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Learning from Peter McWilliams
Posted By Harry Browne On 06/17/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled
Peter McWilliams, who died on June 14, was more than an author and
activist for libertarian causes. He was a teacher from whom we can
learn to be better salesmen of liberty — and even better people.
First some background. In March 1996, Peter was diagnosed with both
AIDS and cancer. He was required to take so many pills that he vomited
constantly, rendering the pills useless. Like many other people, he
found that smoking marijuana relieved the nausea, kept the pills in his
stomach and allowed him to stay alive.
Always a libertarian and opposed to the Drug War, his personal
afflictions prodded him to become even more an activist — and he set to
work writing a book on medical marijuana.
In December 1997, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency conducted a
pre-dawn raid on his home and stole his computer — containing the only
copy of the book manuscript. In July 1998, he was arrested and charged
with violating the federal drug laws by smoking marijuana. The trial
judge prohibited him from pointing-out that medical marijuana is legal
in California. Stripped of his only defense, he plea-bargained for a
sentence of five years — which he hoped to serve under house arrest,
rather than in prison.
While awaiting the final determination of how he would serve his
sentence, he was allowed to post bail and remain at home — provided he
stop smoking marijuana. He complied with the prohibition because his
family’s homes were mortgaged to provide his bail. No longer able to
use marijuana to keep his medicines down, he finally died this past week
– apparently choking on his own vomit. As Steve Kubby has said, Peter
died of an overdose of government.
Despite his somewhat flamboyant public personality, Peter was a
gentle, sensitive soul. He exhibited a tolerance toward his enemies
that would have made a saint proud.
Someone once asked him why, since he was living on borrowed time
anyway, he didn’t get a gun and take some of the Drug Warriors to the
Hereafter with him. Peter replied:
My enemy is ignorance, not individuals. It is winning the war of
ideas — through fact, logic, persuasion and, yes, humor — that brings
about lasting change.
What we are facing today in America is not an evil dictator like
Hitler, who is the head of a snake and whose removal will kill the snake
– but overgrown bureaucracies like the Drug War, which is more like an
anthill. No matter how many individual ants you kill one at a time, the
colony goes on.
Any idiot with a gun can kill. It takes clever perseverance to make
As has been proven time and again, to alter the government in this
country does not take violence, but education. My job is to get the
country back into believing and living under the supreme law of the
Constitution, not to kill those who are leading the country astray.
I support the high road of truth, facts, debate, and education even
if I’m not able to walk that road much longer and even if lies,
deception, repression, and ignorance are the direct cause of my death.
Peter was a wonderful example — not just of tolerance, but of
effectiveness. He taught us that the battle for a free, libertarian
America is too important to indulge ourselves by being venomous, snide,
patronizing or violent toward our opponents. We must keep our heads, be
patient and help Americans understand how the government and the Drug
War are hurting them.
We gain nothing by asserting our superiority and browbeating the
people we need to bring to our side. We gain everything by following
Peter’s example and treating everyone — friend or foe — as a
sovereign, but perhaps misinformed, human being.
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