(Writer's note: edited for clarity.)
The few people that consider themselves to be my readers are an eclectic mix - Christians, atheists, Muslims, etc. Some like my fiction, others like the nonfiction. But something I have not been open about is my very, very brief stint as a teenage libertarian blogger and influencer - and my strange interaction with Alex Jones that scared me straight.
Before you read further, I'm not here to condemn libertarianism.
I'm here to tell you a wild story of how a teenager infiltrated the political blogsphere and ended up on a talk radio station. Objectively, it's hilarious. If you're offended, just replace "libertarian" with "woke liberal" or whatever.
That being said, you might get bothered because I do talk about some of the reasons I renounced it later on. I encourage you to sit with it though, and at least take away the broader theme of: "Hey, let's not platform really young people, or follow influencers just because their words sound good so they must be correct."
About twelve years ago, I was a high school dropout. I ended up finishing at an alternative ed program, but I had to wait about eight months to graduate. No job would hire me because of the dropout status, so I had a lot of free time on my hands.
At this point, I found Jesus again after a few rough party years. To tell a long story short, when I became a Christian, quite a few folks doubted the sincerity of my re-conversion because of my reputation. If you know me now, you would think that's wild. I live the lifestyle of a hobbit. I watch Father Brown. I meditate. I'm a sucker for a good Cobb salad.
When the Jesus thing happened, I started to deconstruct from a form of atheism called Objectivism, a philosophy Ayn Rand developed to justify selfishness as a virtue. I picked up Anthem and it changed my life. What followed was a chaotic mixture of philosophical dread and bad choices.
In case you ever wonder what certain conservative politicians and LaVeyan Satanists have in common, it's that they both have a deep love for Rand's work. The reason is because the philosophy helped to inspire a lot free market policies, and also it created a spiritual "right hand" path for Satanists to follow based on the self.
I re-entered faith through Quakerism and the broad Anabaptist traditions. For the first two years of so of my spiritual journey, I wondered how I could fit Objectivism into my theology.
I was part of a libertarian Facebook group - many groups, actually - and I saw an opportunity to write for a blog site. I figured, "Why not? I'll write about complex political issues until I get into college. What's the worst that could happen?"
I adopted the screen name "Zen Anarchist" based off of a phrase from the director of Red Dawn. It was the way he described his own politics. By the way, I loved Red Dawn. I used to shout "Avenge me!" at college friends whenever something unfortunate and petty happened to me.
So, I started writing a bunch. I would wake up in the morning, without a job or driver's license or general understanding of most things, and tell the world how they should live their lives.
And it slowly started to get attention. I got about three hundred followers within a few months based solely off of the content I was writing.
Here's the thing.
People ate it up.
I wrote mini-manifestos about the virtues of liberty and private property. People would get legitimately emotional at these things. I was a talented writer. I knew what would tug at people's heart strings.
The attention people gave me got to my head. People with college degrees were interacting with my work. We were throwing around names like Murray Rothbard and Ludwig Von Mises. We guffawed at Ron Paul memes.
The alt-right thing wasn't visible in my circles, in fact I remember several denunciations of racism and antisemitism from others on the blog. I also never wrote anything that would get me cancelled in today's standards. I was never racist, sexist, or homophobic. I was very liberal socially.
One day, I got invited onto a radio show about combining libertarianism and Christianity.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say. I eventually came to the conclusion that evangelical Christianity was essentially too collectivist and socialist for my liking.
So I went on this radio show and pretty much ranted free form. And people loved it.
I literally thought I was a genius called by God to do this stuff. I was even open a bit about being a teenager. That didn't stop anyone from reading what I wrote.
One morning, I had a big Come-to-Jesus moment in the form of a Facebook "like" and message from someone I didn't ever want to see support from.
From what I recall, and this could've totally been his social media person, he said something along the lines of: "I really appreciate and learn from what you write. Keep up the good work."
My jaw dropped. I knew Jones as the conspiracy guy who went around saying that 9/11 was an inside job. He was someone that, frankly, horrified me. Even back then, he made my stomach curl.
I scrolled through my blogposts panicked, thinking I must've accidentally written something crazy. But no - it was the usual emotional, vague appeals for a libertarian society where gay couples could grow pot and own AK-47s freely.
I had to accept the fact that Alex Jones, the main proprietor of 9/11 Trutherism, liked my material.
It was an odd disconnect for me, and something I look back on now as one of God's interventions. Shortly after that, the owner of the site and I parted ways - he wanted to talk more about his Mormon faith and take the site in a different direction.
I remember later on going to Bible college trying hard to deconstruct from Objectivism. I still held onto libertarianism for a brief period, until eventually I let go of that too - for more personal reasons, which will be gone into one day in the future.
When I read the Gospels more, I became convicted about my views and I deleted the Zen Anarchist Facebook page.
In 2016, near the end of my time in undergrad, I walked into a buddy's apartment to see the news on his TV. They were talking about how big of an impact Alex Jones was having on the elections.
My face went pale. I remembered that message he sent me, and felt this huge conviction that my words actually mattered. My former silly little hobby on the side was more serious than I thought. I realized that, in a very real way, my words have consequences.
They had consequences in the sense that I had to live with a sense of guilt that the man who promoted conspiracy theories had a vague connection with me because of things I wrote.
It was an ugly feeling. It made my skin crawl when I saw the news that night.
That led me to realize a few things.
The truth is that it's not hard to be popular or to be an influencer if you're willing to stoke flames that are already there.
Once people find a brand or a platform to build off of, it's pretty easy to find your niche if your main tools are outrage and emotional appeals. Our culture celebrates selfishness. Sociologists believe we are in a pivotal moment in our country where cultural narcissism is celebrated above truth.
Something I found was that Americans don't want to know they're right. They want to feel like they're right... and that is incredibly dangerous, especially in a time where we can find the "truth" we like.
To quote the miniseries Chernobyl: "What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”
When I started writing fiction again, I remembered how I felt writing about politics. I was concerned. Not because my politics have significantly shifted, but because of the spiritual toll it might take on me. I ended up seeing a spiritual director for a brief period of time. I was able to discern a path forward on how to balance this.
The little glimpse I had of a semi-successful platform told me that it's not worth it to build something based off of manufactured outrage and anger, or even what's cool in the moment. It may last for a small amount of time, but it doesn't have a long-term impact. It's another toxic voice in a sea of toxic voices.
What genuinely matters to me is being open and compassionate with everything I do, but to also speak the truth in a way that doesn't demean others or strip them of their dignity. I'm not perfect at in this, but Mr. Rogers is my go-to guy for a ministry example for a reason.
If that doesn't lead to much, that's fine. I know what the other option feels like, and I enjoy sleeping at night with a clear conscience.
My main concern with the way we do discourse now, especially over social media, is that we've turned each other's side into a brand. I'm not sure how an honest conversation can begin to happen when even our dialogue has a price tag to it.
So, if you get anything from this, if you still want to be that cool guy on Twitter or Instagram or wherever - please heed my warning. You will have to account for what you put out there.
To my Christian readers especially - if you're beginning a serious shift with Bible college or seminary, please be aware that you will be a different person on the other side of your journey. Don't build a platform off of something that will most likely shift in the coming years.
So, the ultimate question: do I regret this experience?
No, because it literally helped to lead to some of the most beautiful, profound moments of my life. When I started re-exploring my political views, I knew I needed to learn more about the world. I traveled the world a bit. I saw firsthand the consequences of what I used to believe.
But, more importantly, I saw the grace and mercy that was waiting for me on the other side of this journey.
The early mystics believed that when we're absolutely stripped raw and we're at a pivotal moment in our lives doorways to compassion and understanding open up. I wouldn't have grown into a healthier person if it wasn't for that weird period.
Repentance was a profound thing for me, and I'm so grateful that this happened to me sooner in life rather than later.
Do I regret what I wrote? Yes and no. I disagree with it now, but when I sometimes re-read stuff I don't see the opinions: I see someone who wanted to be taken seriously and wanted to be known, like every teenager.
Even when I was wrong about my economic views, I see someone still passionate about wanting to make the world a better place. There wasn't any cruel or hateful intentions with those views, and I never convinced someone to believe differently. I was always preaching to the choir.
I just didn't know what I didn't know.
I say this as a white, cis-het man. I have since become very aware of my privilege - from sitting under black preachers to undoing oppressions both within me, and around me. I'm grateful for the often-painful learning I had to go through over the years. While the story is funny to me in hindsight, I also recognize the very real harm that could've happened had I continued down this path.
But for the grace of God throwing a little crazy Texan man my way, I may have turned into the kind of person I wouldn't want to be.
So, yes. There's the long journey. I didn't talk about this much because, frankly, it's so odd. Why in the world was it easy for an 18 year old to be taken seriously with political opinions on a public platform? I still don't have the answer for that.
But that about does it.
Just be good to each other, folks. We're carrying around a lot of baggage. Life is way too short to be harsh with each other, and with ourselves. Own your part, and keep growing.