The Next Freedom Revolution

Did you ever expect the coming libertarian revolution to be announced in the New York Times?

Nope? Me neither.

But there it was, dominating the entire front page of the opinion section of Sunday’s print edition, a long think piece profiling the political philosophy of the liberty movement’s happiest warrior in Congress, Thomas Massie:

“He has been quietly advancing what for a Republican politician are an unusual set of stances: evincing deep opposition to the national security state, resistance to the influence wielded by corporations and interest groups over our policymaking, and a sense that Americans need a better, more sustainable relationship to the land. It is a politics almost always built around the idea of scaling back, making systems smaller, simpler, and more local. That’s an odd kind of politics for a Republican, or any major elected official, but it suddenly seems to have appeal even beyond the GOP’s narrow base, and it has already made Mr. Massie the closest thing the party has to a cult hero lawmaker.”

I encourage you to read it. It’s a surprisingly fair portrayal of the homespun libertarian values espoused by Thomas. Young people turned off by nationalism on the right and authoritarianism on the left are flocking to his ideas, and he may be, according to the author, “the future face of conservatism”:

“If he and his younger fans gain the money, influence, and institutional backing to help shift the party in his direction, they may well reveal a conservatism capable of appealing to many now disillusioned by the party. Mr. Massie has already gained many supporters outside traditional Republican circles: neo-homesteaders, hippie back-to-the-landers, cranky libertarians and self-described ‘marginalized environmentalists’.”

If you follow our work at Free the People, you already know that we are big fans of Thomas and his thoughtful, tireless defense of libertarian values. I couldn’t be happier about his burgeoning rock star stature with young people. But how does Thomas reach this broader audience? How did he break into popular culture beyond the angry tribalism of partisan politics? Because he is real, a gifted storyteller. And because he was willing to tell his story to us in Free the People’s award-winning documentary Off the Grid with Thomas Massie. That film has been slowly building steam online since we released it in 2018, becoming, according the New York Times, a cult classic that is turning a whole new generation on to a different world governed by self-reliance, responsible stewardship of the environment, a sense of community, and a deep distrust of big government and the crony corporations that feed off it.

“In this world, it’s as much Mr. Massie’s lifestyle as his politics that have won him fans. He grew up in the tiny town of Vanceburg, Ky., and went on to MIT, where his high school sweetheart soon joined him. Together, they founded a virtual reality company while they were still undergrads… They sold the company and moved back to Kentucky, beginning work on their off-the-grid home in 2003. ‘We wanted to raise our kids the way we had been raised,’ he told an interviewer who filmed him for a 2018 documentary titled ‘Off the Grid,’ which helped to make him a niche celebrity in an age when lots of people are suddenly getting into homesteading, prepping and do-it-yourself farming.”
“[Massie’s] audience, perhaps surprisingly, includes both conservation-minded conservatives and localist-minded environmentalists. ‘The sphere is basically people who are concerned about the state of society and looking for ways to thrive that don’t require widespread social, economic, or political control,’ said Ashley Colby, who does not consider herself right wing… She discovered Mr. Massie by watching the ‘Off the Grid’ documentary.”

Indeed, the whole narrative—and surprisingly sympathetic tone—of this Times piece seems to have been lifted directly from Off the Grid. That’s precisely what we set out to do with our films: Reset, and redefine, the cultural narrative. The old rules of how to effectively communicate a message said that “earned” media, as in third party reporting, was always better than “paid” media advertising, because it is more credible. But what we do is “created” media, actually crafting the story as it should be told.

Terry Kibbe and I left FreedomWorks when we decided that the most effective work we could do was upstream of politics. The shift was fundamental: From influencing political outcomes to influencing the cultural narrative. If we do this well, we believe, we will redefine the parameters of what will be politically possible in the future.

Changing the cultural narrative is a tall order that takes time, and sometimes it is hard to know how to measure results. It’s far more than clicks and views. Off the Grid was our first documentary and it has been yielding social returns for years, slowly growing an organic audience. And it is working. After the Times piece hit, Thomas texted me: “The story, properly told, has been an annuity, not a one-time bump.”

Imagine what else we could do, together, with—again quoting the New York Times—”the money, influence, and institutional backing to help shift” the entire national conversation towards our shared values. Can you imagine the parameters of what might be politically possible then?

If you’ve never seen Off the Grid, check it out here. And here’s the Kibbe on Liberty podcast episode also quoted in the article. Thomas is one of my favorite guests, and if you watch some of his episodes on Kibbe on Liberty, you will see why his principles and his stories are so compelling to young people looking for better answers.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Matt Kibbe

Matt Kibbe is President at Free the People, an educational foundation using video storytelling to turn on the next generation to the values of personal liberty and peaceful cooperation. He is also co-founder and partner at Fight the Power Productions, a video and strategic communications company. Kibbe is the host of BlazeTV’s Kibbe on Liberty, a popular podcast that insists that you think for yourself.

Dubbed “the scribe” by the New York Daily News, Kibbe is the author three books, most recently the #2 New York Times bestseller Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto.

He was senior advisor for a Rand Paul Presidential Super PAC in 2016, and later co-founded AlternativePAC to promote libertarian values.

In 2004 Kibbe founded FreedomWorks, a national grassroots advocacy organization, and served as President until his departure in 2015. Steve Forbes said: “Kibbe has been to FreedomWorks what Steve Jobs was to Apple.”

An economist by training, Kibbe did graduate work at George Mason University and received his B.A. from Grove City College. He serves at the whim of his awesome wife Terry, and their three objectivist cats, Roark, Ragnar and Rearden. Kibbe is a fanatical DeadHead, drinker of craft beer and whisky, and collector of obscure books on Austrian economics.

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