By Shane Cory, former LNC executive director, 2005–2008
On Sept. 5, Stephen Gordon, lifetime member of the Libertarian Party, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 56.
Including ballot access petitioners, managers and communications experts, the number of skilled professional Libertarians who make a career out of our shared passion for liberty is a very small and valuable group of folks. All of those folks, including Stephen Gordon (I called him “Gordo”), would laugh out loud whenever someone made the assumption that any career Libertarian is “in it for the money.” Their reward is deeply personal.
Gordo was one of those rare men who work in the background, without a desire for fame, money, or power, with a sole, passionate focus on protecting and furthering liberty in America. As a happy warrior, Stephen did that for decades while the butterfly effect of his work stretched into society — most times without notice. The bulk of the Libertarian Party’s work is done by volunteers and activists, but a very small number of men and women take the risk of developing their passion into a career.
Following his military service, Stephen enthusiastically jumped into politics and quickly landed in the Libertarian Party. His first Libertarian role was serving as a local organizer for Harry Browne’s campaign in 1999. That was only the start of a lengthy career as a “professional” Libertarian.
Following his work for Harry Browne, Stephen worked for a string of Libertarian Party presidential candidates: Aaron Russo, Michael Badnarik, and Bob Barr. He even crossed party lines, serving as Ron Paul’s state media coordinator in 2004. His work took him in any direction that made our path to liberty more direct, but he always held a soft spot for the Libertarian Party.
In 2006, Stephen relocated to Washington, D.C., to serve as the Libertarian Party’s communications director. A year later, he shot back to Alabama and was elected as chair of the Libertarian Party of Alabama. In 2008, Stephen served as chair of the Libertarian State Leadership Alliance, our state chairs’ association.
Gordo’s many roles didn’t define his accomplishments nor how he went about his work. I remember Stephen telling me of the first time he was “bloodied” by a protester while working on Oliver North’s Senate campaign in 1994. As we sat in a shabby bar in Orlando for a Libertarian Party event, he retold the story with his usual excitable laughter only hours after a man with political disagreements had threatened to “knock him out.” As he ended many conversations, Stephen would smile and say, “that’s politics.”
Stephen had a sharp intellect and a way of happily dealing with confrontation without the need for personal attacks or the derisive goading that we see all too often today, which drove political opposition to a breaking point. This was an easy task for Gordo, because the tenets of liberty served as his sword. For those of you share that foundation, know that when your eyes are open to liberty, your beliefs are as solid as a mountain of granite. Stephen’s belief was pragmatic yet singular.
Our countless conversations and arguments molded my own viewpoints over many years, and it was with happy resignation that my own beliefs were simplified with this short phrase coined by another activist, Ernie Hancock: “Liberty is the answer; what’s the question?”
Gordo introduced me to that statement and used it frequently when others tried to pile complexity onto issues. For those who get it, that statement lives in the back of your mind as an easy-to-recall-reminder that, regardless of the severity of the situation or issue, choosing a path toward liberty is the undeniable direction to take even when it’s not easy.
Stephen had many gifts in life: boundless energy, an unrivaled work ethic, and persistence. Admirably, after getting knocked down, he would get up, dust off, and — with a smile on his face and a laugh behind every phrase — go back in for another round.
Over many years, Gordo was the first man I would call up when I needed a fighter in the trenches. One example of his unbreakable spirit happened in 2011. Stephen had been hospitalized for months after barely surviving a car accident. Not knowing the severity of his injuries and selfishly knowing Gordo wouldn’t say no, I asked him to step up and head to Capitol Hill to force lawmakers to watch confidential video footage from the group Project Veritas and its citizen journalists.
Gordo drove up from a tornado-ravaged Alabama within two days, fresh from the hospital, still with crutches that he refused to use, and literally hobbled around congressional office buildings for days. Stephen completed the mission that established the transparency and availability of Project Veritas and its work with lawmakers. He did it with professionalism, enthusiasm, and the stoic understanding passed on to political leaders that it was an undercover reporter’s job to expose the truth and Washington’s job to sort it out.
When Gordo returned to our Virginia base of operations, we would work through the night after pulling open a bottle of bourbon to dial down our enthusiasm for the work, while matching Stephen’s happy gusto that could consume a room. A few years after that mission and many others, Stephen relocated from his beloved Alabama to New York to further the mission of Project Veritas.
Stephen’s final professional position came after decades of work for pro-liberty candidates and advocating and driving public opinion on nearly any issue of liberty that you could imagine. If a thoughtless politician was attempting to stamp out a freedom, large or small, you could usually hear Stephen Gordon’s enthusiastic voice in the distance, creating the strategy, organizing the troops, and leading them onto the battlefield.
For those who knew Stephen, he was never without humor. Shortly before the GOP’s presidential nomination of centrist John McCain, while Stephen was working as the Libertarian Party’s communication’s director he chuckled into Republican headquarters while carrying a massive funeral wreath. The accompanying note addressed to then–Chairman Mike Duncan read, “Given that it has become readily apparent that Senator McCain will soon be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, we, the staff of the Libertarian National Committee, send our condolences to you upon the death of small-government principles within the GOP.” Gordo even managed to charm Republican staffers into taking a picture with him and the wreath, and everyone was smiling.
Stephen Gordon’s practical work to further liberty was only matched by the way in which he worked. More than anyone out there, Stephen understood that politics is about persuasion and education. Without vitriol or hate, Stephen Gordon served as a champion for liberty armed with unshakable beliefs, superior knowledge, and an infectious Southern charm that convinced me and countless others to stand vigilantly under the robes of liberty and guard against any and all threats coming her way.
Gordo will be remembered and missed and as he walks away from this world. If you listen carefully, you can hear him shout in the distance, “Roll Tide!”
Rest in peace, Stephen.