L. Neil Smith's
Number 259, February 15, 2004

Marriage, Nipples, and Sheep

TLE Interviews Aaron Russo—Part One
by L. Neil Smith
Transcribed by Rylla Smith

Exclusive to TLE

Aaron Russo is becoming better and better known to libertarians as a celebrated movie maker who is fed up with the direction in which the Bush Administration is taking America, and seeks the Librtarian Party's Presidential nomination. I recently interviewed Aaron by telephone, only to discover that my elderly cassette tape recorder had problems that made listening to and transcribing the interview very painful and arduous.

Words and phrases in brackets represent my best guess. Any inaccuracies as a result are my fault and mine alone.

So here, a little later than I had planned, is the first part of that interview. I would like to thank my daughter, who took my dictation and put up with my crankiness as I fought with the tape. I'd also like to point out that I will ask for similar interviews with other candidates for the LP nomination as soon as possible.

RUSSO: Hello?

TLE: Hello, how are you?

RUSSO: How ya doin', Neil?

TLE: I'm very well, thank you. I'm here to ask you some questions.

RUSSO: (Laughs) Oh my God, I'm shivering!

TLE: I'm unaccustomed to being on this end of the interview process, so I hope you'll cut me a little slack here.

RUSSO: Definitely, definitely. This is a conversation.

TLE: I've been to your website, www.russoforpresident.com and I read the text portion of every one of the statements that you've made. I've certainly got a good idea of what you're doing. Now, for the sake of my readers, I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions that you've already answered on your website. How's that?

RUSSO: Well, let's go for it.

TLE: First and foremost, why are you running for the Presidency of the United States?

RUSSO: I'm running for the Presidency of the United States because I can't stand what's happening in America. I just feel like America is becoming a police state, a totalitarian country. We're losing our rights every day, nobody running for office that I can see is going to change it, and so I just put myself out there because the Libertarian Party is the only Party that has the principles that can change things.

I believe in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights at its very core, and when I look at the candidates running on the Libertarian ticket, I don't think they have a high enough profile to get the attention that's necessary to make a difference, so I just decided to put myself out there to Libertarians so that they could say "look, here's Aaron Russo: he's got six Academy Award nominations, he's won an Emmy, he's won a Tony, he's won a Grammy, an NAACP Image Award, a Golden Globe nomination". I've got all this stuff that the press will use if I'm the nominee, that can give the party a higher profile, that'll give freedom a higher profile, and that will allow us to put a fight up against what's happening.

I put myself out only because there's no one in the Party running who has a higher profile than I, that can make the differences.

TLE: That makes good sense. Now let me ask you to estimate—and I'm springing this on you—given the amount of government we have today, what percent of that government do you think is desirable? Just a ballpark. Or to put it another way, if we were to cut it back by a certain amount, what percentage would you leave?

RUSSO: Let me put it this way—optimally, I would cut it back to exactly the amount that the Constitution allows. I don't think that might be feasible the first time in office. But if I had my druthers, I would cut the government back to just the amount the Constitution allows it to have. I think it's seventeen or eighteen delegated powers, and that's it. That's what I would love to cut it back to.

TLE: Let me ask you another question, sort of at the other end of the process. Do you think that there's a "fair" or "proper" rate of taxation?

RUSSO: No. Currently, you mean?

TLE: No, in theory, or in abstract. I mean, could you levy taxes in good conscience at some level, and what level would that be?

RUSSO: If it were up to me, as far as taxation goes, I would certainly eliminate the income tax. You have to have a certain amount of money to have a standing army, so whatever it took to support a very minimal government is what I would be for. And I mean a minimal government, as defined by the Constitution.

I would prefer, if it were possible, not to have any taxes at all. I don't know how you'd have an army and not pay for it—nobody's ever done that, you've gotta have something, no one's ever shown me how to do that. So as far as I'm concerned, what's called for is tariffs and excise taxes, even though I am against taxes and for free trade. I would say that an excise tax, if I understand it, is a sales tax, and so a small sales tax on non-essential goods is what I would choose to support a small government.

TLE: Okay, now we'll get more specific yet. As you're probably aware, the Ninth Circuit Court recently decided that the Second Amendment does not mean what it says, and when it was appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, which means that they affirm the Ninth Circuit's view that there is no individual right to own and carry weapons. I would like to know your position on gun control.

RUSSO: I'm against it completely in any way. The government hasn't any right to know... or any say.

TLE: What about licensing people to carry weapons?

RUSSO: I've already said they don't have the right to authorize...

TLE: Okay, that's nice and straightforward, and I guarantee you that that's the position our readers take. I noticed on your website that a very large concern of yours is the Federal Reserve banking system. I'd like you to tell me a little bit about that and what's wrong with it, and what, if anything, you think can be done about it.

RUSSO: The Federal Reserve bank was established in 1913. The Federal Reserve act was passed, in which they said that all money issued by the Treasury could come from a private bank.

I believe that gold and silver and hard asserts are true money and that allowing the Federal Reserve, which is a private bank, to coin money, to issue currency, allows them to control many aspects of our government. I was told many years ago tha the body that makes the laws controls the currency, and if you control the currency, you control the our lives.

So what's happened is we've got currency where the Federal Reserve loans money to the government, and now the government has to pay back the Federal Reserve both the principal and interest on that money, raising our taxes even higher because we have to pay back the interest when the government has the right to print money itself without paying interest on it. So that itself raises our taxes.

It's like the way when you go to a bank to borrow money. Say you borrow twenty-five million to start a restaurant. The bank puts a deposit in your account, they create the money out of thin air, it costs them nothing to make it and yet, at the same time that it costs them nothing to create this, you have to pay them interest for the rest of your life, so you're nothing more than a slave to them.

TLE: Well, then, let me tell you a fact I've heard about the Federal Reserve, and have you comment on it. A friend of mine who's really into this—it's a hobby-horse of his that he rides really hard—tells me that the Federal Reserve is really a system of banks, it's several banks, and that the majority of them are not owned by Americans.

RUSSO: Well, it's true that the stock in the system is owned by many, many private individuals, and many of them are [established] outside of America. It's a Delaware corporation, and the majority of the stock may be owned by people outside of America.

TLE: So it's true that the institution that controls our money supply is owned by people whose interests do not run parallel with those of the American people?

RUSSO: They may not. I don't know where their interests lie to be able to say whether they run parallel or not. I just know the stock of the corporation is held by many people out of the country. In fact, what their interests are, I don't know.

TLE: On your website, it looked to me as if the major excuse for the existence of government in your view is to provide national defense. Can you distinguish for my readers the difference, in your view, between national defense and foreign adventurism?

RUSSO: Well, I think foreign adventurism, as America does it, is imperialism. National defense means protecting our borders from invasion. I believe in defending our borders, and America taking care of America. I believe in free trade with everybody and exchanging your culture [with other cultures through] free trade. I don't believe Americans should go to other countries and dictate to people how to live their lives or what form of government they should have. You know, if we set enough of an example, other people follow us. I don't think we should force our way into Iraq, into this war, [or having] our troops in every place across the world.

TLE: What would you have done if it had been your watch and the World Trade Center was attacked the way it was?

RUSSO: I would have discovered who did it and shown the American people the proof of it, the evidence, and then gone after the people who did it.

TLE: With or without reference to nation-states, it sounds like you want to deal with these criminals as individuals.

RUSSO: Well, they're the ones who did it. How else are you going to deal with them? What other choice do you have? If an individual does it, go after the individual. If a state did it, go after the state. I mean, go after whoever did it. You can't go after a state when an individual did it. I would also make sure that the people of America saw the evidence of who did it. We were just told. We never saw the evidence of who did it.

TLE: Well, I'm going to turn this around now, and ask you a question that I sort of asked you before. What percentage of the current government do you think is Constitutional? Just off the top of your head.

RUSSO: Boy ... what percent? Off the top of my head, I can't think of very much. I don't know, I've never thought of it in terms of percentages. One percent, maybe?

TLE: One percent?

RUSSO: Two percent? I don't know, I've never thought of it in terms of percentages.

TLE: You're closer to my estimate than other people are. Walter Williams has said on a couple of occasions that he thinks about a third of the government is Constitutional, but I read Article I, Section 8—I think that's right, that's the one that actually delineates the power of the government—I read it much more narrowly, and it sounds like you do, too.

RUSSO: Oh, yeah, that's definite. There are seventeen or eighteen powers and Congress has given a few away—coining money—and then there's thousands and thousands and thousands of laws and agreements and they're not Constitutional. So it's got to be around one or two percent. It can't be that much, I can't imagine it being a third. I would say one tenth at the highest.

TLE: Well, that certainly makes sense to me. We'll have to talk to Doctor Williams about it sometime.

RUSSO: Yeah, he'll have to show me how he comes up with a third.

TLE: What would you do on your first day in office?

RUSSO: (Laughs) Probably celebrate. I'd probably stop the Patriot Act. I'd get rid of a few things real quick that I could do one-two-three. [I would bring our troops home] from all around the world, bring the financial system around to where it's Constitutional. I would get rid of the Federal Reserve. I don't know what I'd do the very, very first thing—I'd just make a plan, but it would be something like that. You know, I'd like to get rid of the Patriot Act immediately and just try to [set a tone, set a tone] where people realize that the government is their servant.


Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org. Autographed copies may be had from the author at lneil@lneilsmith.org.


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