By Norann Dillon, Exhibitor and Media Liaison, FreedomFest
Las Vegas, NV – When Mark Skousen started FreedomFest more than a decade ago, many people scoffed. Skeptics pointed to the old claim that connecting libertarians is like “herding cats.” But Skousen forged ahead with a mission to bring together everyone who had a stake in liberty.
FreedomFest is now in its 13th year and has become the most important of liberty conferences. It is an eclectic mix of over 200 speakers and 2,000 attendees comprising libertarians, free-market conservatives, classical liberals, entertainers, political pundits, historians, technologists, natural-health advocates, artists, and anarchists. FreedomFest bills itself as “the world’s largest gathering of free minds.”
Co-producer Jo Ann Skousen sees the diverse nature of FreedomFest as one of the conference’s strengths. “We’ve been accused of not being ‘pure libertarian’ enough,” she laughs. “But when you only speak to the group you’re aligned with, you aren’t really changing anyone’s mind. Our attendees come away with greater knowledge, evidence, and commitment to liberty.”
FreedomFest is known for its debates and mock trials. The Mock Trial has become the most popular recurring event. A judge, prosecuting and defending attorneys, star witnesses and a jury of 12 chosen from the audience examine the purpose of important topics and institutions. Previous “defendants” include religion, the public school system, public unions, and American foreign policy. Steve Forbes and Kennedy, Fox Business News Anchor, have served as celebrity judges. This year the Second Amendment is on trial.
One thing that sets FreedomFest apart from most conferences is that it works on the academic model, where speakers are attendees and attendees are speakers. Top influencers such as Senator Rand Paul, Representative Justin Amash, John Stossel, Jim Rogers, Peter Schiff, Wayne Allyn Root, John Mackey, Steve Forbes, Michael Shermer, Candace Owens, Steve Moore, Grover Norquist, Nick Gillespie, and Matt Welch may be seen walking the hallways, browsing in the bookstore, or listening in on other breakout sessions.
Keynote speakers in the past have included William Shatner and George Foreman. This year’s celebrity speakers are “Shark Tank’s” Kevin O’Leary and libertarian magician Penn Jillette of “Penn and Teller” fame. And with the “Wild West” as the theme this year, you’re likely to see cowboy hats and boots roaming the Paris Las Vegas July 17-20.
Another feature unique to FreedomFest is Anthem, the world’s only fully juried Libertarian Film Festival. Anthem has flourished under the direction of founder Jo Ann Skousen, with top-notch short and feature-length films focusing on themes of choice, accountability and individuality that increase in quality each year.
“The key is making sure people have a place to hang out,” says Valerie Durham, Conference Director. “Conversation and interaction is where the magic happens.” Nightly Conversation Circles open the discussion between attendees. The Exhibit Hall has the most diverse group of think tanks, companies, and grassroots organizations. Whole Foods founder John Mackey calls it “the trade show for liberty.” Nestled between the general session hall and the break-out rooms, it is the hub of FreedomFest, where people peruse the offerings at the booths and bookstore, watch live broadcasts on Media Row, or hang out and make new friends while relaxing in the lounge. Throw in the opening reception, the film festival, the breakout sessions, and Friday night Karaoke, and that’s why Mark Skousen declares “there’s so much going on that nobody is ever bored.”
Floyd Brown, publisher of Western Journal, sums up his view of FreedomFest: “I don’t go to many conferences anymore but I love to come to FreedomFest. This is my eighth in a row. People ask, ‘why do you go?’ It’s always a treat for me to listen and meet people from all around the world in different professions — academics, journalists, politicians, etc. I wouldn’t miss it.”
You won’t want to miss it either.