- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
Ron Paul’s vibrant fan base is in open rebellion today over Rand Paul’s perceived reversal on domestic drone strikes. The Kentucky senator, whose famous 13-hour Senate floor filibuster did much to strengthen his ties with his father’s hardcore following, told Fox Business Network on Tuesday he’s OK with drone strikes on American citizens who, for instance, rob a liquor store.
"I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on," Paul said. "If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him."
While it’s true that Paul has always made an exception for "imminent threats" — a 9/11-like moment — the liquor store scenario struck many libertarians as a very low threshold for domestic drone strikes, especially considering Paul’s Senate floor remarks, which if you recall, took a more anti-drone stance. Here’s Paul on the Senate floor:
I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.
Now, a phalanx of Ron Paul and libertarian forums are revolting at the senator’s perceived reversal.
"I am stunned by Rand’s statement," reads a blog post on the Daily Paul, one of the largest Ron Paul fan sites. "Unmanned killers in our skys O.K.??? Really? Get away from the Neocons and war mongers Rand, their arrogant and self-righteous air is rotting your brain."
"How cute. The Politician emerges," wrote Paladin69, a user on RonPaulForums.com.
"I disagree with shooting first and asking questions later," added forum administrator Josh Lowry.
"The hell with arresting him I guess," wrote user The Gold Standard sarcastically. "Just fire a missile at him and move on to the next mundane."
Reddit’s brand of libertarian politics also repelled Paul’s hypothetical. "A missile into the storefront seems like dramatically excessive force," wrote Reddit user Ohyeahthatsright. "Rand then seems to be supporting the militarization of police in their use of ‘tools’. I thought he was against the ‘police state.’"
Other libertarian-leaning commentators, such as the American Conservative’s Jordan Bloom, gave Paul more credit. "Paul wasn’t as clear as he should have been," he writes. "It seems like he’s trying to describe a firefight-type situation in which the cops are forced to neutralize a thief robbing a liquor store, but the way he actually describes it sounds far more innocuous."
Today’s flap is not the first he’s had with his father’s powerful online fan base, and it surely won’t be the last. But by all accounts, his principled filibuster greatly rejuvenated his credibility with libertarians following his heretical endorsement of Mitt Romney during the presidential election. With today’s remarks, he appears to have chipped away at that newly gained goodwill.
Update: In response to the backlash, Sen. Paul released a statement about his views on domestic drone strikes. "Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations," Paul said. When asked if he was retracting his hypothetical about an armed liquor store thief being killed by a drone, his spokeswoman Moira Bagley told Foreign Policy "not retracting." Here’s the full statement:
My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed.
Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.
Additionally, surveillance drones should only be used with warrants and specific targets.
Fighting terrorism and capturing terrorists must be done while preserving our constitutional protections. This was demonstrated last week in Boston. As we all seek to prevent future tragedies, we must continue to bear this in mind.