In the lobby of the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center Hotel in Virginia on Thursday evening, a 62-year-old man named Charles sat patiently as he waited for the Liberty Political Action Conference to begin. The event, hosted by the Campaign for Liberty, of which former Congressman Ron Paul serves as chairman, boasted an impressive list of libertarian-leaning lawmakers on its schedule—but it’s Paul’s son, the U.S. senator from Kentucky and early frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, Rand Paul, whose name lit up the marquee—perhaps to the dismay of people like Charles.
“The apple fell a little far from the tree,” he sighed. “I’m not a big supporter of the wars in the Middle East. That war’s supposed to be over. I’m surprised he’s supporting anything there.”
On Thursday afternoon, Paul took the Senate floor to deliver an impassioned speech outlining his opposition to arming Syrian rebels as the U.S. fights ISIS. That part of Paul’s foreign-policy platform, his liberty-loving fans have no issue with. It is the other part—where Paul is openly supporting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq—that is causing some of them, at least those dedicated enough to the movement to attend LPAC, to stare at him squinty-eyed.
“I understand the game he’s playing,” Charles offered, calling him “politically savvy… He learned from his dad’s mistakes.” And then, “I don’t know how to put this without sounding conspiratorial,” but, ISIS, like every other conflict in the world, he said, was “all planned by the people who control everything globally. They want a World War III.”
This, I soon realized, would be a common theme at LPAC.
Downstairs, a tall, bearded man loomed near a poster of President Barack Obama that begged passersby to “STOP OBAMA’S GUN-GRABBING AGENDA.” The man wore black, faded jeans with a chain hanging from one pocket, and a cut-off denim vest, which was emblazoned on the back with the message: “MASONIC R.A. BULL RUN.” His face was partially obscured by a bandana and a baseball cap, from beneath which his long ponytail hung limply.
The man approached the table next to the poster, where a large assault weapon lay beneath a placard featuring Rand Paul, with his personal endorsement for the National Association for Gun Rights. The man snatched the weapon, and turned back toward the image of Obama. He aimed it at his eye, and smiled broadly as his female companion giddily snapped photos. “I hate the press,” he told me. “You’re ruining the world.” The whole world? “Yes.” He declined to give his name and handed me off to his companion, Diana Castillo, a middle-aged woman who told me she was 35. “I don’t agree at all,” she told me on Paul’s approval of bombing ISIS. Castillo shrugged that Paul was “trying to game,” because he’s a politician.
In the ballroom, its ceiling decorated with 18 individual chandeliers and its stage bathed in red and blue light, illuminating a screen reading LPAC, barely 200 people filed in to see the show.
After a tree-like man technically named Glenn Jacobs—but who you may know by Kane, his pro-wrestling name—addressed the sparse crowd, Ron Paul and Rand Paul appeared on stage together, to honor recipients of the Ron Paul Scholarship. Then, Sen. Paul went solo, to deliver a speech that touched on a mostly to-be-expected collection of talking points: capital-F Freedom, prison reform, the demilitarization of the police, and foreign policy. Notably, Paul hit his own party for excluding minorities: “Republicans are seen as this party of, ‘We don’t want black people to vote because they’re voting Democrat; we don’t want Hispanic people to vote because they’re voting Democrat,” he said. “We wonder why the Republican Party is so small. Why don’t we be the party that’s for people voting, for voting rights?"
Outside the ballroom, Kane (who according to Wikipedia is 7 feet-tall, and requires one to crane their neck upward like a baby bird to talk to) said he did not support the airstrikes. “No, no,” because “I think what ends up happening is you have unintended consequences.” Paul, he said, seemed to be playing politics: “Because of political expediency, sometimes that’s what you have to do.” Kane said he agreed with Paul on some things, but agreed with his father more.
Roaming around the premises with the wild eyes of a wolf and the frenetic energy of an 8-year-old who ran out of Ritalin was Andrew Fischer, a 28-year-old Philadelphia native who sported a deep tan, a gaudy gold hoop earring, a cutoff T-shirt, and a belt buckle reading “THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS” (he said he bought it at a “belt buckle store” but wasn’t sure which one.) Fischer said he thought Paul was “going along to get along” with his airstrike policy, and leading the country into another war in the Middle East is exactly what the “New World Order powers that be” want. Fischer said he didn’t think Paul was unknowingly being roped into supporting the New World Order, because, having grown up around Ron Paul, who has spoken about it before, he must be aware of it.
Doug Stafford, a senior aide for Rand Paul, told me that the liberty-lovers’ disappointment in Paul’s support for airstrikes would never change his position. “It’s what he believes. He believes it’s the right thing to do.” Stafford later added: "Some people here agree with Senator Paul on this, some do not. I don't think there is one opinion among the Liberty folks on this issue."