9 Strangest Third Parties in American History

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There's something admirable in the way even the craziest third-party candidates make runs at public office. The two-party system has been entrenched for so long that the odds of actually getting anywhere with a third party are incredibly slim (in recent memory, only Ross Perot made a legitimate splash, and he had insane amounts of capital to back him up). Most modern third parties have zero chance of getting anywhere, and even older challengers from an era before our current Republican-Democrat split hit a brick wall once they tried to turn their beliefs into successful policy. Some fringe parties are composed of unhinged people united by anarchy; others are just jokes meant to highlight the absurdity of the political process. But they've all got one thing in common: they're going to go home empty-handed on election night.

  1. Southern Party: The Southern Party is one of the legions of groups who feel that the Civil War is still being fought, and that the Lost Cause is one worth promoting. They formed around the turn of the 21st century to provide "a real choice for the people of Dixie," who presumably had forgotten about their right to participate in elections. The group did see some minor regional success: Wayne Willingham was elected as the mayor of West Point, Alabama, in August 2000. But much of the party's brief run was marked by territorial sniping and genuine wonderings about the merits of secession, all this following the Asheville Declaration of 1999. The party lasted until 2003 before calling it quits, though several state-based chapters are still hanging in there.
  2. Pirate Party: Formed in summer 2006, the United States Pirate Party is a version of the original Pirate Party from Sweden, which formed earlier that year. The Pirate Party's main goal is to get rid of as many copyright regulations as possible, including the digital rights management (DRM) set-ups that prevent new media from being copied and transmitted. They also feel that the right to peaceable assembly is enough to cover anyone who wants to organize a protest, and that no permission should be needed to do so. They are, in other words, an organized version of that guy down the hall in the dorm who tells you that information wants to be free and who refuses to pay for media that was created by someone who hoped to earn money by creating it. They've received almost nothing but criticism for their platform and execution, too. They have yet to even put up a candidate for office.
  3. Rent Is Too Damn High Party: Easily the most entertaining part of New York's 2010 gubernatorial race was watching Jimmy McMillan make amazing speeches as the frontperson for the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. McMillan is one of only three registered members of the RITDH Party in New York State. His main platform plank is so obvious that it probably doesn't bear repeating; McMillan's thrust was that lower real estate prices would ease hardships and make the rest of life more affordable. McMillan also ran for mayor of New York City in 2005 and 2009, though it was his '10 campaign that turned him into a pop culture meme. He even got the full Saturday Night Live treatment. Unfortunately, he withdrew because he didn't have enough support. So much for real reform, America.
  4. American Third Position Party: At first glance, the homepage for the American Third Position Party (or A3P) looks pretty normal: it's got links for more info, buttons to click for donations, and a rotating number of stories and images dedicated to candidates most people haven't heard of. Once you look around, though, you start to realize that the A3P is dedicated to white nationalism. Although their mission statement says only that they "represent the political interest of White Americans," it becomes clear that their efforts and fundraisers are designed to enhance a feeling of white dispossession while discouraging immigration, unions, labor rights, and other movements that have typically aided the poor or foreign. The party director, Kevin B. MacDonald, has written multiple blog posts and columns attacking (among other things) sinister Jewish influence in the downfall of modern America. Thankfully, A3P didn't make the ballot last year, so they remain more like a misguided advocacy group.
  5. Know Nothing Party: Lest you think that rabid nativism is a recent political invention, you'd do well to remember the Know Nothing movement of the mid-19th century. (Obviously, a nation of immigrants acting nativist and paranoid about other immigrants is an irony to big to explain here.) Basically, white Protestants started worrying that the recent influx of Catholic immigrants from Germany and Ireland would wreck the U.S., taint its values, and fill it with people who were loyal to the Pope and who would take his orders and institute some kind of takeover. The movement took on multiple party names during its lifespan, including the American Party and Native American Party, but the Know Nothing name sticks to this day because of the way members used to identify each other. When asked about the group's actions, true believers denied any knowledge or responsibility, saying only, "I know nothing." Despite a few years of success, the party broke apart by 1860, though some of their xenophobic legacy is still felt today.
  6. Guns and Dope Party: The Guns and Dope Party is one of the many who've appeared over the years to offer satirical alternatives to mainstream politics. It's not that they don't believe what they're saying; rather, they're presenting those statements and beliefs with humor. The goal is more to make a point about the system than front a real politician. The Guns and Dope Party was the brainchild of Robert Anton Wilson, an author and humorist best known for The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a satirical series of novels that played with conspiracy ideas. Although the GD Party is built around some recognizable libertarian ideas involving smaller governments, it's also patently foolish, as in the way it suggests replacing members of Congress with ostriches. The goal of the party is ultimately to make people realize they've got more than just two choices when it comes to elected leaders, and that's a respectable goal.
  7. Youth International Party: The Youth International Party — also known as the Yippies — were a mostly unorganized group of younger protestors in the late 1960s who wanted to rebel against an entrenched bureaucracy that was leading the country deeper into war. As was typical with protest groups of the time, there wasn't so much a hierarchy or structure as there was a mass of people with the same basic idea. Abbie Hoffman was a co-founder and participated in many of the group's events, where they flew their flag, which consisted of a red star beneath a green marijuana leaf. One of their events was a prank in which fake currency was tossed onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which prompted a small riot. They never fronted a serious candidate for office, choosing instead to throw their weight behind Pigasus the Immortal at the 1968 DNC.
  8. American Vegetarian Party: It's not strange that people become vegetarians, or even that the members of the American Vegetarian Party wanted to get together as a way to make their cause known. What is strange, though — and kind of adorable — is that the AVP expected to seriously front presidential candidates whose platform appeals to only a fraction of the electorate. Keep in mind, too, that the AVP formed in 1947, decades before it became fashionable to eschew meat in your daily diet. Running as a member of the Vegetarian Party probably sounded about as balanced as championing the Communist Party. The party's runs at the White House started off poorly, too, when their 1948 candidate, John Maxwell, was ruled ineligible since he was born in England. They nominated candidates through the 1964 election, but called it quits after that.
  9. Prohibition Party: Here's why the Prohibition Party is so strange: it still exists. Founded in 1869, the Prohibition Party had its heyday in the early 20th century with, well, the success of Prohibition, which turned the 1920s into a gangster's paradise. But while Prohibition ended in 1933, the Prohibition Party kept on truckin', refusing to give up the dream of once again barring the legal sale of alcohol and other products related to vices. They actually still, adorably, put up candidates for office, though the 2008 ticket of Gene Amondson and Leroy Pletten only received 643 votes. The PP wants to ban the sale of booze, porn, tobacco, and other products, and they also want to do away with gambling. Their intentions are, on a certain level, noble, but it's the overreaching execution that's going to forever keep them on the fringes. Those vices do big business, and most Americans are much more comfortable with exercising their right not to engage in them than they would be in having those items legally banned. The Prohibition of the 1920s already made that point.
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