Not a Safe Space, Not an Echo Chamber: A Rollicking Good Time

FreedomFest producer Mark Skousen and author Marc Beauchamp climb aboard the Wells Fargo wagon as Mark Gardner and Rideout entertain with western songs.
FreedomFest producer Mark Skousen and author Marc Beauchamp climb aboard the Wells Fargo wagon as Mark Gardner and Rideout entertain with western songs.

By Marc Beauchamp

Editor’s note: This is a reprise of the article Marc Beauchamp wrote after attending FreedomFest 2019.

People ask me what I like about FreedomFest. Just got back from my fifth. I think “eclectic” is the word that sums it up best. Mark and Jo Ann Skousen and their team erect a big and welcoming tent every July in Las Vegas. And thank heavens it’s not a “safe space.” There’s plenty to offend. Lots to challenge you. Lots to debate. Lots to think about. And not a trigger warning in sight.

There’s so much to see and hear, in fact, that I wish I could clone myself. Often I have three speeches, panels, presentations, debates or films circled on the agenda at the same hour. At the end of each day I go back to my room exhausted—and exhilarated. I feel the same way when I get home.

FreedomFest is no echo chamber. It attracts libertarians, conservatives, Trump supporters, anarchocapitalists. The Skousens deftly salt the panels with a wide range of views. Socialists face off against capitalists. Meat-eaters challenge vegetarians, atheists joust with believers, advocates of open borders debate those who favor walls and “extreme vetting.” And, remarkably in this day and age, it’s all respectful and civil. For example, and somewhat to my surprise, there was nary a “boo” from the politically wide-ranging crowd when Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan appeared on the main stage, only weeks after he resigned from the Republican Party and called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

It’s not all politics, not by a long shot. At FreedomFest 2019 topics ranged from what we can learn from “Dante’s Inferno” to recollections of Woodstock. On July 20, the last day of FreedomFest and the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Charles Murray and Catherine Cox, via Skype, talked about their highly regarded book Apollo: The Race to the Moon. As a lifelong space nut, that was a special highlight for me.

Magician Penn Jillette explained why he’s a libertarian. For him, it all comes down to force and what you’d use it for—justified to prevent an assault, not justified to build a library, for example. Earlier that day, Candace Owens and Wayne Allyn Root squared off against Doug Casey and Rakesh Wadhwa in a spirited debate on borders.

The mock trial this year centered on the Second Amendment and proposals for even stricter gun controls. One of the star witnesses was a teen from Slovenia who was attending FreedomFest as a participant in the new high school Debate Showcase. She more than held her own against Defense attorney John Lott.

TV journalist and former consumer reporter John Stossel talked about his road to libertarianism and defender of business in a speech entitled “Calling out the Politicians.”

Whole Foods founder John Mackey, a FreedomFest regular and co-ambassador, faced off against “Shark Tank” regular Kevin O’Leary on the real purpose of business—is it all about money or something more?

Stephen Moore and John Fund talked us through “Trumponomics.”

One afternoon I attended a panel that discussed the political and economic outlook for Latin America, followed by a session titled “Wealth without Money” by organic farmer and author Joel “Everything I Want to do is Illegal” Salatin.

You get the idea. And that’s just scratching the surface.

I also loved the panels at the Anthem Film Festival, founded and curated by Jo Ann Skousen. Appropriately, one of the big winners this year was the feature-length documentary No Safe Spaces featuring Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager, which focuses on the disturbing new culture of censorship on college campuses.

A special Anthem award this year honored a group of brave Iranian filmmakers who somehow manage to navigate censorship in the theocracy to create art with universal appeal.

God willing, I’ll be back next July for FreedomFest 2020. The theme is “Catch the Vision” — 20/20, get it? Canadian psychologist and best-selling author Jordan Peterson has been announced as the keynote speaker. While past performance is no guarantee of future success, given my experience at FreedomFest over the past half decade, my guess is next year will be even better than this year.

(Editor’s note : FreedomFest 2020 will be held at a Caesars Palace Las Vegas from Monday July 13 to Thursday July 16, 2o20.)