Cover photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

If you live in Virginia, then you probably know who Nick Freitas is. If you’re on social media, you may have seen his viral speech before the Virginia House of Delegates in 2018 on the Second Amendment. If not, here’s an excellent way to spend seven minutes. (Also check out his follow-up response to Democrats who claimed they were “so offended” by his words.)

You may also have seen his moving remarks on abortion (hint: they’re not in a tone you may expect), and you may be aware that he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018 as a hopeful challenger to Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in her failed attempt at the presidency. You might already know that he’s a former Green Beret, a combat veteran with two tours in Iraq, and that he eventually lost his Senate race in the primaries. You might know that he currently serves as the Delegate for VA District 30, which is comprised of Madison and Orange counties, as well as part of Culpeper.

None of these things are why I interviewed him.

Nick Freitas is interesting for a lot of reasons, and those reasons become evident when you talk to him so I’ll let him speak for himself. Here’s part one of the interview.

Kit Perez: There are a lot of conservative websites out there but it seems many of them are simply regurgitating the same talking points, or even serving as an echo chamber for people who are already like-minded. Can the “liberty side” of the internet actually get through to those on the other side and start doing some converting instead of just preaching? And if so, HOW?

Nick Freitas: I think it’s possible. I certainly wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t. I think one of the things that we’ve got to understand is that a key component of actually being able to effectively message requires listening, and that sounds very, very obvious, but we’re at a stage right now with American political discourse where that doesn’t happen a great deal. Part of it is because everybody’s so keyed in to hot button words or issues that everything has become a litmus test based on one sentence answers to pretty complex questions.

For instance, there’s certain groups where you don’t want to say things like, “I’m a conservative,” not because there’s anything intellectually wrong with being a conservative, but because the moment you say that, that conjures up certain ideas in another person’s head, and everything you say after that becomes essentially worthless. I wish it wasn’t that way, but the bottom line is that if we want to be effective communicators, then we have to put a lot more time into understanding how what we say is heard by other people or other groups based upon their own experience, and then be willing to actually modify what we say — not what we believe, but what we say, to modify it in a way that’s more effective for them to understand it and receive it.

KP: So you’re not talking about, “Oh I won’t say this because it may trigger you,” you’re saying “let’s be adults about it.”

NF: Well, yeah…We’ve also got to differentiate between outreach and debate. There’s some people I’m just going to debate with, and if I trigger them, I don’t particularly care. Not because I’m mean or what not, it’s just that if you’re going to be triggered by everything, then effective communication is not possible, and all I’m trying to do at this point is win the argument.

But if I’m talking to someone that I really think is at least in some way interested, or could become interested, in our worldview, and a greater respect for individual liberty and private property rights, well then I’m willing to go out of my way so that I don’t say something that triggers you if it means that I can get to a point where we can have common understanding. So it’s not about tiptoeing through the fields, it’s more about saying, if my goal is to win an argument, that’s one thing. But if my goal is to convince you of something, well then I have to ask myself, “What am I willing to do in order to modify my own approach in order to get across to you?

That’s become the other thing with social media and with the 24-hour news cycle; everyone’s looking for that shocking statement or moment that’s actually going to grab headlines, instead of engaging in effective outreach, because effective outreach requires you to modify what you’re saying in such a way that it can be received.

KP: That actually segues into my second question. You talk a lot about weaponized outrage and the tendency of many — on both sides — to avoid viewpoints that offend them. You don’t accept offense as an excuse to not have a productive conversation…how can everyday Americans do the same?

“…effective outreach requires you to modify what you’re saying in such a way that it can be received.”
NF: I think it’s a lot easier to do when you’re having a one-on-one conversation or you’re talking with a group of friends or acquaintances because when people are right there in the room, they’re far less likely to engage in overheated rhetoric. But I think one of the most important things you can do, initially when you’re talking to somebody, is you find common ground. And usually that has to do with personal experience. I mean, as human beings, we all have things that we endure, that we go through, that we overcome, that we love, that we dislike, and when you can find common experiences, that’s shared humanity. And once you’ve made that connection on a personal level through some sort of shared experience, it becomes a lot harder for the other person to demonize you based on your political views.

I really encourage people — find a piece of common ground through shared experiences. It could be kids, it could be your love of dogs, it could be any number of things. And then when you talk about various principles that you believe in…sure, we could sit here and go off on a Ludwig von Mises treatise on economic policy, and there’s certainly a place for that. Or, when we talk about tax policy or when we talk about property rights, we could talk about it from the perspective of having worked so hard and traded off so much in order to build a business, or invent something, tor to bring an idea to fruition, and talk about it from the creative aspect and the time and effort and sacrifice that went into it. When we frame the conversation from that perspective, most people can appreciate that; they can appreciate what you gave up, what you sacrificed and worked hard to achieve…and mow here comes the government to take taxes, or to consume such a large amount of what you’ve done that you don’t even know if you can continue to do it.

At that point, you frame the whole argument from a different perspective and one that I think most people can genuinely appreciate, as opposed to just going to an academic argument with respect to tax policy. So I encourage people to find common ground and find a way to talk about your shared experiences in a way that humanizes it. So when you’re applying your principles, whether it’s tax policy or regulatory policy or property rights or whatever else it might be, they’re seeing it from the perspective of someone who is invested in this in a very personal way as opposed to someone who’s just trying to win a debate.

KP: So I want to turn the gaze inward a little bit. The GOP won in 2016 because they were angry at the Left, but then it seems that complacency settled in. Anger is a short-term strategy; what can activists do to ignite action among liberty-minded folks that is more long-term and less emotion-based?

NF: I think there are two things that we have to do. We have to recognize that we have to win tomorrow’s election as well as win the culture, and those two objectives are not mutually exclusive but they do require different things at different moments. So obviously, making sure that people understand what is at stake if we lose is important because it will be gone if we do not maintain some level of control with respect to the legislature and the executive branch. So I think that’s perfectly appropriate, talking about the consequences of loss or failure.

But I think the other thing that I think we have to do, and certainly it’s something that we can do more of now, is talk about the accomplishments, the vision. So when we talk about what we can potentially lose, that’s more of a short-term gain. When we talk about the long-term vision and what that actually means for you, your children, your grandchildren, I think that’s where we make those cultural inroads. And I think that’s the thing we have to understand, is that it’s not just about winning set pitch political battles, it really is about winning the culture — and that’s not just done in election cycles. That’s done when you actually volunteer at a school. That’s done when you lead a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop. That’s done when you actually engage in charitable activity within your community, demonstrating that the best way to help your fellow man is not through increased government power, but through people taking personal responsibility for their communities and their neighborhoods.

So I think that when we’re able to point toward the successes of our philosophy, that’s where we change minds on the front lines. That can be applied toward elections cycles, but ultimately it’s about proving that what we believe in actually works.

* * *

In Part 2 of this interview, we talk about his efforts to train activists, and what people can do if they’re completely fed up with the political system. Look for it tomorrow right here on AP.

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