Libertarian America: A Conversation with Austin Petersen

A series of interviews with prominent libertarians that seeks to gain insight into their lives and minds. Photo: The Libertarian Republic

MADISON, Wisc., June 9, 2013 ― Combining many passions into a meaningful, productive career can be a challenge. A man currently conquering that challenge is Austin Petersen, the Director of Production at FreedomWorks. There, he harnesses his artistic talent and libertarian zeal to produce videos, commercials, and event photography. He is also hard at work preparing the FreedomWorks University courses that will be debuting in the near future. Among others, the courses will feature Peter Schiff, Jeffrey Tucker, Steve Horwitz, and Judge Andrew Napolitano. 

Prior to joining FreedomWorks, Petersen produced Judge Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch on Fox Business. He also operates Stonegait Pictures, an LLC under which he does portrait photography, media training, public lectures, and video interviews for private clients. 


SEE RELATED: Libertarian America: A Conversation with John Papola


Petersen is also the executive producer of Alongside Night, a film based on the novel of the same name by J. Neil Schulman. Steeped in themes of agorism, the plot tells the story of what can happen when government destroys a currency and outlaws the use of gold. It premieres this month. 

Joseph S. Diedrich: Describe your experiences with Judge Napolitano and Freedom Watch.

Austin Petersen: Judge Napolitano and I met when he was video podcasting the show Freedom Watch from Fox’s Strategy Room in 2008. I was working at the Libertarian National Committee at the time and pioneered a social media campaign that drove immense amounts of traffic to the show and eventually helped lead to it being picked up. Because of this effort I was the first one to be hired as the Judge’s producer. 

It was extremely exciting to be a part of a libertarian show that had a major impact on the news cycle. Because of our reporting, we were able to influence policy and newsmakers on a daily basis. It was even reported that Republican legislators in 2010 were so terrified of the Judge’s hammer that it was giving the moderates in the party a stronger backbone against raising the debt ceiling. That’s powerful and it taught me how important quality journalism aimed at government transparency and accountability is to a healthy republic. 


SEE RELATED: Libertarian America: A conversation with Sheldon Richman


JSD: You are also the editor of The Libertarian Republic. Share a bit about your news magazine.

AP: The Libertarian Republic is a news magazine venture that started as a personal blog, but has grown to incorporate new voices and contributors from across the spectrum. It’s been exciting to watch the website turn from a single page with op-eds to now having several different news sections devoted to separate topics of interest to liberty lovers.   

JSD: You graduated with a fine arts degree. What was your focus? 

AP: My focus was on the performance arts, specifically musical theatre. My background in the arts started at an early age and continues into adulthood. While in college I authored two different plays, and produced both in New York City. When I was in college, I took an honors creative writing class. My professor brought me into his office and asked, “If you could build a memorial to 9/11, what would you build?” “I guess I would write a play.” I wrote a short play based on the events of 9/11 called “Phoenix Down.” It won Samuel French’s Critics Choice award. It was then I decided to pursue the arts in New York post graduation. 


SEE RELATED: Libertarian America: A conversation with Jeffrey Tucker


JSD: In what ways do you connect this background with your libertarian views? 

AP: My belief in the arts has always coincided with a strong belief in freedom and capitalism. I never berated pop artists for their wealth; I always respected them for using the greatness of their talents to give audiences something they loved. I view commercial success as often an indicator of the quality of an artist’s work, though not always. Art, like capitalism, is not about the artist. It’s about the audience. I learned that especially working in television because often I would want to produce a segment that I found interesting, but didn’t rate or produce the reaction that I expected. I learned to write to my audience, and to give them something they desired so I could be more successful and have more opportunities to create for the public. Those lessons applied in every single acting and writing class I ever had. It’s not about you. It’s about them. 

JSD: What book has had a great influence on you? 

AP: Probably a book called Bourbon for Breakfast by Jeffrey Tucker. In this book he defies the cultural norms that society places on us and we don’t realize. In it he talks about how the government has regulated our behavior all the way down to our showerheads. We can’t even flush our toilets properly because big government has regulated how many liters can flush. That was a real eye opener. 

I love the practical anarchy part of hacking your showerhead and your home appliances. I didn’t even realize that our showers and toilets were so heavily regulated. I thought it was hilarious that Jeffrey Tucker was telling people to hack their showerheads. I also love the idea of “defying the statist-quo.” It got me to question cultural norms that I had never questioned before. 

JSD: Who do you consider to be your most important role model? 

AP: My father. He is a farmer and landscaper in Missouri, from whose business, Stonegait Farm & Nursery, is where I got the title for my own business. He is a former Green Beret, Special Forces in the Army during the Vietnam War era. A very generous and nurturing father, he took the reins of our family when my mother passed away from cancer when I was very young.

My father has always been my strongest role model. I named my production company after his company. My father was always full of quotes and aphorisms and axioms. My favorite quote from father was always illegitimi non carborundum, which is Latin for, “don’t let the bastards get you down.” He always gave me a fighting spirit. 

JSD: If you could meet any politician, economist, or philosopher from the past, who would it be? 

AP: I would most like to meet Thomas Paine. I am very much like him in thought and his book The Age of Reason had a very profound effect on me. I like him more than Thomas Jefferson because he was the pen behind the revolution and because he was less afraid of what people thought. Jefferson was a great writer, but not the best public speaker. After that I would love to meet Epicurus. 

JSD: What do you think is the greatest hindrance to the libertarian cause? The obvious answer is the state, but do you agree?

AP: No, the state is its own worst enemy. I think the greatest hindrance is a lack of good speakers. We are great at debating each other, but not very good with debating or convincing the public. I think it’s in our best interest to become better public speakers and to learn the subtle arts of persuasion. 

JSD: Tell of some personal goals for the future. 

AP: I want to build a libertarian television network in Malibu, California, which is why The Libertarian Republic has partnered with JAGTV to do just that. Jennifer Grossman is an executive at Dole Foods in California who is putting together an exciting project to create a libertarian lifestyle television network that would be a gateway drug to liberty. It’s the most exciting thing happening under the radar right now in the liberty movement. People who are interested should visit www.jagtv.com

This would basically be the gateway drug to freedom. The point is to create something new, because it’s lifestyle television. So there would be some reality shows. Libertarian themes would sort of be sprinkled throughout. The idea is to introduce the public to free market ideas in the way people want to be spoken to. You have to give people what they want.

Joseph S. Diedrich also writes for the MacIver InstituteThe College Fix, Young Americans for Liberty, LibertyBlog.org, Musings of a Superfluous Young Man, and Young American Revolution magazine. Find him on FacebookGoogle+, LinkedIn and Twitter @JSDiedrich.


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Joseph S. Diedrich

Joseph S. Diedrich has been a columnist at The Washington Times Communities since early 2013. He covers non-electoral politics from a libertarian perspective. His work has also been featured at the MacIver InstituteThe College Fix, and elsewhere.

Joseph is also a classically-trained composer and somewhat of a gastronomy enthusiast. Find him on Facebook, LinkedInGoogle+, and Twitter @JSDiedrich.

 

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