Activism Theater

In 2003, security analyst Bruce Schneier introduced the concept of security theater: “Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security. An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No-one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards. Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at US airports in the months after 9/11 — their guns had no bullets. The US colour-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

Security theater is driven by political forces: the public demands that the government do something to provide more security. This demand is passed on to representatives, who rely on the the positive perception of voters to get re-elected. Naturally, when they are being judged on these grounds, they maximize the appearance of security rather than security itself.

Over the last few years, Keeniacs have witnessed the growth of a similar phenomenon– activism theater. Activism theater refers to activist measures that make people feel like government policy is being improved without doing anything to actually improve government policy. (Even if the goal is no government, that requires a change in government policy, from what we have today to the absence of any government action.) Examples of activism theater are the School Sucks Project “outreach” and City Hall drinking games. Both of these were billed as activism, and yet there’s no plausible mechanism through which they could have changed anything– their activism guns had no bullets.

Activism theater, like security theater, is also driven by political forces. Local libertarian activists want government policies that are more libertarian. One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to get more libertarians to move to New Hampshire.

Libertarians, in turn, are often motivated to move to New Hampshire when they recognize that serious activism is taking place here, on a scale impossible in their current state. But, like voters, they don’t have perfect information about this activism. As a result, New Hampshire activists, in many cases (whether consciously or not), promote the appearance of activism rather than its reality.

Yet, unlike security theater, activism theater has positive effects. If, like me, you would prefer a generally more libertarian government (I say this although I have plenty of disagreements with libertarians), then some level of activism theater is a good thing.

But there’s a tradeoff. While activism theater may fool some out-of-state libertarians, many New Hampshire residents recognize it for the silliness that it is. The libertarian movement thus loses credibility with each instance of theater.

The New Hampshire libertarian movement, therefore, faces the problem of finding the optimal amount of theater. Drawing on economic reasoning, the optimal amount is reached when the benefit from attracting more movers is balanced by the negative effects from lost credibility. Any more theater than this, and we can gain by cutting out some of the theater. If there’s less theater than this, creating more will improve our situation.

Keene democracy in action (Andrew didn't make the team)

Though hard data is not available on these effects, for the record, I think much of the activism in 2010 took things too far. Events like the topless celebrations and School Sucks outreach damaged libertarian credibility far more than it could have helped via new movers. These events contributed to the petty and ridiculous opposition to Andrew Carroll’s run for state representative, as well as other obstacles preventing libertarian policies.

Many activists I talk to insist on seeing this issue in black and white– depending on who you ask, all theater is either the pinnacle or the scourge of New Hampshire activism. I would like to see the libertarian movement in New Hampshire embrace economic reasoning, and make an effort to find the happy optimum. Theater is good– up to a point.

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  1. Why do you have a picture of the "representative" people there?

  2. Yea ,some stuff was better than other stuff.
    I think people know that.
    What nuts and bolts actions do you have in mind?
    Or do you just want to point out,from your writers chair,behind your computer,what other people AREN'T doing right.
    It is easy to look back in hind site and say "maybe that wasn't as good as some other stuff".
    That's easy.
    So you are saying what people are doing wrong.
    What ACTIONS do you have in mind?
    Or do you just want to critique others who make decisions and take actions .

  3. Nice inventing a new term. This isn't exactly building bridges between civil disobedients and politicos.

    To me this is a nice way of telling civdis activists to shut up and let the real activists make a real difference.

    If you wrote this about me in my town i would likely never talk to you again, it's so offensive.

    I know, saying 'school sucks' is offensive, right? NOT drinking beer at the city coucil meeting is offensive, right?

    Whatever, dude. The stealing, threatening, and hurting that the State does is way, way more offensive than any of that.

    Rock on, disobedients! There will always be a stick in every mud!

  4. Goodonya, Skeppie! I'm a big fan of street theatre as a way to bring your message to the people. Mockery in the defense of liberty is no vice!

  5. If you want to make the largest mark with civil disobedience, you need to be highly selective of your actors. If the average moron (most people by definition fit this description) feels that you have antagonized the police, public opinion will not change. If you select an innocent and benign actor, who is seen as an unprovoked victim of the police, public opinion will quickly rally to your side. It must appear unplanned to achieve maximum effectiveness.

    Read the "Art of War," or any of the classics regarding conflict. While we are not at war, there are lessons that have already been learned. Use the hindsight of others to quickly leapfrog the inherent pitfalls of trial-and-error activism.

    To win, you need to lead the narrative, and guarantee the headlines are written in your favor. Direct the public discourse through action.

  6. There have always been pragmatists like you throughout history, Skeptikos, and every disobedient has been roundly decried for disturbing the peace, or being offensive, or othersuch. I won't bother with their names because I am tired of the comparisons that have no meaning in the world of today when compared with the eras in which famous disobedients have lived

    Let's all be glad that your stick-in-the-mud attitude didn't stop those activists from taking action, or we'd really be in bad shape today

  7. My view from afar sees Skeptikos' logic as having some validity, but I do not like the bastardization of the term "activism theater" into a perjorative.

    Theater is an extremely effective tool — especially when it is done legally and no one gets arrested. Actual CD arrests may have their place, and may be very important, but I wish they were minimized. I like the long-term prospects for a movement where nobody gets hurt.

  8. Will, on the topic of "economic reasoning" who benefited from the "activism theater" in Keene? Could it have been promoted primarily for the reason of 'content generation', in order to get liberty-loving drama queens to move to Keene, and perpetuate the circle jerk of content? To have someone describe it better than I,

    Move to Keene for liberty?
    Nothing has changed other than: people moving in/moving out of here, some people getting high in a park, social events, "content generation", and alienation.

    Remember, "…any attention is good attention…"

    I've been here since the end of 2007.

  9. Would School Sucks Project stuff not be seen as so "off-putting" if it had a different name?

    I don't know if anyone can claim to know where the cost/benefit line in activism is. It isn't like there's a survey of everyone's opinion of a particular event who might read an article/see a video about a particular event. How people's minds perceive an event and how a change in thought might influence their actions is very difficult to measure.

  10. What did you expect, Stone? A miraculous reduction in the state in three years?

    Have you seen that happening in the other areas where there is a higher concentration of political activists? I sure haven't. Yes, there have been some political success this year, and that is great news, but clearly these changes take time, regardless of how people choose to go about them.

  11. David-

    The flyer is from the state rep primary, where the other candidates ran as a team against Andrew.

    I don't have any nuts and bolts recommendations about the attention-grabbing types of activism. I'm not all that interested in it. I like to stick to my under-the-radar, get-to-know-local-political-people efforts; that's just how my personality works.

    I'm just trying to provide a coherent framework to help people think about these issues. It seems like that's missing right now (on both the pro- and anti- theater sides).


    If you really want to interpret it that way, then I'm telling some activists to shut up– but only when they're hurting their own cause. That sounds reasonable to me.

    So if the topless celebrations had never happened, we would be in really bad shape today? I don't see how you could believe that.

  12. Wow, this is the most ignorant and ill informed posts I've every seen on Free Keene.

  13. Sam Dodson on Wed, 5th Jan 2011 2:44 am

    Wow, this is the most ignorant and ill informed posts I’ve every seen on Free Keene.

    Wow, at least spellcheck is working. Sometimes it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

    Going back to Texas to do some repordering Sam?

  14. Good work. Whether I agree or not is another story…As for people "smoking pot in the park", the *COMMON*("central square")*IS*NOT*A*PARK*. It is a *COMMONS*, OK? As far back as, oh, *4*DECADES*, I watched an older guy shoot up heroin in the Common. That's why I never used any "needle drugs". That junkie wasn't doing any "activism", but it sure affected *MY* subsequent behaviour. There were a couple of "Topless Tuesday" type events, but the biggie was Heike getting arrested while having her breasts painted. That was *NOT* a planned event, unless it was *PLANNED* to look ad lib, in which case it was even more poorly planned than if it had not been planned at all. Andrew Carrol ran a very good campaign for such a fresh young kid, and the Democrats' demonizing of him shows just how *ANTI*FREEDOM* the Democrat party truly is. Look at the County Sheriff election results: Eli "E-Lies" Rivera, (KPD Police Persecutor & Certified *PIG*…)won easily in *KEENE*. Shows that the *SHEEPLE* of keene are easily fooled, but he got his butt kicked HARD in the rest of Cheshire County. The voters of the County are not so easily *DUPED* as the idiots of keene. Much as I disagree with some of Sheriff Foote's positions, at least I can find much that is respect-worthy in him. The "School Sucks" project was a true abortion of common sense, and probably did more to create negativity towards the "FREEKEENERS/STATERS/whatevers" than eveything else put together. From my perspective, the greatest measure of the true *SUCCESS* of the activists efforts, is the *RESISTANCE* from the statists. The city/county/state triumvirate of evil just can't ignore the "FreeWeenies", and must come down hard on them, thus revealing the true, anti-American, anti-Freedom natures of the city/county/state. *THAT*IS*SUCCESS*, folks. We keene natives can hardly wait for the next acts in this wonderful, magical, on-going LIBERTY*THEATRE…~tKoK.

  15. @ not dark yet,
    You are another gutter snipe.
    That is too cowardly to DO.

    So he takes cowardly pot shots from a secret far away place.

    You can keep on with your cowardice and the doers will keep doing.


  16. I agree with sam.

    I know i seem like a sam cheering squad.

    but he's fucking right.

  17. Any infighting in the freestate movement makes me happy to be honest, because that brings the date that it fizzles out even closer.

  18. Or, the doers will move back in with their parents. Is that the 'Dodson Family Estate'? Your parents must be so proud to have their son moving back in with them. You know, the one who changed his family name.

  19. I like adages as much as I like "street theatre" and when I read skeppies' article I'm reminded of "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one."

    @david- doing what? Being fair-weather activists? Stop a war, why dontcha?

    @tKoK- The only dope worth shooting is Dick Nixon – remember that old saw?

    @not dark yet- Sam is gonna have a withering comeback for you when he wakes up!


  20. @ "not dark yet"
    shut the fuck up you cowardly gutter snipe (from far away)

  21. @Frenis McSovereign
    Can you talk in plain language please.
    And not tricky phrases that are not clear.

  22. @Frenis McSovereign
    Who is this "fair weathered activist" you speak of?
    I have yet to see ANY weather that was "fair" in the activism.

  23. @david

    when Sam says this is the most ignorant and ill informed posts he's every [sic] seen on Free Keene, do you think he was talking about you too? You did have the first two posts on the thread, you know.

  24. For what it’s worth, here’s an opinion from an outsider’s (I’m a FSP signer but haven’t moved) point of view.

    A lot of what I’ve seen that is causing such negative reaction, and is subject of the original post, reminds me of when my kids do that “I’m not touching you” thing just to get the other one riled up. It doesn’t really accomplish anything except generating a reaction from the one being taunted. More importantly, for anyone else watching, it doesn’t elicit any support for their cause…and it’s childish. I know this isn’t a completely valid analogy, because in your case the state is the real instigator but it has that appearance to everyone except the ones doing that type of activism.

    The only way to make this experiment successful is to win the hearts and minds of those around you; you need the popular support to affect any real change. If you are perceived as a group of childish dissidents poking a bear with a stick and then acting surprised when you get mauled, you lose credibility and nobody will be persuaded to your side.

    I’m not saying don’t do civil disobedience, I’m just saying be more selective about the type of activism that you do. Look for the things that will garner you more support. One that jumps to mind was when Sam disobeyed the ridiculous camera ban in the court building. That was a huge success; it got national press coverage and made you look like the heroes, not the other way around.

    As early movers, you all have my (and a lot of others) respect and admiration, but you also have a big responsibility. Look at your successes and look for ways to repeat them, and learn from your not so successful attempts and try to avoid those that failed. You have a lot of people counting on you to lay the foundation for a successful transformation to a free state, don’t let us down.

  25. @david – I don't know all your names. 🙂


    COPYRIGHT 2010 by Sam A. Robrin or whoever the hell it is who writes these things. Go ahead and use it, but if you make a little money on it, I want some!

    Free State freedom activists look pompously askance

    At anyone suggesting planning projects in advance.

    Protests limp along not with a bang, but with the whimp’r of

    A group of high school kids making impromptu tries at improv.

    Headaches, itching, nosebleeds, palpitations, sweats, and trembling

    Are side effects of any course of action but assembling

    Slapdashedly together at the last remaining minute.

    It’s messy, muddled madness with no trace of method in it.

    Many activists are known to faint or throw up

    At the proffer of polite entreaties to show up.

    One fact’s irrefutable from careful observation:

    This organization is in disorganization!

    Freedom-lovers focus on life’s joys and how to get them –

    Not in crafting tactics to persuade the State to let them.

    Dealing with the State’s inane — sane folks don’t manage well with it,

    The rational reaction is to simply say the hell with it.

    Running through the Project is a much-debated schism:

    Can cooperation coexist with individualism?

    The proof of all this putting-down is evidenced in that all

    Our goals are not achieved efficiently — if at all.

    “Organized” has earned itself a blot over time –

    Look at organized religion, labor, or crime.

    Regardless of the word’s haphazard application,

    This organization is in disorganization!

    When the planning procedure proves positively to be a little rickety,

    The slightest critique or suggestion is perceived as too persnickety.

    No matter the merit or clear intent, the speaker’s dunned for an apology

    For willfully trying to force on the group such an outlandish methodology.

    The attitude here is that activism’s entirely up to you:

    Do it yourself — including the stuff we told you we would do.

    When unrehearsed events go Flop!, we say, “Oh what a shame,”

    And slam the organizer with a metric ton of blame.


    FCC, BATF, and USDA,


    DOD or -J or -E or -L, -S, -I, -C,



    Bureaus, agencies, police departments, and courts –

    The competition has organization, of sorts!

    As that (very small) sampling above indicates,

    Our planning doesn’t measure up to that of the State’s.

    One thing we must clean up before we sweep the nation:

    The disorganization that’s in this organization!

    Those who want to prove me wrong will have a terrific chance to do so this weekend. I’ll be very disappointed if they don’t disappoint me!

  26. Thank you, Frenis, I couldn't have said it better myself!

  27. WHAT!?

  28. Thanks, "Frenis McSovereign", but I'da' liked it better if you'd picked up on some of the more substantive comments I made in that post…You mean as in Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon, right? Showin' yer age, old timer! ….////….We can't always predict the effects of any of our actions, when other people are concerned. *THAT* is what makes any activism valuable. We do what we do, because either we need to do it, or because it needs to be done. *NOT* because we think we can predict & cause any particular change of mind. "Winning hearts and minds" is the essence of U.S. Military strategy in Iraq & Afghanistan. How's that "pacification" thingy workin' out fer ya???…If (some)activists are not "free" to engage in an act of activism, because of dis-approval from within the "movement", then just how "free" are we? Being trapped by the thought of others' disapproval, is still *TRAPPED*…Are we in fact building cages in the mind, when we….???……//////…..*BE*VERY*FUCKING*CAREFUL*, "ngdgt"…the next prison door we break open, just could be *YOURS*!…….~tKoK.

  29. *RELAAAAAAAAAAAAA-X*, "david in keene"…it's only words…

  30. I'm relaxed.
    very much so. 🙂
    Its easy to be misconstrued in here

  31. Dagobah. Kewl. Thanks, troll!…~tKoK.////Ajax Edit Comments to the rescue! I posted that over 2 hours ago, I can *STILL* edit it???WTF???

  32. Lpviper-

    If you really want to interpret it that way, then I’m telling some activists to shut up– but only when they’re hurting their own cause. That sounds reasonable to me.

    So if the topless celebrations had never happened, we would be in really bad shape today? I don’t see how you could believe that.


    What I am saying is, you aren't building any bridges here, and people who are supposedly free people and are living free are all on the side of liberty. Instead of harping on how their actions may be offensive according to current accepted social norms (which, may I add, are heavily influenced by the government and their indoctrination system), we should be respecting their harmless personal choices. That's what liberty is, and as I often say, it's for everyone, not just you.

    To do anything less starts the liberty movement down the same slippery slope that the rest of society is already sliding down.


  33. Criticism isn't aggression.

  34. I never said it was. Speak to my point, not to a buzzword that was never used

  35. My "relaaaaaax" was only 1/2 serious. And yes, david, it is too easy to be mis-construed here, or anywhere!…Lord, don't I know *THAT*!…~tKoK.

  36. "What did you expect, Stone? A miraculous reduction in the state in three years?"

    Ian, I didn't know what to expect since I'm not a professional activist and had never participated in any activism before. However, it's now quite clear to me why you actively promoted "attention grabbing" civil disobedience events, especially when you derive your income from advertising in media that contains this "content". Your rhetorical questions even show that you didn't expect much from the events (in terms of advancing liberty) at the cost of burning out the "activist" assuming the risk and further alienating "liberty people" in this state. It looks like a conflict of interest to me.

    "Have you seen that happening in the other areas where there is a higher concentration of political activists? I sure haven’t. Yes, there have been some political success this year, and that is great news, but clearly these changes take time, regardless of how people choose to go about them."

    Yes, they're creating opportunities for people in the agorist sense, not persuading them to jump into the meat grinder. The former, is a sustainable form of activism, the later, will produce burnouts and money for you.

  37. @stone,
    you make stuff sound evil.
    you said quote
    "Yes, they’re creating opportunities for people in the agorist sense, not persuading them to jump into the meat grinder. The former, is a sustainable form of activism, the later, will produce burnouts and money for you."
    you put such a negative and horrible spin on it.
    Do you really think Ian is all about putting people in a "meat grinder" to line his pockets?
    I think that is a horrible accusation.
    People are trying to change the world for the better and you twist it into ugliness

  38. @Stone — I have been involved in two activism flurries where an initial rush of energy dissipates as the "activists" get on with the business of living. I agree that there is "burnout", but in my experience, folks can "refuel" after some time off.

  39. Stone,

    You nailed it..Its nice to hear someone who has moved recognize that. This IS how Ian makes his money. Yes Ian, there is something wrong with being a for profit freedom fighter. He is the first person to evoke the memories of MLK Ghandi and Rossa Parks, but I don't seem to remember them having a merch Table and folding the moment things with the authorities got to real for them. Why he isn't seen for the huckster that he is, is really an insight into the gullibility of this web sites core base. If I subscribed to the prevailing ideologies popular among FSP movers, Ians profit motives and publicity stunts would actually piss me off..He is turning a philosophy into Professional wrestling, promoting it and making his buck…It couldn't be any clearer..

    I can see why he is quick to refute you….He can't afford to have movers walk in and see his little circus for what it is..Ian won't get out there any more…The truth is, his economic model is based on young, broke, gullible, possibly unstable(Sam, Heikka and anarcho Jesse spring to mind) people who will do stupid shit and provoke police. People who can just go and get fucked up every day at 4:20 for instance, so he can yell into a megaphone and feel good about himself..So sad…Hes the Maury Povitch of the Liberty movement..(see the south park take on MP to clarify that point.)

    ..Freedom is't free, but we have some easy ways to donate if you want to really want to promote liberty…become a gold member!!! I have more respect for the fuckers who sell 9/11 comemerative plates on the home shopping network.

  40. Wow, what a hate filled bastard you are. How awful that people make money to buy homes and groceries and eat, around here.

    It's not a real liberty movement unless everybody starves and refuses to take a dollar for anything they do, right?

    You're an even bigger jackass than not dark yet is. Go lay down

  41. ..Freedom is’t free, but we have some easy ways to donate if you want to really want to promote liberty…become a gold member!!! I have more respect for the fuckers who sell 9/11 comemerative plates on the home shopping network.

    <———-UM, "Name_Required", can you please clarify exactly what you mean here???…"Become a gold member of *WHAT*???…Respect the fuckers selling statist crap on TV???…WTF???…On 9/11/2001, America got what she asked for, and got what she deserved. As tragic as the loss of a couple buildings, and only 3,000 lives, it's not like the "terrorists" (in suits & ties) blew up 50,000, or 100,000 people at an NFL game or NASCAR race!…They hit the 2 symbols of what's *WRONG* with America. Too much concentated *MONEY*&*POWER*…They didn't attack *ME* on 9/11!!!…(The "RICH" represent a hoarding, and thus, a stagnation of the money supply. It is the *RICH*, and only the *RICH*, which cause *ALL* our economic troubles. The *POOR* will *NEVER* have enough $$$$ to seriously affect the economy…So, what *DO*YOU*mean, "Name_Required"???…~tKoK.

  42. And, LPviper, a few weeks ago, a story came out here, with links, claiming "FREEKEENE", and *IAN*(yes, that Ian…)are funded through various "front groups", by the Koch brothers…Maybe the roaring silence is tacit denial of that untruth…Or, more likely, tacit assent to that *TRUTH*…which do *YOU* think it is???…Is Ian funded by rabid-right-wing-ideologues, or not???…We deserve a TRUTHFUIL ANSWER!…~tKoK.

  43. I have no idea. Ian? And please stick with yes or no, none of that 'Where's my check' crap that Mark likes to pull

  44. @tKoK -Yikes. Did you find a mouse turd in your oatmeal this morning?

    I think this generation will find out the truth about 9/11 about the same time I find out the truth about the JFK assassination, but that said, yes, we do meddle in places we should not and karma is a bitch.

    Would you guys think less of the Free State Movement if you found out it wasn’t really “grass roots” but a McMovement and was a ploy for super rich people to avoid taxes? That they held you wage slaves, you “little people” in contempt? Ever hear the term “useful idiots”? Eat the rich, they taste like chicken. Don’t be a Koch sucker!


  45. No, rich people have all sorts of ways to avoid taxes, and they use them. I doubt if Free Talk Live or FreeKeene would ever be seen by the Koch brothers as a way to get out of paying anything to anyone. Makes no sense. What's the endgame? Where is the benefit that the Kochs are receiving? They are beltway libertarians who wouldn't know voluntarism if somebody labelled it and slapped em upside the head with it. They bankroll fake libertarian establishments like Cato and Reason and routinely jeer and leer at real liberty folk like Lew Rockwell. It seems to me that an accusation needs to be feasible before it is given any truck, and this one is out there…

  46. I haven't gone back and re-looked at the info, or the post, but some "troll" did post links to stories at various reputable websites about Koch brothers funding of "FREEKEENE", and other groups. Even "Liberty on Tour" was "outed"…I'm only saying I saw credible reports. Not saying I know, or care, one way or the other. "FREEKEEE" is what it is, and Ian is who he is, regardless of funding source. I love freedom. I live on Social Security Disability. Fuck the city/county/state, but I'm ok w/the FEDGOV. You say I'm a "hypocrit", or a "statist", or whatever? So what? Fuck-you. The world is full of contradictions. I'm no exception. So what? As for 9/11, I knew, on 9/11, that the media was spouting bullshit. I don't claim to know who did exactly what on 9/11, only that the official story is at best a whitewash & cover-up. Can I be more clear? I agree, the American people will probably never know the truth of what happened on 9/11. Same as the Kennedy assassination. Same as who funds "freekeene"…But, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be asking…~tKoK.

  47. Whoa, King, easy now… starting to sound like Angry Viper…

  48. Googled "free state project koch" and got a quarter million results but you know the echo chamber that is the interweb.

  49. King-

    The only allegations I've seen (that have any relation to reality) are that some money from the Koch brothers goes to fund the Mercatus Center, which gave money to Jason Sorens while he was working on Free State Project stuff.

    I think it says a lot for the movement's integrity that you have to go this many steps out to find a potential financial motivation. Compare this to, say, the Democratic party, which just takes money straight from unions.

    No one ever has to do a lot of research to finally say that, "oh, well, Thomas Jefferson, when he started the Democratic party, he got some money from a university, and one of the donors to that university would actually GAIN from Democratic policies. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS A LIE!!1!"

    So the convoluted arguments people have to resort to, ironically, are evidence of how purely ideological, and not corrupt, this movement is.

  50. I forgive you, Skeptikos (almost)

    Great comment!

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