Southeast Arrow: US Senate candidate Austin Petersen talks life and liberty, speaks freely on free speech

Runner-up for Libertarian candidate for president and current U.S. Senate candidate Austin Petersen spoke Nov. 14 in a strictly non-campaign-related event. Turning Point USA at Southeast, an organization founded around expanding the free market, hosted the event.

Petersen began by saying he believed it was startling, but it appeared college students would have to stand up for their First Amendment rights. College was intended to be a place for students to have their beliefs challenged, and challenge other beliefs as well through the critical thinking learned in the institution, Petersen said.

“College is a place where you are supposed to be challenged,” Petersen said, “This is not a safe space. This is a place where you are supposed to come … and ‘question boldly even the existence of God,’ (as) Thomas Jefferson said. ‘For he would surely appreciate a questioning mind to that of blind obedience.’”

A very doctrinal way of thinking, Petersen said, was being taught on college campuses, “the credo of leftism, which is now common knowledge, is being pushed on college campuses as if World War II never happened, as if the Soviet Union never fell, as if communism hasn’t failed in every single instance that it has been tried.”

Not only are those who speak freely under threat of legal repercussion for libel or slander, Petersen said, they now are under the threat of physical violence, such as political commentator Charles Murray being violently attacked at Middlebury College.

Petersen said it was the libertarian and conservative outlook that citizens do not get their rights because they are Americans, from the Constitution, or from the government. According to Petersen, the Founders saw people’s rights as innate. Whether these rights come from a creator who has given them to his creation, or these rights are a part of nature, as those of a secular worldview believe, Petersen said, the rights are personal and do not come from any institution.

Petersen said he had worked with the Tea Party-affiliated organization FreedomWorks. This organization, Petersen said, was audited twice a year as part of the IRS targeting different organizations that had words like “conservative” or “patriot” in the name. According to Petersen, this was one of the ways the federal government targeted people over free speech.

When it comes to defending free speech though, Petersen said, there comes a point where its advocates must defend those with whom they fundamentally disagree. To really believe in free speech is to defend it for even those whose ideas we find to be horrible, Petersen said. Whether they be Nazis, racists, communists or misogynists, “the most hated elements of our society,” Petersen said, it is part of the philosophy to defend their right to expression.

“You have the freedom to be an ignorant, hateful bigot in this country,” Petersen said.

He said the violence stemming from many different demonstrations, such as in Charlottesville, Virginia, was a result of ideological barriers. According to Petersen, the left has built up an “orthodoxy,” and they see the conflict as a purge of societal elements.

The philosophy of socialism, Petersen said, thrives on conflict, and “big government has become their god.” Petersen said, “Question boldly even the existence of God.”

He said has he stood up for religious freedom, and recently, the debate of whether or not a Christian baker had to make a cake for a gay wedding went to the Supreme Court. The cake was defended under the freedom of speech, and therefore the baker did not have to bake the cake.

The baker had the right not to bake the cake, Petersen, who is an agnostic, said. Though he believed they should have chosen to do so, as Petersen said he himself would do in value of the free market, they should not be required to compromise their beliefs.

One exception to the right to express your beliefs was social media, he said. Though Petersen told the story in third person to keep from making his speech campaign-related,he said he was recently barred from social media over something he said about gun laws on Facebook, during which he time he was having a promotional giveaway of an AR-15.

He said Facebook had the right to ban him because it is their website, and therefore their personal property. What is not personal property, he said, is a university because it is paid for by citizens’ tax dollars. For this reason, its students have the right to express themselves.

Petersen said he believes strongly in expanding this right to expression for everyone. He said he strongly supports the First Amendment and Second Amendment and said his idyll was gay married couples having the right to defend their marijuana farms with fully automatic machine guns.

Education major and sophomore Adam Lichtenegger said although Petersen’s views are interesting, particularly the non-aggression principle mentioned by Petersen in relation to the violence coming out of free speech is not always feasible. Lichtenegger also said some of Petersen’s values may sound great, but he believes America will never be able to get rid of taxes. He said Petersen’s belief in compromise would dissuade his support for Petersen and his ideas.

Petersen went on to say in dealing with different matters, consistency was not as important as accuracy. He said he was willing to change his mind as evidence revealed itself, and he always questioned himself. Petersen closed his speech saying a patriot was someone who would grab “a flintlock and march on Redcoats.”

Freshman double-majoring in history and political science and member of Turning Point USA Ian Cameron said the organization was a nonpartisan group promoting capitalism and economic freedom. The group meets regularly and has discussion and debate among their conservative, libertarian and moderate members. They study and express different opinions that bring them all together.

“Don’t be afraid to speak your truth boldly, today, even though it may contradict everything you said the day before. Speak your hard truths now, in that moment, in that day,” Petersen said.

For those interested, Turning Point USA has meetings every other Tuesday at 5:30pm at the University Center. For more on Austin Petersen, visit his website,

This article appeared in the Southeast Arrow on November 17, 2017.