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Libertarian PorcFest vendors eager to charge in bitcoin

Last modified: 7/8/2014 12:18:21 AM
Hunter – he goes by only one name – is a trusting guy.

He trusts his fellow porcupines, the libertarian-leaning participants in an annual campout hosted in the North Country by the Free State Project.

For the weeklong Porcupine Freedom Festival in Lancaster, he left out pitchers of juice, coffee pots and cups 24 hours a day at a busy pedestrian intersection for people to purchase if they get thirsty after a long political debate around the campfire.

He didn’t keep track of how much money he should take in per pot, and offered the drinks on the honor system. He left a QR code for them to scan and move bitcoin into his account as payment. Because what he doesn’t trust, he said, is the federal banking system.

A soft-spoken Army veteran who uses few words, he says he just never got the message that he’s supposed to listen to rules.

And he wasn’t alone. You could buy tortillas, Italian ice, a temporary tattoo – or a real one – using bitcoin, an alternative currency not tracked or monitored by the government.

This was the 11th annual PorcFest, and the second at which Neal Conner of Manchester, a volunteer for the event, has noticed a visible presence of bitcoin payment options. In past years, he’s paid for food, T-shirts, guns, or ammunition from vendors at the event with gold, silver or ammunition.

Bitcoin is different from silver, gold and bullets in one major way: It has no physical existence. It’s an entirely digital currency that lives and moves online. Transactions, when they’re for tangible goods like a cup of Hunter’s coffee, usually involve a buyer scanning a QR code that activates a swap of equivalent bitcoin for the price of the coffee. New bitcoins are “mined” when computers unlock the algorithms to verify each transaction made.

People could use one of four bitcoin ATMs set up at the campsite, which accepted dollars and transferred the equivalent bitcoin into the buyer’s online wallet.

Right now, one bitcoin is worth about $600. The transaction fees are lower than for PayPal or the major credit card companies.

But at PorcFest, the philosophical argument was at least as popular as the financial one.

“For me, it’s a been a good investment, but also I know when I use bitcoin I’m helping to undermine corporatist central bankers. I’m depriving them of their power to manipulate the currency by using an open source, free method of payment that is really going to open a lot of opportunity for people in the world,” said Conner, who works for a Manchester-based company that made three of the bitcoin ATMs at the campground.

“Last year its presence (at PorcFest) was palpable,” he said. “This year, it was pretty much mandatory if you wanted to be a vendor and get a lot of commerce.”

In fact, the only vendors not accepting bitcoin were the ones operating three professional food trucks – two of whom came from out of state to sell traditional fried fair-style food because of the size of the event. The third was there for the political atmosphere as well as the crowd, but hadn’t yet set up a bitcoin account.

Tracy Ward of Austin, Texas, didn’t hesitate to explain why she accepts bitcoin for her fresh handmade tortillas.

“I like bitcoin because it’s not controlled by the banking system. It’s a way to get away from the government. They can’t get at the money I make in bitcoin,” she said.

Between five and 10 of her regular customers in Austin pay in bitcoin every time, she said.

Scotty Cline, a 24-year-old student from Orlando and owner of Scotty’s Italian Ice, said he never had a customer request to pay in bitcoin before hanging his shingle out at PorcFest.

“It’s something I’m very excited about, but it’s not something other people in Florida know about yet,” he said.

Drew Phillips of San Francisco attended PorcFest to represent Bitcoin Not Bombs, a website that helps nonprofit groups adopt bitcoin as a way to accept donations.

Bitcoin owners are a narrow donor base for those charities, “but alternative currencies are the wave of the future, and we offer a way for those charities to get ready for it to be adopted on a wide scale,” he said.

Personally, he’s skeptical bitcoin will be that widely adopted alternative currency of the future. He’s moved his own financial transactions as much as possible to alternative currencies, including silver.

“I’m just tired of central banks. This allows me to do commerce on my own terms, without having to file forms and interact with the government at all.”

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


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