Free Market Advocate in the Foxhole
An Interview with Marc Brandl

by Wendy McElroy

In last weekís column, I lamented the absence of a free market voice at the recent anti-IMF/World Bank demonstration in Washington, D.C. – a voice that could correct both the protestersí and the governmentís characterization of those institutions as "free market." I am pleased to have been wrong. Marc Brandl, who works for the national Libertarian Party but attended the protests as an individual, was one of the approximately 1,300 protesters arrested. Brandl explained his presence,

"I am strongly against the IMF and World Bank. It is an improper use of taxpayer money and their policies screw up developing countries, even if those countries are making a good-faith effort. The IMF and World Bank also give free-trade and open markets a bad name by claiming they support them, while what they support is mercantilism and government regulation. I wanted to be sure that at least one person arrested wanted to eliminate the IMF/World Bank for Libertarian reasons and I wanted to be an emissary to the other protestors."

In an exclusive interview with, Brandl provided what has been missing from accounts of the anti-globalization protests: namely, an on-the-scene report from a free market advocate.

Q: How did you come to participate in the IMF/World Bank demonstration?

Brandl: I came through, an online video community. The DC section goes out and films conferences, protests, marches, etc. I was helping them film.

Q: Were you the only free market advocate there?

Brandl: Most the Zoomculture folks (we had a team of 16 on hand) are libertarians. I am sure there were others, but I was not aware of them. I think I was the only libertarian that got locked up. They put 400 of us in the police academy gymnasium for processing before sending us to prison, and we were all pretty close. I didnít hear any talk of free market ideas.

Q: Much has been made of the Ďkookinessí or Ďweirdnessí of the demonstrators. What is your take on the seriousness of these people?

Brandl: The people arrested were quite serious (1300 in all). Most the other protestors were serious as well. Of course some stuff was silly but much of it was cool. The big puppets for example were great visuals for the media. People who called the protesters kooky and weird are simply from different subcultures in America.

The protestors were trying to make a cultural statement in addition to the anti-world bank one. Iím no sociologist, but several American subcultures made up most the serious people who were there. Neo-Hippies (probably the largest group), the various punk subcultures, and a smattering of fairly mainstream liberal college students going through their idealistic phase.

Instead of dismissing these folks, we should see an opportunity. Most of the kids arenít solid in their positions or well educated about the facts. By respecting them and getting in their ear, we can turn a lot of them around. I donít blame them for not choosing the bores on the right. Street theatre is more fun.

It is one thing to criticize the message of the protestors, it is another to defend the IMF. It is hard to be informed about this issue and still say "IMF/World Bank = good." I was surprised to see so many Op-Edís defending it as if they were defending free markets and open trade. They must know they are lying.

Q: Who was most responsible for the general non-violence of the demonstration? I assume it was not the anarchists.

Brandl: For the most part, it was the groups who came from the "non-violent" hippie tradition. Of course they donít mind using violence against me to impose environmental laws and what have you.

Q: Earlier you said "I walked around with the black box anarchists all day on Sunday." These anarchists were controversial protesters. Can you explain their perspective and why they are called Ďblack box?í

Brandl: I walked with them as part of the Zoomculture thing. Their politics are hard to describe. They are dressed in all black and have their faces covered; they are into punk music and have stuff pinned on them all over. They are called Ďblack boxí anarchists because they march around in a group of about 100 or so all clumped together. When they need to make a decision, they yell "black box." Then they gather around and try to make decisions.

They had no leadership as far as I could tell, so I canít see them making decisions beforehand really. They would march around, which was media and protest savvy. At one point, they probably had a thousand non-anarchists following behind them and it looked like they were a much bigger force than they actually were.

Q: You mentioned that the anarchists wanted to stir up some violence. Can you expand?

Brandl: They marched to police barricades and, before the police could be reinforced, they kicked at the barricades, occasionally threw stuff, and talked a lot about doing more. But after three minutes, there were sixty cops in riot gear spraying pepper spray. Then, they dispersed and went to another police barricade, etc.

Q: What is your opinion of the police response?

Brandl: They seemed well ordered for the most part. But they definitely did dumb and illegal stuff. Two of our film crew were arrested because they filming a group that was all-arms-locked sitting on the ground. The police surrounded and arrested everybody. They let the mainstream press out, but nobody else, even the people who pleaded not to be arrested and said they would leave if the cops would let them go.

I also felt their use of pepper spray was a little on the heavy side. They used it to get people to do stuff, not to ward off aggression. For example, when they loaded arrestees onto a bus, all of us were handcuffed. Once we got to the gym, the protestor in the first row went limp as the police tried to escort him out of the bus. So they pepper sprayed him! In a bus with none of the windows open (it was raining). The cops were coughing, the protestors were coughing, the driver had to run off the bus, and last I checked it wasnít illegal to go limp on a cop – just dumb.

Q: Did you plan to get arrested?

Brandl: I have been involved in drug reform and have been at tons of protests. But I had never been arrested, nor had any of my protest-going friends. Although I decided to get arrested on the spot, the idea had been floating around in my head. I thought that with several hundred people being arrested, it would be a good first experience.

Q: What were the circumstances of your arrest? For example, how did the police conduct themselves? Did you go limp, refuse to provide a name...?

Brandl: In my arrest, the police were fine. I didnít go limp, though many did. Since I had not planned ahead I had all my ID on me. I also had to be to work the next day (didnít quite make it) so I gave my name, which allowed me to make several phone calls. Most the other arrestees didnít get a phone call or got one call after a lot of begging.

Q: How were you processed at the jail? How were you treated?

Brandl: The treatment was fine. As I said, they took us to the DC police academy gym for processing. They separated people who were really soaked in pepper spray to be showered. They gave us blankets because we were all wet. But we had to be handcuffed the whole entire time because we werenít in an actual cell. I am sure it is a regulation somewhere.

Q: What were the conditions in jail?

Brandl: After processing, they ran out of room at central booking to keep us for the night. So they took eleven of us to the 6th district holding cell till morning. The cell was a little cramped, but fine other than that. We chatted for a bit and fell asleep on the floor.

The next morning they feed us bad baloney sandwiches, coolaid-tasting stuff, and a few donuts, (the only food I received in 28 hours in jail). They put us in paddy wagons and shipped us down to central booking. Our cell they was small and we had to stand to fit. But they had the other 400+ people in the same cellblock and when we walked in everybody cheered and started chanting. It was a real spirit booster. (This also happened when I got released. Six of us walked out of the courthouse to several hundred people who started cheering – the Left makes it worth while to go to prison. The cheering and hugs and hot tea about made my week.)

We communicated with other cells and figured out that we were going to be arraigned that day. The US marshalls run central booking, and they lie a lot. The DC police were fairly honest about what was going to happen, but the marshalls lied and lied, just stupid lies a lot of time. Example...They were taking us out of our cell, so we asked "where?" They said to be arraigned. We asked if we were going straight to a court room and they said "yes." We expressed our concern about not visiting with a lawyer first and they said there would be a couple minutes before hand to discuss things. We were still concerned and continued to ask questions, but they didnít take us to the court room. They took us to another cellblock and it was another two hours or so before got arraigned. Six hours for me.

The marshalls also keep slipping in prison rape jokes, "youíll find out why they call it the pokey." They kept making comments, "You know what the HIV rate of infection is in DC general population? 30%." (This is true.) They tried to scare those who were hell bent on going to DC jail. They also said we would never be released from jail unless we gave our names. Then, they said it would be 30 days. Then, upon my arraignment, the court declared me a "john doe" who was to be immediately released. "No Paper" they called it. (I had given them everything asked for – SSN, drivers license, name, etc.) So just lots of unnecessary lies.

Q: Tell me about the other protesters you met in jail?

Brandl: Everyone in prison was John or Jane Doe so I canít give names. I talked with a young guy next to me - maybe nineteen or twenty years old. He was already a hardcore neo-hippie, doing the whole lifestyle thing. He talked about wanting to get into community service as a job and was thinking about applying to Americorp. He asked for my perspectives on applying.

We had talked a little bit about Libertarianism before. I told him that I thought taking money from other people was immoral. As a true advocate of peace, I wanted to limit or get rid of government programs in order to reduce the use of force in society. I told him that taking government money was especially bad in this case because there are thousands of non-profits from whom he could get money that had been donated. I also pointed out that Americorp is run by the federal government and he might encounter a lot of bureacracy or be assigned to jobs he didnít like. Wouldnít he rather do the community service heíd enjoy and be effective at? He hadnít heard that persepctive before. He said I had pushed him more in the direction of doing his own thing. That made me feel good.

I talked with an old guy who had been arrested dozens of times before. He was an anarchist so I chatted up anarcho-capitalism. He thought it was a contradiction in terms and had never heard of it before. I recommended David Friedman. He was intrigued. His approach to anarchism seemed to aim at the whole changing of peopleís consciousness. He said "people have to become enlightened or just below that" to way up near enlightenmment for anarchism to work. Then people would just be polite to each other and everybody would share the same ethic. I found this completely laughable. Then, he got tired and showed me how to use my shoe as an effective pillow.

Q: Being part of a protest must give you tremendously credibility with other demonstrators. Was anyone hostile to your perspective?

Brandl: One person during the protests was hostile. He thought that corporations, minus government would turn us all into chattel slaves. He cussed something about corporations and walked off. Fine by me.

In jail, I got nothing but respect, people didnít necessarily agree with me, but there was no yelling or arguing, simply discussing. In part it was because I didnít attack their positions and in part because they respected me for being locked up with them. Most people had little or no understanding of libertarianism, and they found it interesting. One guy was surprised to hear that $1000 spending caps on campaign contributions hurt third parties like the LP, not moron establishment candidates like Gore and Bush. "I never really looked at it that way," he said. Everyone agreed that corporate welfare should stop and that relationships between corporations and government enhance the power of the corporation. They were all against the drug war, and many folks favored decentralized socialism. That is, socialism enforced at the local level. I guess local bureacrats would have a better idea of how to oppress you.

One guy started talking about how it was pretty hard to be for the IMF/WB and still be a good person, and not evil. "Except perhaps people like this guy Milton Friedman Iím reading for this class," he said. I started talking about how free marekt advocates are against the IMF/WB. We then agreed that no good person – capitalist or socialist – could support the IMF/World Bank, only bad people out to steal other peopleís money and screw over developing nations.

Q: You are going to Philadelphia this summer where the anti-globalization movement intends to demonstrate outside the Republican convention. What do you think will happen? Is a re-run of 1968 Democractic convention anticipated?

Brandl: The Philly police were at DC studying the police response there. I think there is a much higher potential for violence in Philly if the organizers can get enough people out. 20,000 at least. This is because the IMF/WB meeting only had to get a hundred or so Delegates in and out. The Republicans and Democrats will have thousands of delegates and tons of press. Protestors could really be a cog in the wheel. They could shut down the city.

May 4, 2000

Wendy McElroy is author of The Reasonable Woman.