The unraveling of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire

By: - June 22, 2021 6:15 am
A screen shot from the state Libertarian website

This message was on the state Libertarian Party homepage when Jilletta Jarvis locked out the rest of the executive committee from the website. It has since been taken down. (Screenshot)

The war within the state’s Libertarian Party began months ago, with complaints of milquetoast opposition to government pandemic lockdowns. It played out on Twitter, Facebook, and even on a nationally known podcast. It spurred allegations of data theft and prompted the party chair to secretly register a dueling Libertarian Party with the Secretary of State’s Office. 

It also led to the resignation Friday of Joe Bishop-Henchman, chair of the Libertarian National Committee. The national party’s regional representative for New Hampshire has also stepped down.

In an email to party members Friday, Bishop-Henchman cited the blowback he got for supporting New Hampshire party chair Jilletta Jarvis and her decision in early June to create a second Libertarian Party in New Hampshire.

“I will not chair a party that knowingly and has now affirmatively chosen to stay affiliated with the toxic garbage that was being spewed by the New Hampshire party and similar bad actors in other states,” he said. He also cited “the violent threats emanating from these people, and the deliberate destruction of the party’s ability to appeal to voters and win elections.”

The unraveling of the party is so complicated, several party members responded similarly when asked to explain it: “How much time have you got?” 

The story includes alleged racism and threats of violence (but elusive examples), a highly governed disaffiliation process, bylaws for non-party political endorsements, and a disagreement over the national party’s role in state politics. Tom Woods, a nationally known podcaster, devoted an hour-long episode to the situation last week titled “Corruption in the Libertarian Party.”

This is an abridged version.

The pandemic lockdowns ordered by Gov. Chris Sununu last year led a number of Republicans to file liberty-minded legislation seeking to restrain the governor’s emergency powers, prohibit mandatory vaccinations, and ensure that churches will be no more regulated than liquor stores and Home Depot during the next emergency. To some New Hampshire Libertarians, the state party did too little to oppose restrictions and champion that liberty-focused legislation.

The lockdowns revealed a similar dispute over messaging that has been dividing Libertarians nationally for a few years, said Ben Richards, party member and state organizer of a subgroup within the party called the Mises Caucus. Named for economist Ludwig von Mises, the caucus subscribes to the same Libertarian principles but takes a more pointed and vociferous approach to championing them. 

“The Libertarian Party, according to many people, has been very weak and tepid for many, many years,” Richards said. “We want to bring the Ron Paul revolution . . . to the party.” 

Richards said that kind of enthusiasm from the Mises Caucus has grown party membership in New Hampshire and increased awareness of Libertarian priorities on social media.

“They barely had 100 members in the entire party at the state convention in March,” Richards said. “We’ve brought in close to 30 in just the last few months, and it’s growing. Our social media is in the stratosphere. What Mr. Bishop says in his statement – that we’ve been destroying the party and damaging the party – is just false.” Membership is now at about 160 people.

Bishop-Henchman did not return a request for comment, but he addressed this philosophical divide in his resignation email. 

“It turns off donors, repulses allies, and makes team projects unviable,” he wrote of the revolution-style approach. “(The Libertarian National Committee), when confronted with this problem, has chosen to react to it the way a government teachers’ union responds to a complaint about a bad teacher – endless process, excuses and rationalizations, feigned ignorance, and ultimately nothing but injustice for the victims.”

During the state’s March convention, three members from each viewpoint were elected to the executive committee. Both sides have since accused the other of failing to work together. The committee had become so factionalized by June that Jarvis registered what she considered to be the new official Libertarian party with the state. She wrote new bylaws and membership rules. 

Jarvis did not return a request for an interview. During questioning by national party leadership in mid-June, Jarvis said toxic messaging and efforts by other committee members to take complete control of the party led her to quietly register a new Libertarian Party. She said she believed she had the go-ahead from Bishop-Henchman because he had written her a letter recognizing her as the head of the official state party. She also acknowledged removing party property from its Manchester storage shed, and locking the rest of the state party’s executive committee out of its website and social media accounts.

Nolan Pelletier, then the vice chair of the committee, was preparing for this week’s PorcFest “freedom festival” when he found out. 

“It took me by complete surprise,” he said. “I had put my phone down. A couple of hours went by, and by the time I picked up my phone, it was pandemonium.”

He got another surprise when he checked the party’s website and saw a homepage – and a new oath – he didn’t recognize. “I will not advocate or endorse the initiation of force as a means to achieve political or social goals,” it read. 

Asked about Jarvis’s allegations of racism and threats of violence, Pelletier said, “I’ve heard them but I haven’t seen any proof.” He disputed Jarvis’s accusations of freezing out members with differing views.

Pelletier filed a police report for the items missing from the storage shed, and Richards started an online fundraiser to pay for what they expected would be a drawn-out fight to reclaim their property and online access. Jarvis has since returned the items and access to the online accounts, Pelletier said. Richards said he has refunded the donations to the defense fund.

What had been a state-level squabble led to national implications late last week when the national party leadership had to decide which of the two Libertarian parties to recognize as its affiliate. The vote played out over two days on a publicly available email thread that at times became petty. 

Tucker Coburn, the regional representative who has since resigned, shot back when another member challenged him. “If you want my respect for your opinion of my ability to serve this body,” he wrote, “I would suggest you attend our meetings on time or at all, and when you’re in them get off your phone and pay attention.”

The vote to “disaffiliate” the long-standing state party did not go as Jarvis had hoped. She has not submitted a resignation letter, Pelletier said, but she had said she’d resign if she lost. 

Pelletier is now acting chair. He’s turned his attention to PorcFest and the party’s goal of registering loads of new members and thinks this flap may be a draw. 

“I’m going to say we’re going to come out of this stronger,” he said. “We stood our ground, and I think people are going to respect that.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.

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