On May 24 2017 I attended, “Exposing the Free State Project,” 90 minutes of slander and lies by Zandra Rice Hawkins. Hawkins is a propagandist with Granite State Progress, a political arm of the New Hampshire Democrats. She apparently missed her calling as a preacher of the fire and brimstone variety, given the fear, mistrust, and terror she attempted to sow throughout the crowd. In the end, attendees seemed rightfully doubtful of Hawkins’ spurious claims that Free Staters are wolves in sheep’s clothing, secretly plotting to dismantle every beloved societal institution they can. Instead, Free Staters were seen as open, willing to engage others on the issues that matter most to them, and find common ground where possible to make a better life for everyone.
The event was advertised as “free and open to the public.” In case you missed it, a generous attendee provided me with a 90-minute audio recording:
The event was broken into two parts. First, a lecture with slides giving some background about the FSP and its participants (not “members”). Following the lecture there was a brief period for announcements, and then a 45-minute question and answer session. FSP participants were invited to rise and introduce themselves so that the community may know who they are. About 10 rose to introduce themselves. I recognized about 10 more that did not. At the conclusion, many people stayed around to have conversations.
The event was a huge win for the FSP and its participants. The democrats saw the speaker’s lies exposed firsthand when perfectly normal, well-dressed, and articulate people stood confidently and addressed them as neighbors ready and willing to engage about the important issues facing the community: health care, abortion, money and corruption in politics, as well as the old standards of roads and police.
The central platform of the talk was dismantled swiftly. The whole presentation centered around one fear-mongering goal: convince the audience that the FSP was about secession. In the end, the speaker admitted that the FSP pledge doesn’t mention secession, and that none of the elected participants endorse the idea. Womp! In the end, the audience rightly seemed to turn against the speaker for doing exactly what she claimed the Free Staters do: intentionally mislead people.
Zandra said that “Granite State Progress” started following the Free State Project in 2008 because they saw people fighting tax increases and wondered how there could be such a concerted effort to resist increased taxation. It turns out the volunteer activists were early movers for the Free State Project.
She characterizes the FSP as an idea to move 20,000 libertarians to a state “with the stated purpose to take over state government and dismantle it.” Where is this stated, you ask? In fact, is isn’t in the statement of intent that participants sign. Zandra made this up to scare her audience and spur them into helping the democrats gain more political power. It worked. The whole room gasps audibly at the word “secession.” Apparently a lifetime of propaganda has made having bad housemates more palatable than having bad neighbors. Why are establishment democrats fighting to maintain political union with Free Staters?
Around 75-100 people were in attendance. Here are some of the slides Hawkins used during her presentation. Note that the nowhere in the Statement of Intent is the word “secession” used, nor is the idea of “taking over the state and dismantling it.” Instead, it aims for the “creation of a society” and “the protection of … life, liberty, and property.”
Hawkins explains that early movers help new movers find jobs, places to live, and even have a ritual of showing up in the dozens to help people move into their new homes — sometimes in under 1 hour! She explains that is a part of building a social connection and insinuates that it is somehow nefarious and done for some ulterior motive. In reality, it is about people celebrating and welcoming newcomers to a community of people who, like them, once felt isolated and alone for their strongly held affinity for living free and independently.
Another evil endeavor masquerading as a social good is the Lakes Region Porcupines food drive, Hawkins explains. She says that this is something the porcupines do in order to gain credibility and trust from the community, insinuating that this act of charity, too, is done with an ulterior motive. In fact, many “porcupines” (FSP participants) enjoy being charitable because 1) it makes them feel good inside, and 2) it reminds people how communities can look out for each other without “the state” acting as middlemen. Of course, the state takes a cut when providing for the needy. Direct charity by individuals is far more efficient because there is no middleman.
Hawkins then goes on to inaccurately associate organizations such as CopBlock, FreeKeene, and the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance as arms of the Free State Project. They are not. Credit where due, though: she is correct that PorcFest and Liberty Forum are officially FSP events. Their websites are clear about that. But the other organizations are founded by people who love freedom and have no ties whatsoever to the FSP. FSP President Matt Philips even publicly denounced FreeKeene in a blogpost to the FSP website last year in an attempt to separate the organization from the hardcore liberty activists in Keene. Obviously, that didn’t work. People like Hawkins are still falsely connecting the two.
To clarify, FreeKeene is a popular blog. It has 20 authors from across the Shire and some from afar. All of them are named and pictured on their website. Its “About” page describes the site as “link to news about liberty activism focused mostly on the Keene area, (but also from around The Shire), opinions, ideas, media, discussion, and most importantly action about how we can end government aggression and replace it with voluntary alternatives, thereby achieving liberty in our lifetime.” No mention of the FSP. Being a mover is not a prerequisite for becoming a blogger at FreeKeene.com, although many (not all) of the bloggers moved to New Hampshire as participants of the Free State Project. Go figure, the people who picked up their lives to move and achieve liberty in our lifetimes are the most active. Many outsiders wrongly associate all activism happening in Keene as being FreeKeene-related or organized by Ian Freeman. These people usually can’t comprehend of decentralized, non-hierarchical groups where anyone is free to create, promote, and host an event. They assume everything that happens in Keene comes from a top-down command-structure beginning with Ian and ending with a non-existent army of minions.
Next, Hawkins makes the claim that CopBlock started in Manchester, New Hampshire. It didn’t. And technically, it doesn’t have a “location” because it is a website. Ademo Freeman and Pete Eyre created the site in 2010 while living in Keene. The co-founders moved there at the conclusion of their “Liberty on Tour” trip across North America. Copblock.org is a decentralized website comprised of thousands of articles about police accountability contributed by hundreds of people across North America. Hawkins says she supports police accountability, but that “we’ve seen reports of them [CopBlock] defecating on cop cars and that sort of thing.” She makes this claim with no supporting evidence, of course. Just take her word for it. A professional political researcher and speaker like Hawkins wouldn’t make up lies in order to vilify and denigrate people with whom she disagrees, would she? Granite State Progress wouldn’t want to be known as an organization that publicly slanders other organizations, would it? Hopefully Hawkins will have the integrity to publicly correct this misstatement and apologize for spreading a falsehood.
She goes on to make the accusation that the so-called “FreeKeene activists” were harassing meter maids in Keene. Another lie. Harassment is a crime, and no one even remotely associated with Free Keene has been charged with it. They call themselves “Robin Hooders,” and they generously donate their time and their nickels to save people from getting parking tickets. The bureaucrats in Keene didn’t like that because they lost out on tens of thousands of dollars per year in expected “revenue” from the tickets. The Robin Hooders were never charged with any crimes, but instead were charged civilly. The bureaucrats spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring private investigators to record the Robin Hooders in action, private high-powered attorneys to take on the case, and paying various court costs to take the issue to District Court (where they lost), Superior Court (where they lost again), and finally State Supreme Court (where they lost a third time). With all of this time and money spent on the Robin Hooders, one thing is certain: if there were a criminal charge the bureaucrats could pin on them, they would have. They never did, because the Robin Hooders never harassed anyone. And all three levels of the state judiciary agreed with the activists.
Hawkins lists more complaints about the activists in Keene: “They get up in people’s faces, they play drinking games at city council, they had signs that say ‘School Sucks’ outside of schools, and were topless in public.” Okay, one at a time. “Getting up on people’s faces” is totally false. On several occasions (all on video), members of the general public have physically threatened the activists in Keene and gotten inches away from their camera lens, and in some cases, touches it. In my case, my camera has been physically removed from my hands twice downtown by Keene natives, and in one case it was destroyed. In at least three different cases, police brought criminal charges against the people attacking videographers. It’s they who get up in our faces, not the other way around. We just want to be left alone. Next: playing drinking games at city council is about making something boring into something fun, not about provoking law enforcers into making arrests. Nobody wants to be arrested, unlike Hawkins claims. She says the activists provoke arrest for things like wearing hats in court in order to gain respect from the other activists. This is not true. We are individuals who demand to remain unmolested, and court bureaucrats and police employees act like bullies who won’t keep their hands to themselves. They’ve even dragged two of my friends away across the floor of a courtroom for refusing to stand for the judge. Some civility. Signs advertising school sucks: School Sucks is a podcast and website promoting self-education for individuals of all ages and is particularly directed to middle and high-schoolers. It makes sense to advertise this free material to students as they leave school for the day so they can discover educational material on their own that is fun for them and helps connect them to a wider community of self-teachers. And finally, topless in public: totally legal in Vermont, baring one’s chest is one gender double standard Democrats are perfectly happy to defend. “Women should not be allowed to bare their breasts in public,” they insist. “If they do, they should be punished.” How progressive! What noble defenders of women’s rights would hurt a woman for walking the earth as she was created?
She introduces the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance under the headline “FSP Political Arm.” This is misleading. The FSP issues no orders and holds no political positions. It is strictly a vehicle for moving libertarians to New Hampshire. That’s it. Once here, many FSP participants choose to get active in politics. Many do not. A large number are even morally opposed to voting. Whatever their level of activity, there is a wide variety of views on all issues. Many members and directors of the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance are FSP participants, true, but that is a natural consequence of political migrants concentrating in New Hampshire. The NHLA was not started by Free Staters. It is the most effective organization for achieving more individual freedom in the state, therefore many political migrants decide to join. To call it a political arm of the FSP is not accurate. In fact, the NHLA rates many Free Stater state representatives poorly for their votes on liberty-enhancing legislation, and many Free Staters criticize the NHLA for pandering to establishment Republicans by refusing to address controversial issues.
Hawkins explains that Granite State Progress created a specific arm called “Free State Project Watch” with the goal of tracking and exposing all participants in the Free State Project who run for public office. She says, “They’ll run for whatever is most advantageous so we have to research all of them. With 400 seats in the state house that means a lot of candidates.” For this effort, I cannot thank her enough. Her organization compiles a list of known Free-Stater candidates, and since Free Staters are extremely likely to be politically active and vote, it helps us save time learning who we can count on to be reliably principled freedom candidates. I can’t possibly know all the FSP participants running for office, so Hawkins’ work is a terrific help. She complains, “One duo of [Free Stater] roommates both ran and flipped a coin to see who would be the Republican and who would be the Democrat.” This concept terrifies Hawkins and the other Democrats. They’re so invested in group-think and “us vs them” mentality that they will continue to be fooled by this simple exploitation of their in-group preferences. Ignorant voters who go to the polls to pull the lever for whatever blue or red candidate is on the ballot will continue to unknowingly elect Free Staters because they can’t be bothered to research the candidates or think outside the left-right paradigm. If the 2016 elections taught us anything, it’s that young voters are totally disenfranchised by political parties, they don’t trust them after what the Democrats did to Bernie Sanders, and they are hungry for candidates with bold new ideas — not more of the same. Free Staters offer fresh new ideas, sound philosophical principles, and consistent policy with no regard for political party alliances.
The thing that seems to scare Hawkins and the Democrat party leaders the most are politically successful Free Staters who run as democrats, or don’t advertise that they moved to New Hampshire as part of the freedom migration. The strong focus on this during the talk hearkened back to the McCarthy days where virtually everyone was a suspected communist. They’re terrified that they’ll discover Free Staters among their fellow democrats — as if there can be no commonality of vision — as if we don’t all want increasing prosperity, good healthcare for our aging parents, safety for our communities, quality education for our children, and clean environments for recreation. They’re also afraid that Free Staters will succeed in seceding from the wise and noble rule of Washington, D.C bureaucrats and their agents.
An announcement period begins at 7:45pm, and the MC for the evening explains that a Q&A will follow shortly after. He opens the floor for any announcements. Mike Nader, a cartoonist who publishes in the New Hampshire Gazette, announces he is selling a paperback book of political cartoons for $15, and that $5 from every sale made during the evening will be donated the Rockingham County Democrats, and he’ll keep the rest. Hawkins announces an upcoming event called NH Progressive Summit, some kind of Democrat conference happening at one of the local colleges.
The Q&A portion of the event begins. I would have liked to see a panel of porcupines answer questions from the audience rather than Hawkins fielding every one, adding her own spin to each response. Hawkins didn’t need to lie to scare her fellow Democrats. The honest answers from Free Staters would have been enough to terrify them, but that opportunity was lost. Instead, the Q&A led to more suspicion that Hawkins was being intentionally misleading in order to besmirch the Free Staters but instead succeeded in discrediting herself. At this point, I will share my notes from the discussion rather than type out verbatim each word spoken by the attendees. The quotes are not exact. They are summaries. To listen to audio of the discussion yourself, you can pick up the recording above at about 1 hour in.
Q: “Tell us about the assault on district court in Keene. I hear they do lots of frightening court stuff.”
A: “The activists there promote Jury Nullification, which is a real thing, but they advocate it not for what it was originally intended, but for small stuff like pot possession. Sometimes they wear a hat in court, which isn’t allowed, to get arrested. That gives them martyrdom status. In other parts of the state, Grafton town meeting was made too long because they would add amendments to cut the budget.”
Q: In a “libertarian utopia,” what happens if someone is murdered?
A: “We joke at Granite State Progress every time it snows. I say, ‘Did you see any Free Staters out plowing the roads?'” (She laughs at her own joke but no one joins her). [The implication, she explains, is that Free Staters don’t have solutions for real-world problems like murderers or snow. She does not offer one of the 10+ Free Staters in attendance to answer.] “The real answer,” Hawkins says, “is they believe in privatizing all services. The free market will bring solutions. One Free Stater State Rep named Elizabeth Edwards said during a discussion about healthcare that Yelp could replace the FDA by giving people reviews on which to base their decisions for a heart surgeon, or some other medical need.” The audience is silent.
Q: “How could they think privatization is the answer when privatization in the US is a growing problem?” (Unanswered)
Q: What would a Free Stater do if they were in an airport using the bathroom, and they saw a guy strapping bombs to his vest. Would he report him to some government agency or say nothing?
A: State Rep Eric Schleien answers, “Yes, of course I would report it.” Just because I would prefer an alternative to the TSA or any other government organization doesn’t mean I will ignore the methods we have in place today. Besides that, airports, like malls, already have their own privately-paid security who are trained to protect the airport while the TSA regularly fails 95% of security tests.
Q: Why did they choose New Hampshire as the destination for their libertarian migration?
A: Because they can get power in legislature.
[A few old women are repeatedly throwing me the stink eye and a nasty grimace, so I calmly look into their eyes and smile until their gaze is averted.]
Q: How have the Free Staters changed the views on gun laws? (I missed the answer to this)
A local Exeter man rises to say most people in FSP would never run for office and that FreeKeene is not representative of the FSP.
Hawkins insists Free Staters running for office is a big problem because they are so effective and they win elections.
Democrat State Rep from Newington Dennis Malloy stands to ask a question. He says he moved to New Hampshire from another state but he thinks that other people shouldn’t do that. He doesn’t like that the Free Staters are coming from other places and running for office in New Hampshire. He says it’s like the Twilight Zone episode “to serve man” where the aliens come not to benefit his new neighbors but to eat them.
A: “FSP participant Elizabeth Edwards, a Democrat, sponsored legislation to legalize prostitution.” (Laurie McCray, the head of the Portsmouth Democrats, gasps audibly.)
Q: Question from audience for Free Stater State Rep Eric Schleien: “Does he support secession?”
A: He says if it were up for a vote, he would vote against secession.
Q: (From Laurie McCray) “Then why did you join FSP?”
A: (From Eric Schleien) “That’s not in the pledge!” Hawkins clarifies that secession isn’t actually in the FSP pledge, as she had insinuated.
Q: “Why do Free Staters drive on the right side of the road?” (This question is ignored, as it was presumably meant to be rhetorical, implying that Free Staters have no regard for following any rules. Obviously, this is silly and is rightly disregarded.)
Q: “Where does US Constitution and the FSP intersect?”
A: (Hawkins) “Free Staters are organized and ideologically driven. They take political power ‘surreptitiously’ without making their votes known. They think all drugs should be legal.”
A man in the back stands to ask:
Q: “So, the FSP pledge says secession, right?”
A: (Hawkins) “The word ‘secession’ is not in the pledge. That comes from a post by Jason Sorens when he proposed the idea of the FSP.”
Q: Local man who self-identifies as a Democrat stands up and calls BS on Hawkins. He says you can’t paint everyone in the FSP with the same brush because they all have different views and goals.
A: Hawkins says she disagrees completely and completely ignores her fellow Democrat’s point.
Q: A Free Stater rose and said: “Jason Sorens didn’t start the project. People did. Jason wasn’t even a mover until recently. All he did was write a senior thesis for Yale that other people decided to enact.”
A: Hawkins calls the man out for not identifying himself at beginning. He responds by imitating Joe McCarthy by saying, “I hold in my hand a list of 50 known members of the communist party who are among us” and says the speaker is pigeon-holing people with labels instead of focusing on the issues. Hawkins is visibly shaken by this.
Q: (From audience) “Does he want to change ‘our’ government?” (Left unanswered)
Hawkins admits she moved from Washington state to New Hampshire for a campaign job 14 years ago.
Q: “How can Free Staters want more things privatized when there’s so much corruption and money in politics?”
A: FSP man stands in response to say the government has been used as a tool of the rich to further enrich themselves.
Q: Man named Lincoln asks about moving to a small state. Says, “They’re here to take over.” He’s very afraid of more getting elected and taking over the state. “We have to resist and we should fear them. It’s OUR state.” The audience applauds.
The event concludes. Most people stay and talk one-on-one in small, spontaneously organized groups until about 9:15p, by which time basically everyone is gone.
In conclusion, Hawkins invented and repeated lies about her neighbors, the Free State Project participants, in order to scare the democrats and whip them up into a frenzy so they will put effort into identifying candidates who are participants and resisting their election to local government. She failed. Instead of anger and passion, Hawkins inspired doubt.