There are a lot of posts going around on this day about how the events 12 years ago impacted the people in my life. Some lost family members during the attack. Some lost loved ones in the wars afterward. Some carry demons and guilt inside them for the things they saw and did. Some gained inspiration from the love and courage of the first responders. Any person who was alive during that time remembers where they were and they have a story to tell about that day and how it has continued to be a part of their lives. I have a story too. I don’t know if others think it is worth telling, but putting my life into words gives me strength and helps clear my mind. Maybe my words will also help another… I never really know, I think all stories are worth telling even as I’m not sure if mine has value. Regardless, here is my story of 9/11 and how it has echoed through my life to this very day.
On that Tuesday morning I was still awake. The sun was barely up on the west coast but I had been up all night. I was restless and tired. I had graduated high school over a year earlier but was still working for Papa John’s and saw no real end in sight. Having just finished the book “Black Hawk Down” I was interested in joining the military. I was up most of the night looking up the requirements and procedures… it seemed like an answer to my future, or at the very least it would delay making any more decisions for at least four years. I knew my family would worry, but be supportive. I grew up in a Christian conservative family who saw America as special, America was God’s chosen country and our exceptionalism was a given.
So, when the towers were hit I was wide awake with the news on in the background. I don’t remember really watching it until the first tower was hit and all I thought was that it was a horrible accident. It wasn’t until the second tower was hit that I really believed it was an attack. It sounds crazy conceded but I saw this as a sign from God that I was supposed to join the army. After watching the news for a little while I drove down to the recruiter and talked to them about signing up. The recruiters assured me that the events that were unfolding before our eyes were not going to lead to war, I assume they knew differently and were just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. In fact, they seemed really surprised when I told them I wanted to join the infantry despite my high ASVAB scores. I wanted to fight though, if I was going to join the army I wasn’t going to sit in some office processing paperwork. After a few more visits, a physical or three, and one waiver for my eyesight I was well on my way to Basic Training to be an infantry paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
After training ended I was sent to my unit, C. Co 3/504 PIR (Blue Devils) where I found out quickly that we were deploying to Aghanistan in early 2003. I spent 10 months mostly bored walking around the mountains and deserts with my trusty M249 SAW over my shoulder. After a couple months back in the states we were mobilized again for Iraq where my unit was stationed in Nasiriyah. As is expected these years and deployments had an effect on me, but the most important thing I took away from my time there is that I felt lied to by the government and media. The nature of war, the “enemy”, the simplicity of “they hate us for our freedom”, all collapsed around me. What I saw on tv was not reflected in what I was experiencing on the ground.
Despite the best efforts of the recruiters I did not re-enlist active duty after my contract ended. I did decide to sign a one-year contract with the South Carolina National Guard though. That unit got activated shortly after I joined but I was not required to go, instead I spent the next few years in school, first at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach and later at the College of Charleston. My choice of Myrtle Beach was primarily because I was engaged to a woman at the time who lived down there and my limited travels had diminished any desire I really had to return to Oregon.
While in college I listened to a lot of talk radio, my favorites being Sean Hannity and Neal Boortz. While I was still a conservative at the time I had seeds of doubt planted in my head by my experiences and what I was hearing on talk radio, particularly by Boortz. I think Boortz is the place I first heard the word libertarian and while he was pretty hawkish that actually helped a guy like me who would have quickly rejected libertarianism as extreme if introduced to it all in one package. Instead it took questioning government involvement in social issues to incrementally move me away from conservative Republican views on things.
During this time I also had a political science professor at HGTC that included libertarianism as one of the four political viewpoints (the other three being conservative, liberal/progressive, and statist). When he described libertarian as meaning “the government should not use force to control your bedroom or your wallet” I was intrigued. He listed Reason magazine as the official magazine of the libertarian view point so I bought a couple issues and dove right in. I was working as a security guard at Broadway At The Beach by this time (and my engagement had broken off) so I had a lot of free time to do reading. Reason introduced me to Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, and Ron Paul but the most influential article I read was about how we should be able to sell our own organs. After reading that article I started calling myself a libertarian.
Soon 2008 was upon me and I was really getting into libertarian views. I’d read Atlas Shrugged, The Fatal Conceit, and Free To Choose. The field of Economics made a lot of sense to me and kind of came intuitively so I was pursuing my Bachelors in Economics at this time. The Econ department is where I met two professors who changed my life, Peter Calcagno and Frank Hefner. Hefner introduced me to IHS and I went to one of their summer seminars where I was introduced to anarchy. Calcagno is someone that I consider my mentor to this day… his impact on my life cannot be understated and I feel like I can still come to him if I have any personal or professional problems. Truly both of these educators are what we should all strive to be.
After college I was accepted into the Koch Associate Program and spent one year working with the Center For College Affordability and Productivity. As a new anarchist my KAP days were spent taking the more extreme market position and generally pissing off the more conservative people in the organization. On day 1 I made an an-cap flag and put it on my notebook… soon fellow anarchists approached me and admitted their own hatred for the state. We had a little collective of a dozen people who gave each other knowing smiles and tried to partner up with each other and support each other in discussions and debates. This is when I met Isaac Morehouse who introduced me to Clark Ruper, my future boss. Isaac put in a good word for me when I applied to work for Students For Liberty and I’m sure his endorsement was a major reason I was offered the job. I’m not sure if he regrets it or not.
SFL was the dream job. My entrepreneurship was encouraged, the organization was dynamic, and it was a cause I believe in. There is no other organization that could have kept me in that hellhole of a city, but there were a couple that tried. Intellectually SFL challenged me and forced me to refine my views on the world. Being an anarchist was not enough to discourage debate, SFL had plenty of anarchists who are way more well read than me. If anything, I continue to be intimidated by the students that I was once tasked with leading in some ways.
But, like all good things my time in DC needed to end and I headed back west. The lessons learned on my two month cross country bike ride are to numerous top discuss here, but it was life changing. I felt I finally got to meet the people I was once charged with protecting. And I met many people who changed my life and thanks to modern technology I can still correspond with. The greatest impact the ride had on my life though was it unleashed my nomadic spirit. I am a wanderer. I feel most home when I’m on the move with a journey ahead, even if I don’t have a destination.
So, that’s my story in a nutshell. I don’t know if there is a lesson to learn yet, for my story is far from over, but for me the best starting point is 9/11.