Kissimmee, Florida

On Thursday morning as I boarded my plane at Reagan National Airport to fly to Orlando, I managed to drop an entire Dunkin iced coffee all over the floor near the cockpit. The unfortunate incident was a harbinger of things to come on my trip to a Young Americans for Liberty conference, the first since the start of the pandemic.

I’m still not sure how, exactly, I was chosen to go to this conference, which was allegedly ‘invitation-only’.  A ‘deputy regional director’ with the organization slid into my Instagram DMs offering to cover half of my travel expenses to attend. She assured me that the conference was not just for college students, and I am never one to pass up a cheap trip to the Free State of Florida.

Like many young conservatives, I had a libertarian phase in my early college years, so I had an inkling of what I was in for. I figured I could always retreat to the hotel pool if things got too weird.

The main events started on Thursday evening and a throng of young mouth-breathers gathered around the entrance to the conference center as a YAL official led them in chants. When the doors finally opened, we were greeted with a mega-church style set-up; loud music alternated between anodyne Top 40 hits and classic rock and pulsed along with strobe lights and a Synthwave background in the dark ballroom. Welcome to ‘Revolution 2021’!

Nearly every speaker repeated that those in the crowd were leading the new American revolution, as if almost to convince themselves. ‘Whose revolution is it?’ they asked. ‘Ours!’ the crowd chanted back. Taking a look around, I wondered if any of the attendees could throw a decent punch, let alone lead a revolution. I tried to distract myself by rifling through one of the goodie bags that were left on each seat. A welcome packet informed us that COVID restrictions are one of the new threats to freedom, but the bag also included a face mask and hand sanitizer. Hmm.

Speakers throughout the weekend included Fox Business’s Kennedy, Edward Snowden, Tom Woods, and, of course, Dr Ron Paul. I’ve heard a lot of libertarians complain about the ‘cult of Trumpism’, which is quite ironic considering Paul’s name was mentioned at least a dozen times in just the first hour or two of programming. I’m not sure which was more cringe: the Ron Paul worship or Kennedy, a 48-year-old woman, joking to a group of high school and college students about how many Fireball shots she takes or how much sex they should be having this summer. But maybe I’m just a stick-in-the-mud.

The speakers had nothing on those students, though. An online message board for attendees to connect with one another throughout the conference might as well have been a meme channel. College students who labeled themselves as ‘queer satanists’, ‘libertarian socialists’ and ‘anarchist capitalists’ discussed whether they needed to form militias, how to abolish the ATF, and if cancel culture really exists.

‘Revolution 2021’ felt like an exercise in missing the point. Attendees seemed fixated on their own idealized utopias and political theories over real issues. How do libertarians intend to forcefully oppose critical race theory in schools, corporate vaccine mandates, the outsourcing of American jobs, defunding the police or Big Tech censorship and monopolies?

After a few martinis at the bar, I somehow found myself in a debate with a young woman about abolishing the federal government and allowing private companies to rule over us. When I disagreed with the college-aged girl’s assertions, I was accused of being ‘naive’, ‘not understanding’ and ‘drunk’.

Only one of those was true, to be fair. But I still imagine I was less lit than nearly everyone else at the bar considering the drink orders the bartender shared with me: at least a dozen Long Island iced teas, whiskey and Sprites, ‘a shot of Jameson, straight’, and a ‘double vodka and diet…have you heard of that before?’

YAL tried to put the kibosh on the usual degeneracy you would find at an event full of libertarians, likely due to the club’s sexual misconduct scandal last year involving former president Cliff Maloney. Maloney was fired after several women issued sexual harassment allegations against him and claimed the club routinely covered up or ignored allegations against other members too. To that end, YAL sent out a set of ‘rules’ for Revolution 2021, including policies against ‘drunkenness’, ‘excessive noise’ and ‘entering into other hotel rooms, whether invited or not.’ That didn’t stop the relentlessly horny college kids. I was personally invited to several hotel rooms to ‘drink with friends’ and spotted quite a few groups carrying cases of beer and handles of liquor through the lobby. A couple of very entrepreneurial teens slid into my DMs on the message boards to ask what I was ‘getting into’ that night. Oh, to be young again.

On the other end of the spectrum, there were a fair number of older people in the crowd, who must have been donors or ‘ambassadors’. I ended up sitting next to one who was recording the speakers on his iPad and cajoling me to smile more at, ironically, jokes about our political class being too old.

What ‘revolution’, exactly, is YAL trying to achieve? A cabal of overly idealistic college students and creepy boomers abolishing the state? Allowing corporations to decide whether you are ‘free’ to participate in society? Maybe it’s merely screaming ‘taxation is theft!’ as marriage and birth rates continue to drop to record lows. I’ll pass, thanks.