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Ron Paul emerges as GOP's unlikely rock-star candidate
Long-shot libertarian iconoclast pulls in surprising cash totals, eclectic young crowds

Las Vegas Sun | July 18, 2007
Michael J. Mishak

LAS VEGAS -- The punk-band members, with spiked hair, tattooed arms and piercings, stood with a crowd of more than 300 and cheered at the rock star on stage, especially when he called for abolishing the Federal Reserve -- you know, the banking system that for nearly a century has helped stabilize the U.S. economy, give or take a Great Depression.

Presidential candidate Ron Paul didn't stop with the Fed. The devout and suddenly popular libertarian-running-as-a-Republican also wants to repeal the Patriot Act. (More cheering.) And the IRS and NAFTA-like trade deals. (Loud applause.) And bring home American troops, all of them, from Iraq and from every last spot on the globe. (Standing ovation.) And that national ID card, forget about it.

What the crowd heard was the testimony of a carved-in-granite libertarian who disdains the a la carte politics and deal-making of mainstream candidates, a physician whose political beliefs exist at that whiplash point on the political spectrum where the far right meets the far left.

Abolish the IRS, the Fed, the Patriot Act? Is that libertarian or a lefty anarchist?

The crowds he's drawing across the country are often an unusual mix of 20- and 30-something lefties and righties. Some are drawn to his beliefs. But many said that they admire him most for sticking to a clear set of principles, even if they disagree on some issues.

"He's consistent," said Jennifer Reilly, a 23-year-old student at the College of Southern Nevada who attended a recent rally here. "I actually believe everything he says."

Thus Paul has become the early surprise of the 2008 campaign.

Beyond the consistency, he is filling a void in a Republican field dominated by mainstream candidates who are reluctant to break ranks with President Bush. He's the only Republican who opposes the war in Iraq. ("We just marched in. We can just march out.")

Paul describes himself as a strict constitutionalist, but his views can be traced to the late Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP presidential nominee and father of the modern conservative movement.

As Paul puts it: "Freedom is popular."

"I agree with his message of freedom and limited government," said Jennifer Terhune, a 22-year-old dental-hygiene student in Reno. "People are dependent on the government for everything, and they need to start standing up for themselves. The country is getting so far away from that."

Paul raised $640,000 in the first quarter of the year, a paltry sum compared with his party's front-runners. But when the second quarter closed last month, Paul had $2.4 million cash on hand, besting Arizona Sen. John McCain.

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