Front Page Article in Keene Sentinel on Free Staters

Free State project is moving slowly
Like-minded people are still coming to the Granite State

Sentinel Staff
Published: Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nearly five years have passed since the Free State Project adopted New Hampshire as its home base and began the task of convincing 20,000 activists to commit to uprooting their lives and moving here.

They would come in droves, the plan went, overwhelming the sparsely populated state and ultimately changing the way big government works by limiting its power through free-market solutions.

There would be tax reductions; regulations such as being required to have a driver’s license to get behind the wheel of your own car would be relaxed or scrapped; power would be restored to the people and the Granite State would become the Free State, a model for the rest of the country and even the world.

That hasn’t happened yet, and only 8,558 people have committed to making the move since the project’s inception, according to its Web site.

But it’s the 558 people who have actually made the move who have spurred a slight shift in the project’s aim and kept it pushing ahead.

Realizing that some people wanted to make the move immediately, and already had, project coordinators came up with a three-year goal to have 1,000 recruits in the state by the end of this year. They exceeded that goal by more than 30 commitments.

Ian H. Bernard, a project member, self-styled “free marketer” and host of “Free Talk Live,” a Keene-based, nationally syndicated radio talk show, said the first 1,000 will be known as hardcore activists who paved the way for the other 19,000 Free Staters.

“It’s been real slow going trying to get people to uproot their lives,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “That being said, I think the project has still been tremendous. These are the best freedom activists in the word that are coming here. The moving aspect is a good screening process.”

Free State Project Director Varrin Swearingen said in an e-mail interview that sponsoring “Free Talk Live” and taking out advertisements on the Internet and in print have helped to attract new members every year. Project members also reach out to potential members at events known to attract large numbers of pro-liberty activists, he said.

“This week, for example, the Free State Project has sent a team of people to Minnesota for outreach at the Republican National Convention and Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic,” he said. “Also, each year, we operate two world-class pro-liberty events here in New Hampshire — the Porcupine Freedom Festival in the summer, and the New Hampshire Liberty Forum in the winter.”

Swearingen, who works as a commercial airlines pilot, moved with his wife and their two children from California to Keene in 2004, two years after reading an advertisement about the project and researching it online. He’d been a Libertarian since grade school, and felt his efforts to exact political change in The Golden State were futile.

“The Free State Project appealed to us because it represented a real opportunity to work together with a high concentration of people who really valued freedom — something that simply doesn’t exist in California,” he said.

The Free Staters who have come to New Hampshire are not directed to choose a particular city, town or county. They can live wherever they please, and engage in whatever type of activism that best suits them, Bernard said.

“The project only exists to encourage people to make the move and be an activist when they get here,” he said. “Concord is obviously a good place for politics. There is a big mix of non-cooperative activists and political activists in Manchester. In Keene, we have a larger concentration of non-cooperative, market-based activists.”

Non-cooperative activists are people who have decided they cannot change the system from within. They shun politics and do not vote. Instead of running for political office, they conduct peaceful protests meant to draw attention to a particular issue, Bernard said.

The non-cooperative activists have played penny poker in downtown Keene — gambling is illegal under state law — and plan to sell hot dogs in response to a street vendor’s recent and ongoing struggle with the city to sell his food late at night.

“They are forced to show their hand, to show that they are the violent organization of men and women they really are, or ignore us and hope we go away,” Bernard said of the police. “If they ignore us, we win. If they arrest us, we win.”

After listening to Bernard’s talk show on the Internet, Samuel E. Dodson decided to become a Free Stater and move from Plano, Texas, to Keene before the end of the year. Dodson said he was captivated by what Bernard had to say.

“The more I listened the more the message started to make sense,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “I just kind of got hooked on it. Over the last two years, I’ve come to adopt the messages and principles of liberty into my own life.”

Eight months ago, Dodson launched the “Obscured Truth Network” on YouTube, a video-sharing Web site, in which he posts video interviews of him questioning police and other government officials about the constitutionality of their work.

Dodson said he’s had a difficult time finding other like-minded activists in his current hometown.

“I’m all alone here and it’s tough,” he said. “People are scared of the judges. They’re scared of the police. … That’s the level of fear people have of this government that’s designed to protect them.”

Once he’s moved to the Elm City, Dodson said he hopes to rent an apartment near Central Square and eventually build a cob house, which is constructed of sand, clay and straw.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to get away with it because of the planning boards, but I’ll do it anyway,” he said. “I’ll look at land that the city has said is unsuitable for building and I’ll build my cob house there.”

Dodson may become a weekly co-host on “Free Talk Live” and aims to start up a voluntary ID system that would rival the government’s “one-size-fits-all” card and allow users to divulge information about themselves at their discretion, he said.

“There’s also a possibility of doing something with Cheshire TV and I’ve thought about taking some film classes at Keene State College,” he said.

In June, Dodson, who said he’s in his 30s but declined to give an exact age, came to check out Keene and ended up joining Bernard for a ride-along through the city with Keene police Lt. Shane C. Maxfield.

Maxfield had reached out to the Free Staters earlier this year through one of their Web sites and invited them all to ride with him in his patrol car or call him at the station with any questions they may have.

“I’m really encouraged by the fact that at least we’re communicating and sharing ideas behind the scenes,” Dodson said. “It’s not something you see very often.”

A handful of other Free Staters will be making their way to Keene this year, Bernard said, and he’s pleased by the steady trickle of new transplants, even if it wasn’t the tidal wave of change that some had hoped for.

“As far as the organization goes, the only success or failure is whether people are moving here or not,” he said. “People are moving here and I would call that a success.”

Phillip Bantz can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or

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