpret the Ron Paul business in terms of a classic presidential campaign, like Mitt Romney or [Mike] Huckabee. Ron Paul is not running for president. He never has. The people around him -- the ones who have put in enough money and effort to make this thing viable -- know full well that he never had, nor particularly wanted, I suspect, any actual involvement with the presidency of the United States." Campaigns are simply used as megaphones, he says, for marginalized parties to proclaim their ideas.
Does the Ron Paul Revolution in Spokane signal a shift in control of the party?
"Not in the short term," Fackler says, "but it might in the long run. If these individuals decide to become [Precinct Committee Officers], they could. It depends on whether they continue to be involved, or if this was a one time thing."