An anti-war rally slated for later this month has been thrown into disarray by disagreements about a convicted child sex predator’s participation, with many speakers threatening to pull out of the Libertarian Party-led event if it booted the pedophile.
Pressure mounted internally for the Libertarian Party to disinvite Scott Ritter from the rally after the Washington Free Beacon reported about Ritter’s criminal past, which includes a 2011 prison stint for masturbating online in front of an undercover cop he believed to be an underage girl. He was arrested twice in 2001 after showing up for what he thought were meetings with 14- and 15-year-old girls. But as of this writing, Ritter's status as a featured speaker for the "Rage Against the War Machine" rally is still in limbo.
The internal fight over whether a pedophile should have a place on the stage at the February 19 rally has drawn in not only leadership of the Libertarian Party, but also high-profile defenders of Ritter including former Fox News personality Judge Andrew Napolitano and Tara Reade, who has emerged as an anti-war activist since accusing President Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her.
On Tuesday, more than a week after the firestorm over Ritter's participation in the event began, Libertarian Party leadership called for Ritter to drop out of the event and said it "confronted him about his criminal history." Internal correspondence, some posted by Ritter himself, calls into question the party's claims that they consider his past crimes to be "despicable" and "contradict our values."
Those records show that Libertarian Party chairwoman Angela McArdle initially told Ritter after reports about his criminal past that she wanted him to remain a speaker. According to an account Ritter shared on his blog, McArdle even asked him for input on how to respond to questions about him being a pedophile.
"We’re starting to get questions from conservative publications about the accusations leveled against you," she wrote, according to Ritter. "Is there a way you'd like me to respond when I get asked about your past?"
After Ritter offered to pull out of the event "if this makes you uncomfortable," McArdle demurred, saying, "Neither of us [she and fellow organizer Nick Brana] want you to drop out. I wanted to run it by you before I started shooting off quotes to reporters."
But as pressure mounted, McArdle informed Ritter that she changed her mind. "The hit pieces have started to drop," she wrote. "I feel terrible about this situation, but we think it’s best if you withdraw as a speaker for this event. We appreciate your anti-war advocacy so much and I wish I’d had a better plan to get out ahead of this. I’m so sorry about how this turned out."
"So be it. But you have given them a victory," responded Ritter, who added that his detractors were "cowards." McArdle did not respond to a Free Beacon request to comment on Ritter's account of events.
Though McArdle privately told Ritter a decision had been made, no public statement was released. It appears that organizers reversed course once more after other speakers at the event rallied in support of Ritter.
Judge Andrew Napolitano, a former Fox News regular who is speaking at the rally, confirmed that he stood up for Ritter in an attempt to keep him in the event. He told Libertarian Party leaders that Ritter "is intellectually honest, personally courageous, profoundly trustworthy, and utterly fearless," according to an email he shared with the Free Beacon.
"He may be the most valued and knowledgeable public person in America in the Peace Movement today," said Napolitano, who lost his job at Fox News over accusations that he "sexually harassed numerous young male employees" at the network.
Other speakers rallied in support of Ritter, including Tara Reade, a former Joe Biden aide who said the president sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.
"It would be my honor to stand with" Ritter, she tweeted, adding that "Scott is a heroic anti war voice."
— Tara Reade 🐎 (@ReadeAlexandra) February 2, 2023
The Libertarian party has long been a home for those who have questioned the role of government in regulating sex between adults and minors. Just last year a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Arizona named age of consent laws as something he'd move to change if elected. And in 2016 a Libertarian congressional candidate said all incidents of adults having sexual relationships with minors should be viewed on a case-by-case basis. "Hard age of consent laws don't take into account the actual maturity of the child," the candidate argued.
Though Tuesday's announcement that the Libertarians were finally disavowing Ritter mentioned his record of child sex crimes, the change in tone may have less to do with him being a pedophile than a series of tweets that resurfaced in which Ritter calls Ukraine a "rabid dog" that needed to be taken out by Russia. "I don’t claim to be anti-war," he wrote in the missive.
That appeared to be the last straw for Libertarian leaders. "Recently, it’s come to our attention that a few speakers have made statements in direct opposition to the core thesis of the event," the party said in its statement, above any mention of his sex crimes. "Scott Ritter is not a Libertarian, and we would prefer that he stay home from the rally."
The Libertarian Party’s Mises Caucus, which has been called the "libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party," joined calls for Ritter to quit the event, which aims to pressure policymakers to end U.S. support for Ukraine, "slash" the Pentagon’s budget, and "abolish the CIA." The caucus said that Ritter was "hold[ing] the event hostage" by refusing to withdraw and pressuring other speakers to support him.
That’s a sharp contrast to Mises Caucus founder Michael Heise’s response earlier this week when asked about Ritter’s criminal convictions and his pro-war remarks.
"Go fuck yourself," Heise told the Free Beacon.
McArdle took a friendlier tone in denying a request for comment. "I might speak about it after the event," she said.
For some anti-war activists, Ritter is not even the most controversial speaker on the docket. Medea Benjamin, the founder of the far-left anti-war group CodePink, said she dropped out of the event because others in her organization were "opposed to the anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-women stands" of another rally speaker, Jackson Hinkle. She said Code Pink is also "concerned" about the Mises Caucus’s sponsorship of the event.
"It had nothing to do with Scott Ritter," Benjamin said.
Other speakers announced for the D.C. rally are Tulsi Gabbard and Ron Paul.