Every four years, the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire serves as a hub for national media activity ahead of the state’s presidential primary. On January 8, 2012, journalists milling about the hotel could occasionally be overheard snickering at the strange melange of street protesters that had flooded Manchester’s downtown area: Ron Paul people, Occupy people, and assorted miscreants. These categories were not mutually exclusive.
Across the street from the hotel, at Veterans Park, the loosely-knit Occupy New Hampshire collective had established their encampment–a kind of outdoor public festival. The first person I encountered there was 21 year-old Manchester resident John Cullen, who wore a green armband signaling affiliation with OccupyNH (though of course there was no formal “membership”). Cullen told me he’d recently been pepper-sprayed by police at the Port of Oakland during a nationwide day of demonstrations. “I was actually trying to get out of there at that point,” he said; by coincidence, his family had been visiting members of their church in the Oakland area, and while Cullen supported Occupy, he wasn’t particularly eager to get doused with painful chemicals for the cause.
When I mentioned I’d be attending a Ron Paul campaign event at the University of New Hampshire in Durham later that evening, Cullen smiled and unzipped his jacket to reveal a classic “Ron Paul reEVOLution” T-shirt. In fact, he announced, it was only several hours prior that he’d participated in a group “sign-wave” outside Murphy’s Taproom, a major gathering point for Ron Paul people in the area. “When Ron Paul gets the Occupiers on his side,” he beamed, “Ron Paul is not going to be stopped. You can’t stop him.”
Cullen had wanted to go to the UNH rally but lacked transportation. So I offered to give him a ride. Traffic that night was surprisingly horrendous; we missed the first bit of Paul’s speech, barely making it in time to hear the congressman remark on Iran sanctions and ask the crowd how they would like it if one day Chinese drones started bombing American targets. Afterwards, hundreds of people waited in line for the candidate, who seemed perfectly happy to oblige all those who desired photos. Cullen waited in this queue and later relayed his interaction with Ron Paul. “You’re a beautiful man,” he reported telling him as they posed for the camera. Ron Paul then inquired about the green armband, and Cullen replied that it stood for Occupy New Hampshire. “Thank you for participating in the democratic process,” Paul commented, cheerfully.
On the very first night of the Zuccotti Park occupation in September 2011, when participants had scant conception of what Occupy would soon become, Ron Paul people showed up and argued with Marxists about whether they were entitled to stay. They stayed. One might say Ron Paul people played a more integral role to the inception of Occupy than conventional Democrats or liberals, many of whom scorned the inscrutable demonstration in its first weeks. The journalist Arun Gupta, who co-founded the Occupied Wall Street Journal in New York City and later embarked on a tour of Occupy sites across America, told me he’d see clusters of Ron Paul supporters and various libertarians virtually everywhere he went. Such folks “tended to be better represented and integrated in red states,” Gupta said–Cheyenne, Boise, Tulsa, Little Rock, Louisville, Charleston, etc.–while in “blue states” they typically formed enclaves that were “tolerated” by the wider group.
A fair number of Occupy people in those days either had no opinion of or actively disliked Ron Paul, but the undercurrents of support were nonetheless noticeable, ranging from individuals who would wield official campaign paraphernalia to others who would concede private support only for narrow aspects of Ron Paul’s platform upon intense questioning. One would more reliably come across vocal Ron Paul supporters at Occupy events than vocal Obama supporters. It was not lost on the Zuccotti Park crowd, for instance, that Ron Paul personally expressed a measure of support for the movement earlier than most any other national U.S. politician–aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Dennis Kucinich. (Gary Johnson, then seeking the GOP nomination, made an appearance at Zuccotti Park and had a generally positive impression.)