- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006

Jason Talley works at a public policy institute on Connecticut Avenue, but his job looks nothing like the jobs of most other 20- and 30-somethings in Washington.

He wears jeans and a sweat shirt to work, and not just on Fridays.

His office is decorated like a college student’s room, with deep red walls and shelving units holding carefully marked bins of T-shirts. A sleek desk, black slipcovered couch and green screen for videography complete the decor.

Not jealous yet? Check out his job title: crasher in chief.

Mr. Talley, 32, leads the Bureaucrash Activist Network, which aims to encourage young people to fight increases in government control — a stance Mr. Talley calls being “pro-freedom.”

“Big government is bad, and personal, individual responsibility is good,” Mr. Talley said, summing up Bureaucrash’s message.

Mr. Talley said Bureaucrash, which joined the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) think tank in March, aims to influence young people for the cause of liberty by “marketing our ideas in a way that would be more interesting than your standard think-tank white paper.” The group swears by viral marketing, a tactic designed to infiltrate markets with a message until it spreads from person to person like a virus.

The Bureaucrash Web site, www.bureaucrash.com, forms the home base for both Web surfers who make 2 million unique visits each year and the 5,000 “crashers” from around the world who have joined the online community. The Web site contains passionate blogs, free, pro-freedom graphics and an online store selling T-shirts, buttons and the like.

In order to use viral marketing, Mr. Talley said, Bureaucrash also makes its graphics available on Facebook, Flickr and the Second Life virtual world and has countless YouTube videos.

“We try to hit whatever is hot,” he said.

Mr. Talley, a graphic artist, helps create the graphics so they appeal to Bureaucrash’s young audience. His designs are bold and simple, making them prime fodder for the teenage and 20-something culture that eats up retro-style message tees.

“I think T-shirts are the best way because, for one thing, people pay you to advertise your ideas,” Mr. Talley said.

He hopes the T-shirts’ appeal will show young activists that they have alternatives to left-wing organizations.

“If I were a college student in 2006 and I wanted to get active and I didn’t know where I was politically, the left would be very attractive,” he said. “What they do is sexy. You feel like you’re making a difference.”

Gabriel Heller Sahlgren, a Bureaucrash intern from Stockholm, added that the romanticism of socialist ideology appeals to college students. “It’s about change, I guess,” he said. “It’s about revolution.”

Mr. Heller Sahlgren, 21, said Bureaucrash gives young people an alternative to left-wing activism.

“We see all this grass-roots activism against liberty and free trade,” he said. “This is the first one, that I know of anyway, that has actually been pro-free trade and pro-liberty.”

Fred L. Smith Jr., president of CEI, said he founded the think tank with the goal of using left-wing groups’ vertical organization formats, in which they focus on one issue and sponsor both policy analysis and activism on it. Bureaucrash, therefore, fit in with his vision and gives younger people an arena in which to tout pro-freedom principles.

“I’m now 65,” Mr. Smith said. “I’m not going to jump off a building unfurling a flag saying, ‘Economic liberty for the world.’ ”

He said Bureaucrash helps reach a younger generation that right-wing policy groups do not attract.

“We probably do appeal really well to pinstripe-suit people,” he said. “The question is, can we appeal to a wide array?”

Mr. Smith said CEI tends to attract intellectuals, but not necessarily activists. Bureaucrash’s work attracts those interested in action. He hopes Bureaucrash will continue to encourage right-wing activists to start attending protests or political conferences, he said, like those on the left do.

“Often there’s wall-to-wall lefties, so it’s useful to have someone from the other side,” he said. “One candle in a dark room can be very, very effective.”

Mr. Heller Sahlgren said Bureaucrash helps CEI present its ideals to a younger generation. “People who don’t read public policy, think-tank publications and stuff, who actually haven’t developed their ideas and stuff, and Bureaucrash comes along and gives them an alternative,” he said.

The four-year-old Bureaucrash began when retired businessman Al Rosenberg approached the Henry Hazlitt Foundation, named after the libertarian author, about using the Internet to spread pro-freedom ideals. Mr. Rosenberg had been donating books by authors such as Mr. Hazlitt or F.A. Hayek to libraries, but the books did not end up on shelves.

“He was a bit frustrated,” Mr. Talley said. “He heard about this new thing called the Internet,” and Bureaucrash began.

To join the online community, crashers must indicate that they share the beliefs listed in Bureaucrash’s statement of principles. The statement says self-ownership guarantees people the right to make their own choices as long as they do not harm others. Also, big government making the rules always threatens force against a person. Therefore, the statement concludes, only small governments that can protect citizens from force and fraud should exist — and those with additional powers make citizens “slaves to the bureaucratic state.”

Members of the online community have posting privileges and receive e-mails from Mr. Talley about secret protests. Mr. Talley said crashers who get the e-mails make appearances — called “crashes” — at progressive demonstrations or outside bureaucracies to counter the message. For instance, a group recently gathered outside the Department of Agriculture to protest sugar subsidies and tariffs that lead to higher prices.

Mr. Talley said Bureaucrash does not ally itself with Republicans or Democrats, citing reasons that include the Republicans subsidizing businesses and the Democrats’ penchant for big government.

“We don’t take sides,” he said. “We exist to illustrate why freedom is good and how government is at odds with freedom a lot of times.”

He said, however, that members of both parties belong to the online community. “We support people that want to see a reduced role in government, so that’s anywhere from your more conservative Republicans or Democrats to your anarchists, your libertarians, to your anarchal capitalists,” he said. “[All crashers] probably want government limited in some ways.”

Mr. Talley believes in empowering his crashers to do their own activism.

“After all, the old people, they’re the ones that got us into the mess,” he said.

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