Thursday, October 25, 2012
High above the cliff tops and the beach bars, up a winding mountain road, in a borrowed house on someone else’s ranch, an unusual criminal is waiting for his fate.
His name is Bernard von NotHaus, and he is a professed “monetary architect” and a maker of custom coins found guilty last spring of counterfeiting charges for minting and distributing a form of private money called the Liberty Dollar.
Described by some as “the Rosa Parks of the constitutional currency movement,” Mr. von NotHaus managed over the last decade to get more than 60 million real dollars’ worth of his precious metal-backed currency into circulation across the country — so much, and with such deep penetration, that the prosecutor overseeing his case accused him of “domestic terrorism” for using them to undermine the government.
Of course, if you ask him what caused him to be living here in exile, waiting with the rabbits for his sentence to be rendered, he will give a different account of what occurred.
“This is the United States government,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s got all the guns, all the surveillance, all the tanks, it has nuclear weapons, and it’s worried about some ex-surfer guy making his own money? Give me a break!”
The story of Mr. von NotHaus, from his beginnings as a hippie, can sound at times as if Ken Kesey had been paid in marijuana to write a script on spec for Representative Ron Paul. At 68, Mr. von NotHaus faces more than 20 years in prison for his crimes, and this decisive chapter of his tale has come, coincidentally, at a moment when his obsessions of 40 years — monetary policy, dollar depreciation and the Federal Reserve Bank — have finally found their place in the national discourse.
A native of Kansas City, Mr. von NotHaus first became enticed by making money while living with his companion, Talena Presley, without a car or electric power in a commune of like-minded dropouts in a nameless village on the Big Island in Hawaii. It was 1974, and Mr. von NotHaus, 30 and ignorant of economics, experienced “an epiphany,” he said, which resulted in the writing of a 20-page financial manifesto titled “To Know Value.”
In it he described his conviction that money has a moral aspect and that any loss in its value will cause a corresponding loss in social and political values. It was only three years after President Richard M. Nixon had removed the country from the gold standard, and Mr. von NotHaus, a gold enthusiast, began buying gold from local jewelers and selling it to his friends.
One day, he recalled, “we were all sitting around thinking, ‘Wow, we ought to do something with this gold.’ And I said: ‘Yeah, we could make coins. People love coins. We could have our own money!’ ”
Within a year, he had established the Royal Hawaiian Mint, a private — not royal — producer of collectible coins. Hitchhiking to a library in the county seat of Hilo, he said, he looked up “minting” in the encyclopedia and soon was turning out gold and silver medallions with images of volcanos and the Kona Coast.
So went the better part of 20 years. Then came 1991, which saw the emergence of a successful local currency in Ithaca, N.Y., called the Ithaca Hour. The 1990s were a time of great ferment in the local-money world with activists and academics writing books and papers, like Judith Shelton’s “Money Meltdown.”
The Constitution grants to Congress the power “to coin money” and to “regulate the Value thereof” — but it does not explicitly grant an exclusive right to do such things. There are legal-tender laws that regulate production of government currency and counterfeiting laws that prohibit things like “uttering” gold or silver coins “for use as current money.”
Mr. von NotHaus claims he never meant the Liberty Dollar to be used as legal tender. He says he created it as “a private voluntary currency” for those conducting business outside the government’s purview. His guiding metaphor is the relationship between the Postal Service and FedEx. “What happened in the FedEx model,” he testified, “is that they” — a private company offering services the government did not — “brought competition to the post office.”
Full article: http://www.nytimes.c … ate-behind-bars.html