Libertarian direct civil disobedience
By Bruce Sterling
June 3, 2009
*Okay, imagine the geekiest hacker you know, and he’s in New Hampshireraising holy hell about parking meters…
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
The Free State Project:
The appeal of ‘Live free or die’
Antigovernment activists putting down roots in N.H.
By Sarah Schweitzer, Globe Staff
May 29, 2009
KEENE, N.H. - From a jail cell in this rural corner of New Hampshire,
Sam A. Miller waged a philosophical battle, one milk carton at a time.
(((Nice narrative hook, Sarah.)))
The soft-spoken electrical engineer (((geek))) declined food for nearly a month,
save for swigs of milk. To eat, he said, would be caving to the
tyrannical government powers that placed him here for illegally filming
in a courthouse and refusing to reveal his legal name to jail officials.
(He says it’s private; jail officials obtained it from a fingerprint trace.)
(((That’s right: his name is private. EAT THAT, FASCIST OPPRESSORS!)))
His resistance has made him a folk hero among antigovernment types who
have been making their way to New Hampshire from points across the
country since their leaders put out a clarion call six years ago.
The Free Staters, as they are known, hope to lure thousands of
like-minded souls to the state, with the goal of paring government to a
bare minimum by eliminating things like taxes, speed limits, and zoning
Thus far, just 427 Free Staters have relocated. Yet, here in Keene and
in pockets across New Hampshire, Free Staters are making their case in
increasingly provocative ways.
“Like Gandhi, like Martin Luther King, we need to educate and enlighten
the public,” said Miller, who joined the Free State movement after
breaking up with his fiancée.
(((You may think this is an odd reason to go to jail for extremist political reasons, but, no, it isn’t.)))
The actions have ranged from the odd, such as when Free Staters filed
another person’s fingernails without a manicurist’s license on a public
sidewalk or held an unlicensed puppet show, to the irksome, as when they
tried to dig a garden in a downtown Keene park, to the instigative, such
as the day they stood on a street corner with a marijuana bud held
aloft. Sometimes, they simply veer toward obstinate, wearing hats in a
courtroom after being asked to take them off or refusing to remove a
couch from a lawn. (((I’m having a little fun at the FreeStaters’ expense here, but Henry David Thoreau would be shoulder to shoulder with these boys.)))
When arrests have followed, Free Staters have sought to film the
criminal proceedings from beginning to end, including scenes from
courthouse lobbies, where filming is not allowed in some cases, such as
in Keene District Court. The lobby filming has yielded more arrests
(often, with Free Staters going limp as officers approach) and more
footage that Free Staters post on websites such as http://FreeKeene.com
, which has proved an effective recruiting tool.
(((I bet. Go have a look. If you join up, don’t blame me.)))
The so-called liberty actions have been met with some bemusement by
residents of this gently tolerant city, population 22,800, home to Keene
State College, near the border of Vermont. But some say the tactics have
taken on a menacing hue, such as when Free Staters have gathered on the
streets of downtown Keene with holstered guns on their waists, visible
on their waists.
”When they first came to town, there was a welcoming spirit. A lot of
people were like, ‘OK,’” said Richard Van Wickler, a Keene resident and
superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections. “But
unfortunately what happens is that when [Free Staters] take the radical
approach, that invites people to get angry.” (((Rather the point, I’d be thinking. This behavior is trolling made physically manifest.)))
More fundamentally unnerving, some say, is the Free Staters’ efforts to
secure government positions, with the goal of whittling down or
eliminating them. The Free State Project’s president, Varrin Swearingen,
said in a telephone interview there are four state representatives with
ties to the project and a “double-digit number” on local boards and
commissions. He declined to release their names, saying to do so would
violate their privacy, though he said some have “outed” themselves.
The officials already are wielding influence, he said. For example, a
Free Stater elected to a planning board in a town near Keene, which he
would not identify, swayed the board to vote against a zoning ordinance
restricting new big box stores, a measure the Free State member said
unfairly restricted property rights.
(((Yay Wal-Mart! Liberty forever!)))
The Free State Project is the brainchild of Jason Sorens, a State
University of New York-Buffalo political science professor who published
an article in 2001 in the online magazine Libertarian Enterprise
outlining the idea. “Government should be there to protect people’s
rights but otherwise allow for the maximum amount of freedom,” Sorens
said in a telephone interview. “It goes back to John Locke and Thomas
The article made a splash in libertarian circles, and in 2003, some
2,500 followers of Sorens voted to make New Hampshire their laboratory,
believing that the state’s flinty individualism would jibe with its view
of small government, limited to “protecting life, liberty, and
property.” Then former governor Craig Benson endorsed the group’s plan,
and would-be revolutionaries began trickling into the state.
Unlike militia groups in the West, (((sorta))) Free Staters are not loners who seek
to live solitary existences undisturbed by government intrusion. “You
tend to find people [in the Free State Project] who are happy to live in
cities and towns and who want to persuade people that freedom is better
than tyranny,” Swearingen said in an interview.
There was no concerted plan to make Keene a focal point. But when
high-profile activists, such as Ian “Freeman” Bernard, host of “Free
Talk Live,” (((he must be a lively guy))) a nationally syndicated radio program, and Lauren Canario, a
veteran civil disobedience activist, (((her too))) found their way here, others
followed. Today, Keene counts several dozen outspoken Free Staters and
more who operate less flamboyantly. The Keene Free Staters tend toward
the far end of the Free State Project spectrum, believing that
government should not just be limited, but eradicated.
On a recent day, six Free Staters gathered at a Panera’s in Keene to
talk about the Project. The members hailed from across the country —
Oklahoma, Florida, California, Nevada. Many are single men; the majority
are computer programmers. (((Does this revelation surprise you? Me neither.))) They tend to speak in precise diction and with
overarching politeness. (((Well put, Sarah.))) But at the mention of government, they betray a
brimming anger and declare zealous dedication to the Free State Project.
“Short of death — no limits,” said Canario, the lone woman at the
gathering, who spent over a month in jail when she refused to provide
identification or speak to a police officer who pulled her over for
speeding. (((Okay, when you see one lone woman at a meeting of programmers and she’s all like “short of death no limits,” we’re looking at a Joan of Arc scene. I hope somebody has the movie rights to this.)))
The Free Staters said they have no plans to temper their acts of civil
disobedience, and if anything, will ramp up their attacks on the court
system for not permitting them to film in the lobby. (Court officials
say the ban is necessary to prevent the filming of children or domestic
violence victims who may be present in the lobby.) (((Oooooo.)))
But Free Staters, keenly aware of their image, have undertaken a public
relations campaign. Hoping to end the use of parking meters, Free
Staters have fanned out across Keene on recent afternoons to place
nickels in expired meters, leaving notes on windshields signed “Robin of
For inspiration, they say they need look no further than to Miller’s
jailing and hunger strike, which he ended Sunday. The 30-something son
of a Dallas police officer faces one misdemeanor count of resisting
arrest, said Miller and Ivy Walker, his acting legal counsel.
During an interview in the airless visitors room of Cheshire County
Jail, Miller said he has scratched “FreeKeene” into a wall with his
thumb (((with his thumb. Nice one.))) and befriended other inmates, who gave him their milk. Still, he
said, jail has only reinforced his abiding conviction that government,
as constituted, is an enslaver.
”I see Free Staters as the modern-day abolitionists,” he said.
(((Okay, ADBUSTERS goes for nihilist revolution while Libertarians are feeding nickels to parking meters — I think it’s time to ratchet the BEYOND THE BEYOND “Political Instability Meter” to “Condition Orange.”)))