New York Times FRONT PAGE Story on Free Keene, Robin Hood, FSP!

the-new-york-times[1]Thanks to columnist Dan Barry for taking an interest in the goings-on here in Keene and also thanks to the editors for making it a FRONT PAGE story! His piece was published today in the New York Times and focuses on Robin Hooding, the Free State Project and the haters. Here’s the story:

KEENE, N.H. — In most places, the parking enforcement officer reflects the municipal compact. Armed only with a gadget that can spit out a ticket at the forgotten drop of a dime, the officer quietly serves civic and commercial life by ensuring that meters are fed.

In most places, yes. But not here in charming Keene, where parking officers figure in a philosophical tug of war between a small band of activists who live by the motto “Free Keene,” and the great majority of residents who were unaware that their city was in bondage.

Keene’s two parking officers, both women, are often videotaped by young adults known as “Robin Hooders.” They track the whereabouts of the officers by two-way radio, feed expired meters before $5 tickets can be written, and leave a business card saying that “we saved you from the king’s tariff.”

Welcome to Sherwood Forest, N.H., where these acts of charity have led to some donations and gratitude, but also to sidewalk tensions, harassment allegations and litigation. They are part of a broader effort by about two-dozen activists, most of them from someplace else, to unshackle Keene from the “violent monopoly” of government and its enforcers, including these parking officers who work in weather fair and foul.

The mundane matter of parking has become so contentious that a third parking officer, an ex-soldier who served in Iraq, quit last year because, he says, he could no longer take the close-up videotaping and the taunts that “I had condoned the droning of brown babies.” So contentious that the mayor, the city manager, and the city attorney all declined even to say hello to me.

But some local residents are speaking out in their stead by challenging the activists through a Facebook page with the unwieldy name of “Stop Free Keene!!!” One of its organizers, Andrea Parkhurst Whitcomb, is asking the relative newcomers a fundamental question:

“Who asked you to come free us?”

The activists selected this New England-cute city of 24,000 for liberation mostly because it lies within that flinty bastion of Yankee individualism known as New Hampshire, where “Live Free or Die” is carved into the collective granite.

Back in 2003, a libertarian-leaning group called the Free State Project decided that this small state could be a liberty lover’s paradise if enough like-minded people settled here. (The movement, by the way, tends to attract white males, according to Carla Gericke, the group’s president, a white South African who has lived for many years in this country. “I’m the token African-American,” she joked.)

A dozen years in, the Free State Project is about three-quarters of the way toward achieving its goal of having 20,000 people commit to relocating to the state, after which it will “trigger the move.” The project has already influenced the statewide conversation at times — partly because of “early movers” like Ian Freeman, a Floridian who bought an old white duplex on Leverett Street several years ago and quickly set out to push local buttons.

There have been marijuana gatherings in the central square. Make-believe drinking of alcohol at City Council meetings. Leafleting outside public schools. And many video-recorded encounters in which the activists are the earnest heroes of their own narratives, holding accountable the employees of a government they do not generally recognize.

In one notorious instance, a grandmotherly crossing guard smacked at their camera with her stop-sign placard.

The gangly Mr. Freeman, born Ian Bernard, drives an auctioned-off police car with Wisconsin plates, hasn’t paid federal taxes for a decade, and has donated his house to the recently established Shire Free Church, which is now seeking tax-exempt status. From this “parsonage,” he broadcasts his nationwide “Free Talk Live” radio show several nights a week.

Mr. Freeman, 33, has been repeatedly arrested, and once served 58 days in jail for disorderly conduct after standing in front of a police car to protest a woman’s arrest because she had an open can of beer. He is guided, he says, by his “voluntarist” belief that “all human interaction should be consensual,” which might surprise the human parking officers who do not consent to being followed or videotaped.

This shadowing of parking enforcement officers has received the most publicity by far. Videotapes show the officers being dogged by activists who sometimes goad with pleasantries like: “How do you live with yourself?”

After the officers complained about skyrocketing stress last year, the situation became even more surreal, with Keene hiring a private investigator to follow and videotape the activists following and videotaping the parking enforcers. The city then filed a legal complaint against several activists, including Mr. Freeman, accusing them of harassment and seeking a buffer zone between activist and parking officer.

“They would try to make comments to bait me about my faith, about my military status,” Alan Givetz, the ex-soldier, recalled recently. He said that he tried being nice, then oblivious, then angry, but to no avail.

Finally, Mr. Givetz, who served 22 months in Iraq as a military police officer, quit his job handing out parking tickets. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said. “I didn’t see an end in sight.”

Mr. Freeman denied that he and his colleagues have harassed anyone. But he noted that enduring verbal and mental abuse is part of the officers’ job description. “If it’s too stressful,” he said, “maybe it’s not the right job for you.”

James Cleaveland, an accountant who helped to popularize Robin Hooding in Keene, sounded like a dental surgeon when he said that as he videotapes the officers, “I try to make it as comfortable as I can.” Still, he said, “My ultimate mission is to prevent the state from getting involved in other people’s lives.”

But there are reasons “the state” uses parking meters, tickets and even tow trucks, according to Gary Lamoureux, Keene’s project manager for parking and the only city official to comment. “It’s to have turnover for the business owners in the downtown area,” he said. In other words, to support the marketplace.

In December, a Cheshire County Superior Court judge cited free-speech protections in dismissing the city’s complaint, as well as its request to be reimbursed for costs that included therapy sessions for the officers. The activists celebrated a victory in the courts they disdain; the city appealed.

Mr. Freeman said that some in the larger Free State Project disapproved of his tactics, believing that they might alienate New Hampshire residents before the group has made clear its purpose. But he has no remorse, he said. “We’ve brought millions of dollars of press coverage.”

Ms. Gericke, the project’s president, said that “we want to be good, productive neighbors” who “don’t want to poison the well.” But she added that Robin Hooding in Keene is evolving, and has become a great means of outreach.

“Freedom is messy,” she said.

Mr. Freeman’s movement has inspired many to take up activism — against him. The Stop Free Keene!!! Facebook page has seen a recent spike in membership, to more than 850, and its organizers have begun handing out anti-Free Keene leaflets that accuse the “antigovernment” activists of “attempting to infiltrate OUR beautiful community.”

Ms. Whitcomb and others, including Mr. Givetz, the former parking enforcement officer, gathered last month at McCue’s billiards and sports lounge, where the Free Keeners also socialize, to vent about the divisiveness.

“It’s not comfortable anymore,” Tammy Adams, a registered nurse and beekeeper, said. “Everyone’s on edge.”

But the imperfect municipal compact of Keene has been around since 1753. Things have a way of sorting themselves out.

Recently Mr. Freeman publicly “demoted” a Robin Hooder for being a bit too belligerent. A local man is facing charges that he chased and threatened a couple of Robin Hooders. And city officials are exploring a plan to raise the cost of parking in the Shire of Keene, to 50 cents an hour.

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64 Comments

  1. A) Requiring brick instead of stucco would be an example of the sort of issue I’m discussing, so your admission that such codes exist is, in and of itself, a concession of my point.

    B) When a municipality unilaterally declares that a building is part of a “historical district” or somesuch and demands that the owners adhere to some rule as to appearance that, again, demonstrates my point. So, you have now twice conceded it.

    C) You have totally ignored the /content/ of the discussion. I could replace “[d]o not paint your house yellow” with any number of other examples, and the content would remain the same. You’ve already admitted that such other examples exist, so let’s move on, shall we?

    You claimed that I’ve argued that there should be no laws. I clearly stated that such claim was false, defined the standard of which laws I consider acceptable, and which I do not. So, do you now admit that I believe certain laws should exist? If not, then please explain your reasoning for how my statement that “____ is a just law” does not indicate that I believe that laws should exist.

  2. Yes, that’s violence. You’ve admitted that he would have attacked me and forced me off the road if I did not comply. Or opened fire on my vehicle. In either case potentially as much as killing me and my children.

    And no, I was not using that as the ultimate possible example of police violence. But you apparently believe there’s an acceptable level of child molestation, right? So, your standards are not really realistic. “Someone else has had it worse, so you don’t get to complain” would apply to your situation, as well. Plenty of folks have been flat-out murdered by cops who apparently just wanted a sick thrill, so how dare you complain about a mere broken nose, right?

    For the record, I’ve been dragged from a vehicle at gunpoint by a psychotic cop who tampered with evidence to try and get me tossed in prison for the better part of a decade. Fortunately, we found some of the evidence that they attempted to hide, and got the charges dropped, two days before trial. Of course, none of the dozen or so cops and prosecutors who participated ever faced any sort of discipline as a result, despite the fact that each committed multiple felonies in the process. Luckily for me, I already knew that cops were corrupt scumbags before that happened, so I did not have any illusions shattered.

  3. No, that’s not violence. Getting your nose broken is violence. Police don’t routinely pull people over for traffic violations by running them off the road. They run people off the road during high speed chases of criminal suspects. You said “a cop pulled me over a while back,” how on God’s green earth can you consider that violent unless you are an hysterical, little bitch with a persecution complex who is desperately looking to be violated.

    I wasn’t saying people don’t have the right to complain about bad cops simply because someone else might have had it worse. I was DEFINING VIOLENCE to someone who apparently wants to stretch that definition so that he can feel butt-hurt about the big, bad government. Oh, poor baby got railroaded by a cowardly pig. Join the fucking club. As you yourself even said, it’s no great revelation that a lot of cops are corrupt bullies. Like I said earlier, this has more to do with human nature and how it shapes our bureaucracies than it does with the general concept of people empowered by the State to keep the peace.

    I am perfect example of someone who should be hostile to all cops, yet I’ve had plenty of dealings with decent ones and even been helped by cops in the past. So, I don’t run around being a whiny bitch about “living in a totalitarian police state where violence is being done to me” because I recognize that it takes all kinds, and that there are benefits and drawbacks to almost everything anyone does whether it’s a government agency or a private citizen.

    That’s why YOU NEED RULES to control it all.

  4. I don’t concede anything. You’re such a narcissistic little POS. This is exactly what I was getting at about Libertarians. You’re like a bunch of toddlers having a temper tantrum because you can’t do whatever the fuck you personally want to do.

    What if the vast majority of people around you agree that, yes, we should have some rules about how houses on the historic register are maintained? Are those laws still unacceptable?

    To who? You?

    And what gives to the idea that anyone gives a flying fuck about your opinion. You are one individual in a society of over 300 million individuals.

    The point remains, with the exception of building codes that are developed to ensure structural safety or historical value, and the exception of private housing councils or condo boards, the big bad government can’t tell you what color to paint your house.

    Your paranoid little Libertarian wet dream is a pile of horse shit.

  5. I didn’t /ask/ you if you wanted to concede the points. I /stated/ that you /did/ concede them.

    The patently-childish attempt to focus on only a single issue just demonstrates the utter bankruptcy of your entire argument. All you can do is whine about paint colors, while ignoring the fact that your whole “libertarians don’t want there to be any laws” argument was utterly destroyed. Libertarians want there to be laws which actually protect individuals from being harmed by other individuals or groups.

  6. Threatening violence is, in and of itself, a violent act.

    If not, then you are arguing that muggers, for example, are not violent criminals. Yelling, “give me your wallet or I’ll stab you” is an act of violence, even if the victim gives you his wallet and you, therefore, don’t actually stab him.

    But, in your delusional world, I guess muggers are non-violent?

  7. ” ‘Do not paint your house yellow’ is not a just law.”

    Your words not mine. You’re the one who brought up the ridiculous example of colors of houses, and the fact remains that aside from the incredibly tiny number of buildings that are on the historical register, the government DOES NOT TELL people what color to pain their houses. You’re the one who chose that stupid example and now you want to try to disown it trying to push it back on me?

    No dice, dipshit.

    From what I can tell by your dumb examples and the subject of this article, Libertarians want there to be laws, but only the ones that they like and ones that benefit them. Fuck everybody else.

    I can’t think of a more childish, unrealistic way of looking at how to live amongst other people.

    I’m done wasting my time responding to your insipid dreck

  8. (sigh)

    That’s a threat of violence. A mugging without violence is just that, a mugging. With violence it is an assault.

    Can you really be this stupid?

  9. But you’ve admitted that they /do/, in some cases, have laws telling someone what color they can and cannot paint their houses. So, it /is/ a valid example.

    I’m just “pushing back on you” your own ridiculous claim that libertarians oppose all laws.

    And no, we don’t only want laws that we like. I am absolutely disgusted by abortion, but I am adamantly pro-life, because a woman’s right to control her own body does not end just because I disapprove of her choices. Libertarians are pretty much unique among political groups in that we don’t just support the laws that help us, but also laws that don’t matter to us, or of which we actually disapprove. Libertarianism is based upon concrete principles, which libertarians respect even to their own detriment, as opposed to liberalism and conservativism, which are based upon entirely-selfish motives in which every participant supports only those things of which he, personally, approves.

  10. So, are you are are you not claiming that mugging is non-violent?

    Can /you/ really be stupid enough to claim that threatening violence is a non-violent act?

  11. If, in a city with a thousand available houses, 2 are being preserved for historical purposes, you have 998 more houses to choose from in which you are not required to maintain their historical value. You are not being forced or coerced to buy the houses on the list which need to be maintained that way. You are entering into a contract at that time of your own free will. The only way this would be a valid example would be if you had no other choice in the matter of purchasing said house in the first place.

    As for the issues of laws regarding building materials and whatnot, these laws are for our own safety. The average joe doesn’t realize that building a house with the wrong materials, in the wrong climate, can cause their home to collapse upon them. That is why we entrust experts in that field to determine the codes which we abide by for our own good. Additionally, in some cases and climates, using the wrong materials can not only mean the destruction of your personal property, but the property surrounding yours, in which case your intentional negligence puts the community at risk.

    If libertarians are so pro-common good, why is it that many libertarians have said they approved of slavery, institutional racism, employee abuse, the rape of children, etc? You’re speaking about a lot of people when you try to absolve them all of their disgusting politics. You might want to get on the same page.

  12. If folks chose to donate their buildings to historical preservation, and then had restrictions placed upon them, that would be one thing. But in many cases, such restrictions are enacted /after/ someone owns a building, against the owner’s wishes. Heck, in Texas (just for a particular sick example), a private homeowners association can be formed by some homeowners, who can then petition the government to force the other homeowners to join. Not something you knowingly chose; you owned your house for decades, and now you’re forced by law to join a private HoA, pay dues, and follow their edicts.

    Some codes do, indeed, relate to safety. Insurance companies would demand that sort of thing, even if the government did not. Even now, there are many things you can do which technically meet code, but which will result in an ininsurable property. A lot of codes have nothing to do with safety, though – and most were written by legislators, not experts. I frequently run into codes that are so poorly-worded that they are literally meaningless, or actually impossible to follow because they contradict other codes, or require the use of products which do not actually exist, or such.

    And then there are the codes which were created solely to benefit some particular group. A city might have a code requiring that, if a plumber does enough work that more than half of the piping in a building is replaced, the rest must also be replaced. That city might have created that code at the height of the housing bubble, when folks were spending money like crazy, to ensure that the plumbers who lobbied for it would get extra-large jobs – who cares if a $2000 job became a $6000 job, rght? Then, when the bubble burst and the equity loans were no longer available, folks can no longer do the /necessary/ (to health and safety) $2000 job, because they can’t scrape up the $6000 that job now costs.

    Your last paragraph makes no sense. Libertarians are opposed to all historical and modern forms of slavery, oppose institutional /anything/ (racism included), oppose abuse of anyone, whether an employee or otherwise, and obviously oppose all forms of rape, since rape is quite obviously an initiation of force. Literally everything you just said was a complete lie.

  13. Bob – you’re a moron. You might want to make an adjustment to the aluminum foil hat you’re wearing: the signals could be getting garbled.

  14. The basis of an organized society and maintaining freedoms are laws and a system of justice. If you can’t grasp that, then you don’t understand the most basic details of civics. Run along, you idiot.

  15. Ah, but I /do/ understand that. However, because /some/ laws can be the basis for a just society, does not mean that /all/ laws are automatically such. Slavery used to be legal, but that was not just, for example. Apparently, you cannot grasp a simple concept like that…

  16. Yes, slavery was legal, and then our elected representatives changed that. That’s the problem with people like you and the FreeKeene douchebags: you all pick and choose which laws you will abide by – and that’s not how it works. If you want laws changed, then get your elected representatives to help do so. If the majority agrees with you, then change will happen. If not, then tough luck for you – that’s the way it works.

    You all act like spoiled children who were toilet training much too early in life and/or didn’t get enough attention growing up.

  17. Keene should have replaced their parking meters with true electronic ones to begin with. In Seattle, a activist group like this could not exist because a ticket (which shows your alloted time that you paid for) must be placed INSIDE your window on the driver side. A kind soul can’t pay for your parking because they would need to place the ticket INSIDE your window.

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