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Free State Project building on its vision for NH

  • Seth Cohn, formerly a state representative from Canterbury and a participant in the Free State Proejct, gets his nails painted in Agora Valley at PorcFest, the project's annual liberty-themed camp-out officially called the Porcupine Freedom Festival.

    Seth Cohn, formerly a state representative from Canterbury and a participant in the Free State Proejct, gets his nails painted in Agora Valley at PorcFest, the project's annual liberty-themed camp-out officially called the Porcupine Freedom Festival.

  • The BitCoin Group, an online round-table about issues in the online currency markets, records an episode of its show at PorcFest, the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival organized by the Free State Project to encourage liberty-minded individuals to move to New Hampshire. (TO GO WITH FreeState-cm-070614

    The BitCoin Group, an online round-table about issues in the online currency markets, records an episode of its show at PorcFest, the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival organized by the Free State Project to encourage liberty-minded individuals to move to New Hampshire. (TO GO WITH FreeState-cm-070614

  • Seth Cohn, formerly a state representative from Canterbury and a participant in the Free State Proejct, gets his nails painted in Agora Valley at PorcFest, the project's annual liberty-themed camp-out officially called the Porcupine Freedom Festival.
  • The BitCoin Group, an online round-table about issues in the online currency markets, records an episode of its show at PorcFest, the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival organized by the Free State Project to encourage liberty-minded individuals to move to New Hampshire. (TO GO WITH FreeState-cm-070614

A thin haze of campfire smoke blurred the sunset over the hills of the Great North Woods and mingled with the tangy smell of marijuana.

Electronic music thumped out of the biggest of four white event tents on the front lawn of Rogers Campground in Lancaster. A man in a black pleather kilt, neon pink bondage ropes hanging from his belt loops, walked toward the sound, bopping his head to the beat.

As he walked past, a young mother tucked her toddler into his sleeping bag after a long, sunny day of running around and playing.

Welcome to PorcFest.

The music came from Buzz’s Big Gay Dance Party, held June 27, the penultimate night of an annual five-day long experiment in libertarian living courtesy of the Free State Project.

Officially called the Porcupine Freedom Festival, the event is named after the group’s unofficial mascot, an animal that minds its own business until startled or threatened.

PorcFest is many things to many people. For some, it’s a place to debate and parse particular philosophical definitions and free market strategies. For others, it’s a hedonistic adventure land of unregulated gambling, drinking, smoking and toking.

And 13 years after the Free State Project sprung forth from the head of a 24-year-old graduate student, PorcFest is one of the project’s largest advertising vehicles, too.

As the group seeks to attract 20,000 like-minded individuals to pledge to move to New Hampshire and nudge the state closer to their ideal version of liberty, what better promotion than a taste of lawless living?

Inside PorcFest

PorcFest tastes like bacon. It’s the first smell that hits a visitor heading downhill to Agora Valley, the free market paradise for event vendors. Anyone with a rented tent site and the urge to sell or barter can hawk food, clothing, ammunition, jewelry and services.

One handmade lavender-scented candle traded for two meals of Indian food. Two paleo-diet friendly tortillas cost $3, cash or BitCoin.

None of the vendors post licenses or proof of inspection or cleanliness. They built relationships with buyers based on their reputations.

But to others, PorcFest tasted like bitter disappointment. In debriefing posts last week on Facebook, organizers and volunteers lamented stolen audio-visual equipment and batteries, volunteers who didn’t show up for shifts, children left to wander unattended and vandalism in the bathrooms. A handful of organizers stayed hours after everyone left, picking up trash left behind.

Entrance cost between $45 and $100, with the higher price ticket-holders getting entrance to VIP sections and tents where liquor was served. About 1,500 attended this year, though more could have come in for a day, or for the week, without paying. That rankled some people in the post-event discussion pages, too.

“The intent of PorcFest is to showcase New Hampshire,” said Carla Gericke, the Free State Project’s president and most public cheerleader.

“The event has a predominantly education bent. There were almost 300 talks, workshops, panels and speeches this year, with a socializing and networking aspect. And yes, some partying and dances. . . . The organizers stay to clean up because Rogers Campground is understaffed, and things always stay behind when people go camping,” she said.

When asked about people who scoff at the idea that a weeklong experiment in libertarian utopia ends in litter and broken toilets, Gericke says “the term ‘utopia’ is nowadays applied to any proposal for change that people don’t like, so it has lost all meaning.

“You could argue the anti-slavery movement was utopian. . . . When I fought to end apartheid in South Africa, when I was told it was impossible for such a startling, peaceful shift in political power to occur, was I utopian? Were the migrants who originally settled in New Hampshire utopian?”

The movement’s mission

As of last month, about 15,700 people have signed a nonbinding statement of intent to move to New Hampshire if the 20,000 mark is achieved. More than 1,300 have already moved, and that number, low as it might seem, exceeds what the movement’s founder expected.

In 2001, Jason Sorens, now a 38-year-old lecturer at Dartmouth, was nursing his wounds from the Libertarian Party’s defeats in the 2000 election.

He was also working on his dissertation at Yale, studying modern secession and regional autonomy movements in Western democracies. Seeing the libertarian movement fail to build momentum nationally, he wrote an article proposing that a critical mass of liberty-minded individuals accumulate in a state, push the federal government out and set only one rule: Live and let live.

“I actually thought this wouldn’t work,” Sorens said at PorcFest. “I just thought, well this is an interesting idea. It could work. It probably won’t. It’s a better idea than anything anyone else has had. Let’s give it a try. I thought, we probably won’t get 20,000 people signed up. And even if we did, they probably won’t move. And even if they move, this is a totally untested idea whether it’s even going to influence the political process at all.

“We have had about 1,500 to 1,600 people move, and there’s been some impact on the political process. It’s done better than I expected, but maybe not quite yet lived up to my hopes, because I hoped for a lot. I hoped that we would help build a society that would be a model to the rest of the country.”

The political influence of those early movers has been subtle, Sorens said.

“What a lot of people might not get about the Free State Project is we kind of want to keep New Hampshire the same. If anything, we want to make it more like itself,” Sorens said.

He worked with Jenn Coffey, a Republican former state representative from Andover, to repeal the state’s restrictions on knife ownership and possession. Others have worked to increase latitude for parents who home school, and reduce regulations on home brewers seeking to sell their beer.

About a dozen Free State Project participants currently hold seats in the state Legislature, though several lost their bids for re-election and others may be in office without being publicly identified as members.

That could prove harder this November, as Democrats and mainstream Republicans seem committed to publicizing any link between a candidate and the project.

An informal and anonymous group of people has been meeting in a Concord office to discuss strategies for informing communities about Free Staters running for elected office. The group’s Twitter account promised late last month to post research about candidates who filed to run for office this year.

“The examples we’ve had so far are ones who flew under the radar and got elected as mainstream Republicans, and then we learned what they really were,” said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the state Republican Party.

“There’s more opposition research being done, and it’s not hard. They tend to leave a trail. It’s not hard to find references to them online or posts to some Ron Paul message board. Then they’re automatically on the defensive.

“I just don’t think, in a competitive district, an informed electorate is going to elect someone running on a Free State platform. . . . I don’t think they have any influence whatsoever.”

That doesn’t bother Gericke. The Free State Project isn’t looking for political influence, she said.

It “has no influence other than attracting libertarians to New Hampshire. Participants work as individuals or with other organizations or start their own once they move here,” she said.

Joining the project

Rep. Mark Warden of Goffstown, elected as a Republican in 2010, is open about having moved to the state from Nevada at least in part to join the project.

“For somebody to say, ‘All Free Staters are alike,’ that just shows their ignorance and their xenophobia. I can’t help people who are going to be that discriminatory,” he said.

Warden operates Porcupine Real Estate, marketing homes for sale to potential movers, and led a question-and-answer session at PorcFest for people interested in buying property.

People should think about hiding their political views in places like Keene, where Free State-affiliated groups’ civil disobedience protests have generated negative responses from the larger community, he told the group, in response to a question.

“I wouldn’t self-identify as a porcupine there or really anywhere that’s a college town. But if you have good credit, if your check cashes, the landlord will like you. Be a good tenant for three or four months, and then you start talking,” he told the group.

His audience included Jeanette Joy and Ned Young of California.

They were interested in the cost of property taxes, which towns don’t impose zoning regulations, and which towns would be more likely to provide access to natural gas.

They’ve talked about moving to New Hampshire for the project for several years but want to stay near their children and grandchildren.

Wearing a button-down shirt, clean khakis and a closely trimmed white beard, Young had little visible common ground with the majority of the campers. And that’s okay with him, he said.

“People here have only one thing in common. They don’t think government is a particularly good answer to any question. After that, I don’t think you could find three people here to agree on anything,” he said.

“There’s no reason to feel threatened by people like us unless you have a stake in the status quo. Less government does not equal less community, and it would seem that historically, New Hampshire has known this. We’ve learned, we are New Hampshire people. We just didn’t know it until we came to see.”

Not everyone at PorcFest was ready to pack up and move here.

A man from Michigan who would only give his name as “Tom” said he can’t imagine living so far from his family. Neither could Sarah Poe, a 21-year-old nursing student from Kentucky.

Lenny Neugarten, a 43-year-old IT worker from New Jersey, said he’d first want to line up a job and Scotty Cline, a 24-year-old student from Orlando, and owner of Scotty’s Italian Ice stand in Agora Valley, said he loves the idea but just doesn’t think he wants to live through a New England winter.

Joel Williamson, a 26-year-old organizer from Austin, Texas, said he has absolutely no plans to move.

“It’s a nice thought, but I’m serious about competing with them and having people move to Austin. I have an established community of agorists in Austin, and we are working on our own,” he said.

So while the project’s organizers predict they’ll hit the 20,000 sign-up mark by July 2016, triggering a 2021 deadline for committed members to move, Warden has his eyes on the farther horizon.

“I think what you’ll see then will look like a much better conversation about the true role of government, about choices for educating children, about how big and strong the police force should be,” he said.

“A guy can dream. Maybe it’s not 2020. Maybe it’s 2025. Maybe it’s never. Maybe it’ll be sooner.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments26

Peel back the rhetoric, and underneath libertarianism there beats a fascist heart. Libertarians have little regard for democracy--it tends to interfere with their quaint notions of "freedom". Little things like minimum wage laws, business and environmental laws and regulations are regarded with disdain as unnecessary and intrusive on an individual's right to do what she or he sees fit with their property. Property rights are seen as paramount. Libertarians don't play well with others--for them there is no such thing as "society"--hence their disdain for democracy. Their admiration for entrepreneurs--especially wealthy ones, takes libertarians down the slippery slope to worship of the corporation, and all that this entails. Fascism is the corporate state--un democratic, intent on acquiring money and power as ends in themselves--there is no greater good. Fascist oligarchy--toward which we seem to be headed, is the end result. The accumulation of wealth and power by the 0.1% already threatens our democratic republic--what remains of it: voting rights under attack, the right to organize severely limited, one network routinely distorting the news for the benefit of the corporate state, the rest of the 4th estate effectively co-opted, and the people kept distracted and divided, seemingly justifying claims that government doesn't work. And in the libertarian world, it never did. All hail, Caesar!

My 3 words for all free Staters: go somewhere else.

My 3 words to amateur nature photographers who were also juvenile delinquents: go somewhere else. That makes about as much sense. We are all American citizens. Grow up.

What is the difference between Porcfest and Woodstock? Good music at Woodstock.

tillie, I'm trying real hard to picture you at Woodstock in August/1969...with absolutely no success.

They say tht if you remember Woodstock you weren't there

Bean, Any chance you shared a blanket on Yasgur's Farm with Minnie Pearl?

I don't remember

Bean, That errant price tag found, rolled up in your army blanket, upon arriving back home confirms "Minnie Pearl" as your partner at Woodstock. You ol' dog, you.

Oh, man! I thought she said she had a price on her head. Didn't realize it was a price tag on her hat. You sure that was me there?

Never so sure as I am now that you've admitted to no memory of the uh, "event", Bean...lol.

If they had the courage of their convictions and any sense of integrity, they would run for office openly and honestly as Free Staters and not pretend to be a Republican or a Democrat to get elected. Apparently they believe in "any means necessary" to accomplish their goals.

Free Staters are Free Takers. They come here when others have done all the work for them and decide not to contribute anything. They remind me of the communists who would infiltrate neighborhoods and towns under fake identities and join clubs and civic groups and run for elections. Who are they to say they will move here to take over our state. These right wing Republicans would be at the border with guns if it was a liberal groups coming. Be careful of the viper you invite into your tent, they will strike at your bosom.

when I moved to NH it was solidly republican....now it isnt. Change happens...get used to it

Porcupine - what an apt symbol for these folks to adopt! While you sleep their mindless gnawing girdles and destroys YOUR trees.

The article quotes FSP president Carla Gericke: "The Free State Project isn’t looking for political influence...It has no influence other than attracting libertarians to New Hampshire. Participants work as individuals or with other organizations or start their own once they move here." Carla Gericke, FSP founder Jason Sorens and some others have made this statement frequently, but it simply isn't true, and they know it. The NH Liberty Alliance and the Republican Liberty Caucus of NH were both started by Free Staters and their supporters. And while the structure and strategies of these organizations may technically be separate from the Free State Project, their goals as well as the ongoing direction of the FSP Board of Directors connect directly to Jason Sorens' original manifesto: "What I propose is a Free State Project, in which freedom-minded people of all stripes....pledge that you will work to reducing government to the minimal functions of protecting life, liberty, and property, establish residence in a small state and take over the state government..........even 20,000 hardcore libertarian activists can go a long way in a small state...."

The article quotes FSP president Carla Gericke: "The Free State Project isn’t looking for political influence...It has no influence other than attracting libertarians to New Hampshire. Participants work as individuals or with other organizations or start their own once they move here." Carla Gericke, FSP founder Jason Sorens and some others have made this statement frequently, but it simply isn't true. The NH Liberty Alliance and the Republican Liberty Caucus of NH were both started by Free Staters and their supporters. And while the structure and strategies of these organizations may technically be separate from the Free State Project, their goals as well as the ongoing direction of the FSP Board of Directors connect directly to Jason Sorens' original manifesto: "What I propose is a Free State Project, in which freedom-minded people of all stripes....pledge that you will work to reducing government to the minimal functions of protecting life, liberty, and property, establish residence in a small state and take over the state government..........even 20,000 hardcore libertarian activists can go a long way in a small state. Once we've taken over the state government, we can slash state and local budgets, which make up a sizeable proportion of the tax and regulatory burden we face every day...."

N.H. Government controlled by Free Staters!! No thank you! Pay attention folks to whom you vote for because they hid behind the Republican party. Do you really want your State run by the likes of O'Brien and Company. Did we not have enough of that nonsense which set our State even more backwards than it already is. I in no way want to live in their kind of world! To set the record straight. I am not a progressive liberal. I am a moderate Republican who wants to see our State progress ahead and keep the quality of life we all enjoy. This bunch will ruin it.

Well said Collie. You understand that O'Brien and company includes Free Staters and other libertarian leaning candidates who have felt so empowered in recent years, perhaps because they see themselves as part of some grand movement that includes 15,000-20,000 people waiting and watching from beyond NH. Much of O'Brien and company's success in getting elected and "governing" the last time around was the result of organizing behind the scenes by FSP inspired groups like the NH Liberty Alliance and the Republican Liberty Caucus of NH. These organizations are busy again this year, recruiting, training, marketing and getting out the vote for their candidates. Democrats and moderate Republicans need to beat them at their own game.

Absolutely correct Neale! We need to carefully look at who we vote for, what they stand for and the groups they are affiliated with.

Collie, One good thing that came out of the Attorney Bill O'Brien House Speaker's office was that although he did follow through with procedure ("due process of law") by House Rule 4, he did not send it (of any and all petitions) over to the "appropriate committee"s for the subject matters in various Article 32 petitions to the General Court as House Rule 36 endorsed with the District # and signature of the Legislator who is a true Re-presentative for re-presenting what was at first presented to him* or her** but instead he/O'Brien did set up a Special Committee ("The Redress of Grievance Committee") lumping all of them to there. This Republican maneuver was at least better than under the Norelli Regime in that when she was House Speaker she did NOT do her duty*** but did-away with that part of Rule 4, of putting up a block! of even worse than a hurdle to have to jump over. footnote: * Representative Seth Cohn did honor such, whereas ** Legislator Jennifer Coffey did not. - - Joe, Independent Voter P.S. "These people" TALK about to "push the federal government out" (page A3 column #1 of 3rd paragraph up) but ought to live with the Feds, as in to know what they are with limits as in certain enumerated powers that be activated by our "consent" that with-out such they be trespassers as in my HJR13 this year against U.S. Census Workers who are allowed to count every ten (10) years but limited to HOW, of both R&D's just could not understand this of focusing on the WHAT. This seems to be a common problem with most R&D's as they mix up the tenses of past, present and future like by calling an FRN/ a note is a promise "to" pay sometime in the future, i.e. "legal tender", of calling it the lawful money that it is not. (And a check is an Order "to" pay) Thus #x-number of such who supposedly paid "cash" did not pay coin and so the filing fee to be paid AT the time of filing is a lie, but then they all agree to overlook this "little white lie" when they get to their seat in Reps Hall. The B.L.C. is no better as partly appointed by them/ their House Speaker. And so the corruption continues by voting for evil; re: the lesser of two evils, whether they are in sheep's clothing or not. *** Norelli was criminally charged with RSA Ch. 643:1 of "Official Oppression" for her "refrain" from this House Rule 4 duty, but that the complaint in Concord District Court was dismissed by the nol pros of the A.A.G. acting against Article 35 for a fellow public servant.

Nothing good came out of Speaker O'Brien's time in office but constant fighting and problems. It will take a long time to straighten out the damage done. Problems never get solved by one side constantly fighting with the other. That is the trouble in Washington, no reaching out to the other party and working together for the good of the Country.

How is this not perpetrating a fraud against the voters of NH. But then again how is this any different than all the politicians that already have a secret agenda and will lie to achieve their goal?

Yes, like Hodes, Kuster, Shea Porter, Obama, Shaheen, Reid, Pelosi, etc.

As always you confuse fraud and secret agendas with those you disagree with. Maybe one day you will learn objectivity, a one party system benefits no one. These free staters keep their views private until they get what they want, at least with liberals are pretty upfront. But alas I don't know why I waste my time with those dedicated to never get it.

individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom of the press .... while also maintaining a healthy skepticism of government ....who could be against that. Answer..... Democrats

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