In less than one month, Edward Snowden, the infamous NSA whistleblower responsible for ratting out the U.S. government’s Orwellian spying programs, will be addressing Liberty Forum, an annual conference held by the Free State Project, an initiative to move 20,000 hardcore libertarians to New Hampshire to build the free society of tomorrow. What he’s conspicuously not doing: rotting in either a prison cell or six feet under.
No, Snowden isn’t dead or locked up. Not many of you reading this are, either. What sets Snowden apart from the rest of us is that he joined the very exclusive club of people who have royally infuriated the U.S. federal government. And almost all members of that club didn’t make it out to tell the tale.
Irwin Schiff stopped paying federal income taxes, claimed he had no legal obligation to do so, and openly defied the feds to prove he had to. Not content to stop at that, he threw salt into the wound by writing a book instructing others how to stop paying income taxes like he had done. Schiff spent the final decades of his life in prison, finally succumbing to cancer late last year. His family was not allowed to see him before he died. Ross Ulbricht started the Silk Road, an encrypted online marketplace where one could purchase a limitless variety of goods and services, many of them illegal, all without government involvement. He now resides in prison where he will likely spend the rest of his life. Aaron Swartz pioneered many tech projects supporting the free flow of information online, culminating with the downloading of millions of restricted journal articles with the intent of making them available for free. He was arrested and facing 35 years in prison when he took his own life. Bradley Manning exposed American war crimes, including the casual murder of civilians. Bradley, now identifying as Chelsea, faces a possible lifetime of solitary confinement, and her gender identity is used to smear her work.
What sets Edward Snowden apart from the rest of his kind isn’t the revolutionary degree of his defiance, but his continued ability to do it over and over again. This guy didn’t just flip off the government of the most powerful nation on the planet once; he keeps doing it, and they can do nothing to stop them. Before unleashing the fury of his former employers, Snowden took off to Hong Kong, and from there to Russia, hiding behind America’s old nemesis like a naughty child behind a sympathetic adult. While life in exile as a fugitive from his homeland can’t be ideal, it’s far better than the fate his fellow liberty warriors have received.
But Snowden isn’t using his successful escape to just hang out and not be in prison. No, he keeps right on causing trouble. Not only does he continue to periodically release additional documents, he has made the rounds with media appearances and further statements defending his positions, finally joining Twitter and almost immediately gaining over a million followers. But most importantly, Snowden serves as an example not only of conviction, not only of courage, but of success. He sought to embolden others to make a stand for liberty as he did by showing that, in his own words, “they can win.” And in that he has succeed: an anonymous whistleblower, dubbed “second Snowden,” leaked a pile of condemning documents on the U.S. drone program last October.
Let Edward Snowden serve as an example to you: If you plan to wreak havoc upon the enemies of liberty, plan on living to fight another day. Fight to win. It’s far more inconvenient for them than martyrdom.