OPINION:The “Malignant Dishonesty” of Jacob Hornberger, Then and Now


At the end of February, I published an article describing in detail the lengths to which Jacob Hornberger went to undermine the campaign of eventual 2000 Libertarian presidential nominee, Harry Browne. Shortly after, Hornberger—now a leading candidate for the 2020 nomination—referenced those events during a debate at the Libertarian Party of Iowa’s state convention. 

A fellow candidate at the time, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee referenced Hornberger’s 2002 bid for Virginia’s US Senate seat as an independent, and asked why Hornberger didn’t run as a Libertarian. You can watch the full debate here, but this was Hornberger’s response: 

“What had happened was I had gotten into a battle with the party hierarchy a couple years before over a matter of ethical principles, and there were a group of us that believed that ethical principles matter. I said it twenty years ago and I’ll say it today… so I took on the party hierarchy in that battle. But as soon as the corruption got exposed and got stopped by the LNC, I figured the battle was over. 

But it wasn’t over. Two years later I learned that there’s a price to be paid for taking on the party hierarchy, and it happens in every party… and the party hierarchy in Virginia said ‘we will not help you get on the ballot.’ And so I went out and got the necessary ten thousand signatures, which was about sixteen thousand signatures, all by myself with the help of a few friends because the party hierarchy wouldn’t help me. And that’s why I decided to run as an independent, because I didn’t have the backing of the party hierarchy in Virginia.”

The allegations that the Libertarian Party of Virginia (LPVA) would refuse to help Hornberger with his campaign seemed odd to me, so I did some digging. I managed to get in contact with several individuals who were intimately familiar with the situation that occurred between Hornberger and the LPVA. While I cannot disclose every detail, both for purposes of privacy and brevity, the information that I learned from multiple corroborating sources paints a pattern of what one individual deemed as “malignant dishonesty” from Hornberger that has continued to this day. 

First, it is important to fully understand the allegations that Hornberger levied against the Harry Browne campaign prior to the 2000 Libertarian national convention. These are touched on in my previous article, but here’s a more explicit summary. 

Hornberger alleged that the Libertarian party had colluded with Browne to hand him the 1996 nomination. Hornberger had published several articles and essays detailing these allegations (most of which have been removed since), but two major allegations were that the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) made large payments to Sharon Ayres, Browne’s campaign manager at the time, and the company that was run by a man named Perry Willis.

After speaking with a source who was knowledgeable of LNC records at the time, who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity, the LNC did in fact make payments to both Ayres individually and Willis’ company. However, what Hornberger “didn’t understand, or chose not to say, was that most of those payments were expense reimbursements.” 

In fact, Ayres had used her personal credit card for travel expenses, which were approved for reimbursement by the LNC. Willis, on the other hand, had been doing work for the LNC as a direct mail contractor through his company. The LNC merely reimbursed him for costs relating to printing, postage, and list rentals. 

It should be noted that Willis did in fact violate LNC policy by working on Browne’s campaign when he was still doing work as a direct mail contractor. According to this source, allegations were first brought to the LNC’s attention prior to the 2000 convention, but a lack of evidence prevented any action from being taken. In 2001, such evidence was finally presented and the LNC swiftly censured Willis as a result. According to the source, this indiscretion by Willis was “the one accusation [by Hornberger] that turned out to be true.”

But Hornberger’s allegations of collusion between Browne and the LNC did not stop with the LNC. He also accused several state affiliates of wrongdoing, including the LPVA. Specifically, Hornberger alleged that the LPVA had deliberately given Don Gorman, one of Browne’s competitors for the 2000 nomination, an unrealistically short amount of time to speak (five minutes) at the LPVA state convention. Hornberger later retracted this statement, and explained that he had overheard a conversation between Gorman and a member of the LPVA executive committee and jumped to conclusions. However, both Gorman and the committee member denied such a conversation ever taking place. 

Unsurprisingly, these verifiably dishonest proclamations about the LPVA created some tension between Hornberger and some members of the LPVA. So when Hornberger announced his intention to run for senate in Virginia as a Libertarian, a few members expressed that they themselves would not support his bid for the party’s nomination, instead voting for NOTA. 

Nevertheless, Hornberger went through the steps of starting a campaign. He requested that the LPVA aid him in collecting ballot access signatures and the LPVA denied that request. However, the reasoning was not the same as Hornberger characterized it in Iowa. According to Marc Montoni, who was the chair of the LPVA at the time, Hornberger made his request well before he had earned the nomination to be the party’s senate candidate; Montoni clarified to me that it was not the practice of the LPVA up until then, nor has it been since, to aid any candidate in signature collections prior to them receiving the nomination. In short, the LPVA declined to help Hornberger because they were following their principles, something that Hornberger should have admired in theory. Yet, he wanted an exception to be made for him, per Montoni. 

But even after the LPVA declined to make an exception, Hornberger persisted. Montoni has catalogued this in a decidedly anti-Hornberger blog you can read in full here, but Hornberger assembled a team of volunteers to help collect signatures for his campaign. The issue: Hornberger’s team featured several LPVA officials, including two district chairs, a county officer, and the state party’s ballot access committee chair. 

This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it directly contradicts Hornberger’s recent claim that the party hierarchy in Virginia prevented him from running as a Libertarian; in fact, members of the LPVA “hierarchy” were directly working on his campaign. Secondly, it’s eerily similar to what Perry Willis was found guilty of doing for Browne back in 1996, something which Hornberger was ostensibly so appalled by that he “took on the party hierarchy” over it. 

But that didn’t stop Hornberger, as his team worked towards collecting the ballot signatures. At a certain point, though, it became clear that Hornberger was likely to lose the LPVA’s nomination for the upcoming Senate campaign. Enough people in the party still held a grudge against Hornberger for his public denouncements of the LPVA, which one source described as “angry smear tactics and nothing more,” that a large contingency of voters intended to vote for NOTA instead of Hornberger. 

Rather than endure the embarrassment of literally losing to nobody, Hornberger dropped out of the primary and instead filed to run as an independent. Since there was no Democrat running for the Senate seat, Hornberger was facing what he likely felt was a very winnable race against an incumbent Republican and another independent candidate. That fellow independent candidate, Nancy Spannaus, was a disciple of Lyndon LaRouche. For those unfamiliar, LaRouche was a Marxist-socialist figure whose political movement has been deemed a cult, in addition to garnering allegations of racism and anti-Semitism. LaRouche was also convicted of fraud in the late 80’s. 

Needless to say, Hornberger likely felt that this was a two-man race between himself and incumbent John Warner, given the taboos that were present around anyone connected to socialism or the name LaRouche at that time. And since Hornberger had already collected enough signatures to make the ballot, he could offer a serious challenge to Warner. 

But reality set in on election day, and it was not even compatible with Hornberger’s most realistic expectations. Warner won reelection in a blowout victory, earning over 82% of the vote, a 30% gain from his last electoral win. Not only did Hornberger lose badly to Warner, but he even finished behind Spannaus, who earned over 39,000 more votes than Hornberger. 

It’s hard to describe these results as anything short of an embarrassment for Hornberger, and it served as the last time he ever ran for office – until now, of course. The messy divorce from the Libertarian party during the LPVA primary served as the end of his involvement in the party for quite a while, as Hornberger instead focused on his Future of Freedom Foundation. 

Montoni speculates that part of the reason for Hornberger staying away from the party for as long as he did was due to the fact that Hornberger had catalogued all of his criticisms of the party – both the national party and the LPVA – on his personal website, JacobGHornberger.com, supported by Yahoo Groups. This catalogue included his verifiably false claims of trickery at the 2000 LPVA convention, as well as a follow up wherein Hornberger offered an apology for his erroneous claims. 

In short, Hornberger had unknowingly created a list of reasons for Libertarians to dislike and distrust him, as these posts and articles offered a fairly coherent timeline of events that led to his divorce from the party in 2002. But you’ll notice that the link above redirects to an error page written in German. 

That’s because Yahoo Groups announced back on October 16, 2019 that they would be permanently deleting all Yahoo Groups archives on December 14, 2019. This meant that Hornberger’s catalogue of what went wrong from 2000-2002 would disappear from the Internet. Coincidentally, Hornberger filed to run for president with the Libertarian party on October 29, 2019 and formally announced his campaign on November 2, 2019. 

Montoni, for one, was suspicious of the timing of these things: 

“Speaking of Yahoogroups [sic]…  Might [Hornberger] have pulled the trigger on his decision to seek the 2020 nomination when he learned that the trail of documentation of all the victims he rolled over and all the prevarications he made — which had been preserved in hundreds of email mailing lists that he and his supporters spammed at the time and which were hosted by Yahoogroups — was effectively going to be eliminated by the closure of the Yahoogroups archives in December?”

Whether or not that was part of Hornberger’s thought process, the fact remains that this documentation from Hornberger’s old site was gone forever, thus mitigating the chance of people stumbling onto the history that Hornberger had catalogued up until then. This, combined with the 18 years that had passed between his last encounters with the Libertarian party and now, effectively meant everyone had either forgotten about what had happened or moved on. 

And with that, Hornberger was able to control the framing of his history with the party, throwing out libertarian cliches like “taking on the party hierarchy” and “a matter of ethical principles.” Most Libertarians are predisposed to accept that at face value, and even those who try to fact check him would find nothing because the old site had already vanished. 

In short, Hornberger was in the perfect position to lie and get away with it. He could easily whitewash his problematic history with the party and move on without having to take accountability for it. And as soon as Chafee asked him about it in Iowa, that’s exactly what Hornberger did, and that’s exactly the problem: this isn’t just something that happened 18-20 years ago. The fact that Hornberger has outright lied about those happenings makes it an issue today, and it brings into question his own integrity when it comes to asking for the Libertarian party’s nomination. 

And that pattern of ‘malignant dishonesty’ has continued even through this past weekend, when Hornberger brought it up on his own during a virtual debate hosted by the Libertarian Party of Kentucky. You can watch the full debate here, but about halfway through Hornberger says “As everybody knows, I got into a battle with Harry [Browne], it was an unfortunate battle, but I will say this… I don’t think anybody’s run a more principled campaign than Harry Browne.” 

This is yet another statement of Hornberger’s that is easily proved to be a lie. Hornberger wrote at the time, and still has it proudly displayed on his website, an essay in which he accuses Browne of compromising his principles and being Republican-lite, an attack that Hornberger has since levied at Justin Amash as well. Indeed, this is a troubling pattern of someone who seems incapable of being consistently honest. 

Now, the revelation of all of this information will undoubtedly anger some of Hornberger’s more staunch supporters, but it’s important for me to stress that this is not done out of some vendetta. In truth, I had never heard of Hornberger until he announced his 2020 campaign, so I did my own research to see who he was. That kicked off a process in which I discovered an unsettling pattern of behavior on his part, and as the Libertarian national convention draws near (despite its recent postponement), I feel the need to present this to the public, and more specifically to those who will be selecting the nominee at said convention. 

In imagining the kinds of responses to this article, I’m reminded of a quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. In a conversation between two characters, Dominique Francon says to Gail Wynand, “The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody has decided not to see.” 

In the case of Jacob Hornberger, most of his problematic behavior is open to the public, especially now. And people have two choices on what to do with this information: they can ignore it, in which case they don’t have to do anything about it, or they can acknowledge that it is glaringly evident that Hornberger lacks the integrity that ought to be required of the presidential nominee for the party of principle. In true libertarian fashion, that decision will be left up to the individual. 

 

Image: Gage Skidmore





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