After Ron Paul’s speech Sunday evening—part of his “We are the Future Rally” held at the University of Florida Sun Dome—I set out to gauge audience reaction. “He hit a lot of the same points he normally hits,” said James Smack, vice chairman of the Nevada Republican Party and a Paul stalwart. “But there was a little more passion, a little more zest…”

This was also my impression. Some observers thought that Paul would strike a conciliatory tone to ingratiate himself (or more likely, his son Sen. Rand Paul) with the GOP establishment. But as Smack noted, “there were some solid shots taken at the RNC—merited shots.” Paul accused party insiders of flouting convention rules to disenfranchise his supporters.

But this was not what stood out most about the address. Over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, Paul was at his most subversive, demonstrating precisely why the Romney campaign offered him a convention speaking slot only under the condition that they be allowed to vet his remarks. (Paul declined.)

“Let me tell you, Bradley Manning didn’t kill anybody,” the Texas congressman declared at around minute 45, speaking of a “soft spot” in his heart for whistleblowers. “Bradley Manning hasn’t caused the death of anybody. And what he has exposed—he is the equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg, who told us the truth about Vietnam!” The crowd exulted. Paul then pivoted to a spirited defense of Julian Assange, chastising the government of Sweden for truckling to alleged American demands that the Aussie be extradited to the U.S. for prosecution.

Paul’s campaign has long touted the fact that he received an outsized percentage of donations from active-duty military. I couldn’t help but speculate that his position on Bradley Manning—who after all has been charged in military court with aiding and abetting al-Qaeda—might not be popular within those ranks. I mentioned this hunch to Kaleb Hornsby, a Paul district coordinator from Augusta, Georgia and Navy veteran. “To maintain good military discipline, order should be followed,” he said. “You make certain agreements when you go into the military. As a soldier, I don’t think Manning should have done it. I wouldn’t have done it.” Even so, Hornsby regarded himself as a supporter of WikiLeaks and admitted to struggling with the issue.

“It’s outstanding leadership,” another veteran, Marcelo Munoz, said of Paul’s comments on Manning and Assange. “You serve in the military, but you don’t serve the military. Ron Paul stands for principle, and it’s outstanding. That’s why he doesn’t sound like any other candidate.” Munoz served as Paul’s 2012 Alabama state chairman. “The principle here is, the soldier saw some stuff that the U.S. shouldn’t have been doing, and he exposed it. Like Ron Paul said, he’s a whistleblower. And whistleblowers are the ones that keep the government in check.”

Among military and civilian supporters alike, Munoz’s sentiment appeared to be the prevailing one. “I think Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are heroes to the world,” said Stephen Cossett, a Libertarian Party activist from Venice, California, who claimed he had overseen the most prolific pro-Ron Paul phonebanking operation in the nation. “Bradley Manning to the United States, and Julian Assange to the world, since as Ron Paul said, he’s not an American.” Cossett was an invited “guest” of the California delegation, and that allows him entry to the convention floor—an attempt at co-optation, he suspected. I asked Cossett if he thought it unusual for a politician of Paul’s stature to be making such pronouncements.

“Maybe of Paul’s stature, but not for Paul,” he replied. “We need to speak up for this stuff. We need information, that’s how we make decisions in a democracy.”