The Magazine

Among the Paultards

Even they are ashamed of their candidate's supporters.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By MATT LABASH
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"We're gonna rock tonight!" promises presidential historian Doug Wead. And the speakers do, too. Such as when Conservative Caucus chairman Howard Phillips ticks off a list of his favorite Ron Paul bills complete with their congressional numbers. (Paul's opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor was a particular crowdpleaser.) Or when John McManus of the John Birch Society whips the crowd into a frenzy when asking what we should do about the unsound-moneychangers at the Federal Reserve ("Suck my butt, Fed!" frothed one crowd member).

A friend at the press table notes that "You can't light a match near anybody because there's so much double-knit here, the place would go up like that." I adjourn to an arena snack bar during a Grover Norquist anti-tax speech-actually I'm just guessing what his speech was about, but it feels a safe bet.

Backstage I find Jesse Ventura holding court. In jeans and a Navy SEAL T-shirt under a sports jacket, his large shiny head ringed with long wisps of unkempt hair, he has, since leaving office and moving to Mexico, taken on the demeanor of a deranged homeless man. When I approach, Ventura is talking about his Belgian Malinois attack dog who understands commands in three languages, and who's picking up Spanish as a fourth. "He's the smartest one in the house," he says, making an entirely believable claim.

I decide to bait Ventura, offering that some of the 9/11 Truthers in the crowd are disappointed their viewpoints aren't being represented.

"They will when I get up there," he growls. He says he's been studying the issue "for well over a year and a half," and he feels "very strongly that the truth has not been forthcoming."

When asked what the truth is and whether the government had something to do with it, he says, "I don't know. But I know this, I do have somewhat of a demolition background, being a member of the Navy's underwater demolition team, and I spoke to a few of my teammates a couple weeks ago. We're all in agreement that buildings can't fall at the rate of gravity without being assisted. And that's called physics, that's not an opinion."

Taking the stage, Ventura has the crowd ululating as he hits all the hot buttons, from the evils of the Patriot Act and closed presidential debates to the need to jealously guard our Second Amendment rights. Then, keeping his promise to me (and breaching assurances to convention organizers), he gets down to business, to a little "something called 9/11." It's like lighting a match around the double-knits. They ignite.

Under the impression that there are no stupid questions, Ventura proceeds to ask several: such as why doesn't the FBI website's list of top ten international terrorists include the 9/11 attacks among Osama bin Laden's other crimes? And why hasn't the Justice Department charged Osama bin Laden? Though he doesn't actually accuse the government of participating in the attacks, he doesn't need to, judging from the crowd reaction. "Inside job!" someone chants.

Backstage afterwards, Ventura is further holding court for reporters, after having hinted to the crowd that he might be amenable to a presidential run in 2012 if the Revolution stays on track. "I will be watching!" he threatened.

Tucker hadn't heard the speech, so I break the news to him that Ventura got off his leash. Being a devout believer in the conventional, single-bullet version of the 9/11 attacks (that the terrorists acted alone), Tucker is both alarmed and offended, but doesn't have much time to reflect. He is accosted by some grubby indie-media types who start trying to engage him: "Have you ever heard of the Controlled Demolition Hypothesis. .  .  . Who I believe did it are the ones who control our money systems. .  .  . Have you followed the [National Institute of Standards and Technology] report on the collapse of building seven?"

After a brief sparring match with the nutcakes, Tucker looks ashen. "This is crazy. I've got to get out of here. Let's go get dinner." We slip out the back door of the arena to hail a cab and get some steaks. But Tucker's still supposed to be emceeing the event, and Paul has yet to speak.

"Are you going to tell him you're leaving?" I ask.

"Nahhh," Tucker says. "I really like Ron Paul. I don't want to hurt his feelings."

The beauty of the Ron Paul Revolution is that whatever you miss, you can catch on YouTube. (Number of Paul videos: 150,000 and counting.) The speech is a six-parter, so I don't watch the whole thing, on account of wanting to be present when my young children graduate from college.

Still, Paul sounds some nice notes on personal liberty, not wanting to control others, and the importance of adhering to both moral and constitutional principles, neither of which are in fashion where he works. Government should serve us, not the other way around, and we are not beholden to any government for our rights. "Rights are something that are very precious," he says. "They don't come from the government, they come in a natural way or a God-given way .  .  . as a right to your life and a right to your liberty. .  .  . A true patriot defends liberty."

It's an attractive line. And it's easy to see why people subscribe to the Ron Paul Revolution. Easier still when you're nowhere near it.

Matt Labash is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.