In the 1990s, Libertarians across the United States banded together to form what they called the Free State Project. Their idea was to move enough followers to a state to overpower it at the ballot box, intent to govern with their ideology. They chose New Hampshire.
Once they realized their critical mass of supporters was not going to materialize, they downsized their ambitions and decided to take over a town. They called this the Free Town Project.
They are still trying.
Libertarians Set Sights on Grafton
Land purchase and Internet chat are the talk of the town
by Daniel Barrick
June 13, 2004, 8 am
The Free Town Project is an offshoot of the Free State Project. Members hope to make Grafton a test of their unconventional ideas.
GRAFTON: Strangers don’t have much reason to come to this town of sweeping mountain views and sagging barns. The natives like it that way.
The old Ruggles Mine does attract some tourists each summer. And a few Moonies moved in about ten years ago, but they left after one brutal winter.
But a new challenge may soon break Grafton’s isolation. The Free Town Project, a group of libertarians looking for a laboratory to test its ideas, is targeting Grafton. While none has moved in yet, the self-styled “liberators” are laying the groundwork for their vision.
One project member recently bought 400 acres here and is vague about his plans. Another promises to “overwhelm” town elections and rid Grafton of taxes and public education. Such opinions, while viewed by most residents with a mix of skepticism and amusement, are testing the town’s independent live-and-let-live attitude . . .
The Grafton’s Messy Liberation
The Boston Globe
by B.J. Roche
June 20, 2004
In theory, the Free State Project, the brainchild of political science lecturer Jason Sorens, poses an interesting question: what exactly would happen if a critical mass of small government proponents all moved to one place?
When the group of nearly 6,000 like-minded folks—many highly educated, libertarian-leaning types—decided that place was New Hampshire, Governor Craig Benson welcomed them. But now that a splinter group called the Free Town Project has announced plans to “liberate” the town of Grafton, population 1200, it’s starting to get messy.
Town Doesn’t Welcome Libertarians
From NPR’s All Things Considered, Monday, June 21, 2004
A libertarian group planning to move to tiny Grafton, NH, received a hostile reception from the locals this weekend. The Free Town Project hopes to get two hundred members to move to the town, where they’d vote to privatize roads, eliminate funding for public education, and legalize so-called victimless crimes, New Hampshire Public Radio’s Raquel Dillon reports.
The crowd cheered wildly. Four hundred voices pierced the air, chanting, “Yes, yes, yes.” Clenched fists shot to the sky. Mud-encrusted work boots, delicate ballet flats, plastic Crocs, weathered boat shoes all pounded the floor. The noise was deafening.
Ben Drake stood at the podium in the Texas high school auditorium, with his arms outstretched. He slowly turned his head, scanning the crowd, an inscrutable smile etched on his chiseled face.
He held his arms skyward as he closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the ceiling. The crowd continued to clap wildly and stomp its feet as he stood immobile for an uncomfortable period of time. He knew he had the crowd in his grasp. He always had that power, and he definitely knew how to use it.
Finally, he spoke forcefully into the microphone. “Yes, folks, we did it! We’re going to make this happen! It’ll be a new and better life for all of us. Everyone, go home and pack up. We’re moving forward to a whole new way of living!”
As euphoria swirled around the auditorium, Ben was secretly thrilled that he had just convinced them to follow him. There was no turning back now. They had agreed to come, and he would lead them!
The plan was to move en masse to a small, rural New Hampshire town, where they could live together in a free society, unrestrained by government regulations. They planned to bring their families lock, stock, and barrel to start this new, visionary community. However, as Ben had told them, the best part was that they weren’t going to start from scratch like other idealistic communities before them. Instead they were going to take over an existing town that already had roads, stores, and schools, and they were going to run it according to their beliefs and values. How would they do this? By using the power of the ballot box. The takeover would be accomplished by moving so many colonists to the town that they would be the majority. And majority rules.
Ben put his signature on the final check to purchase several hundred acres of farmland and woods in a quaint New Hampshire town called Grantville and handed it to Bob Gage, the town’s sole attorney.
“Well, congratulations, young fella. You’ve got a really beautiful piece of property. We all love that little farm you just bought. We hope you’ll take good care of it now, because we think the world of our little town.” Attorney Gage stuck out a pudgy hand, and Ben grasped it firmly, smiling with hooded eyes.
“Of course I’ll take good care of it,” Ben said. “I know the value of real estate.” He gave a nod to the lawyer and walked to his silver BMW with the self-assuredness of someone who knew he was about to achieve great success. There was no question that he was going to be successful; he had always accomplished exactly what he had set out to do—or almost. A flicker of doubt, or perhaps fear, crossed his mind, reminding him of at least one potentially colossal failure that he had luckily turned into a lesson that he intended would serve him his whole life.
The terrible incident had happened when he was only a week away from graduating from college. A professor had falsely accused Ben of plagiarism and reported him to the dean. When confronted Ben went into a tirade, swearing and threatening the dean and telling him to take his degree and shove it. Ben finally did get his degree after being exonerated, but the dean warned him that his out-of-control anger almost got him expelled. Realizing how close he had come to blowing his future due to his unrestrained rage, he vowed he would never let emotion get the better of him. Never ever. Lesson learned.
Before opening the car door, he paused to make a phone call, leaving a curt message. “We own it. It’s all ours. They can all come now.”
The colony was underway.
Come they did. To a tranquil town of antique Capes and Victorian houses nestled in a valley in the foothills of the White Mountains. Grantville was the type of town where time had stood still. The same ebb and flow of life through New England’s four seasons had gone on for two-hundred and fifty years with little change. The influx of skiers to New Hampshire, the biggest change since the now-defunct mills of the industrial age, had not impacted Grantville, since the village was off the main roads, and only had one centuries-old inn and a few eating establishments. The people who lived there, numbering around eight hundred, had for the most part, lived there for generations.
To get to Grantville, a visitor would have to drive on twisting back roads through forests and dairy farms. Cows dotted the foothills and corn, the feedstock for the cattle, was planted on the flatland. The sad plight of the dairy farms was apparent as the farmhouses often badly needed a coat of paint, and the barns looked like they were held together with hope and a prayer. The roofs were full of holes and barnboards missing from the walls. Rusty tractors and farm tools were often scattered around the barns.
Eventually the visitor would reach the center of Grantville, with its cluster of antique white houses surrounding the town common, and the picturesque, austere Unitarian church with its tall steeple sitting right in the middle. A duck pond next to the church, popular for ice skating or picnicking, was a favorite artists’ haunt. Several mom and pop stores, mostly gift and clothing shops, plus a few eating establishments like the Red Rooster Café, were a stone’s throw from the common. With a grocery store and the hardware store a little further down the road, the residents felt they had the basics to get by.
Because of Grantville’s tiny population and its remoteness from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Ben thought this would be a perfect place to build his colony. However, hands down the reason Grantville was so appealing to Ben was that the town had an amazing amount of land - plenty of room to build a burgeoning colony at a very reasonable price.
Thanks to an amazingly generous benefactor, Ben was able to pay cash for the three hundred-acre dairy farm that was on the outskirts of town. It was perfectly situated to be far away from the prying eyes of the Grantville residents, yet close enough to be able to get supplies.
So, with the handshake from Attorney Gage, he officially owned the farm and construction could begin!
Just as he and a few trusted advisers had planned, the colonists would arrive in waves dictated by their skill set. The first to show up would be the laborers to clear the land and dig the foundations for the communal housing. Next would come the tradesmen and craftsmen who would construct the buildings. And finally, the remainder of the more than two hundred-fifty families would begin moving rapidly to the settlement so that his social experiment could get started in earnest.
Ben trembled with anticipation that unseasonably warm, sunny day in May when he first visited the site of his new colony and saw that construction had truly begun. He didn’t normally allow himself to feel strong emotions about anything, but that day was different. He was seeing the first concrete evidence that his years of hard work and planning were about to pay off.
The deafening whine of chainsaws ricocheted around the forest. Every now and again, a resounding thud meant a magnificent hemlock or maple tree had been chopped down to make room for the colony. Ben felt no regrets about the loss of trees. They were the price of progress.
He visited the work site daily, watching the property first cleared of woody debris and giant stones, and then leveled for construction by a small army of bulldozers and bobcats. Trucks rolled in with stacks of supplies—two-by-fours, sheetrock, rolls of insulation—which were placed under blue tarps to protect them from rain.
Unbearable to most, the construction noise was a cacophonous symphony of accomplishment to Ben. Hammers pounded out loud, staccato rhythms, like the percussion section of the orchestra, and the screech of saws and human voices calling for more supplies were the violins. Occasionally there was a whistle or a song - the woodwinds, and the roar of the diesel trucks were the brass. All these sounds, no matter how annoying, meant another step closer to Ben’s goal of actual colonists living in his utopian community.
One morning, Ben held a cup of steaming black coffee in one hand and a set of construction plans in the other. Standing at the top of a rise, he could survey the entire construction site below. He set down his coffee and put one hand in front of his face to shield his eyes from the sun’s glare, but it also conveniently disguised where he was looking. He was able to watch the workers, noticing with satisfaction that they seemed to frequently steal furtive glances in his direction. He couldn’t tell exactly what they were feeling when they looked at him, but he liked to think it was admiration. Whenever possible, he tried to enhance his image by positioning himself at the highest point of the construction site with the sun behind him, so that the rays would cast a kind of glow around him. He became really pleased when a strong breeze ruffled his long, wavy, chestnut hair, giving him what he thought of as a messianic look, kind of like Moses on the mountain.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his girlfriend Melissa walking toward him, a slight frown on her delicate pixie face. He wondered what was bothering her since normally she had a warm smile for him even when he knew she wasn’t happy with him. Though she looked petite and fragile, Ben knew she was a fighter, strong and determined. And he knew she deeply believed in his mission. Even better, she believed completely in him. She would turn over heaven and earth to do anything he asked of her, even if it crossed the line of morality or honesty – he was sure.
She walked up the hill, stopping within a few feet of him, her hands on her hips as if she was going to confront him. He noticed that her jeans and T-shirt looked rumpled, and that she had dark circles under her eyes. But then she slid closer and whispered, “I missed you last night. I felt very alone in my tent,” even though no one could hear them. “I waited until two in the morning but then couldn’t keep my eyes open.”
She pouted her small, delicate lips. Ben realized the only emotion he felt toward her at that moment was annoyance.
Still, he smiled his most charming smile. “I’m really sorry, Melissa. I was so tired last night I almost conked out at the construction site. I ended up going back to my office and sleeping on the couch. But I’ll be there tonight.”
She glanced at him with a twisted little smile, covering a touch of hurt. “Tonight then, love. I’ll be waiting.” She tried to look seductive as she walked away, swaying her slender hips. Ben realized a hundred eyes around the construction site watched her, some with indifference, but many, he was convinced, with jealousy.
He knew that the colonists thought that the two of them had a special, deep bond, but they were wrong. He was fond of her and appreciated her loyalty, but he felt restless and confined by her adoration of him. He had truly needed her early on to help recruit people to his project, but now that the colony was well underway, she had outstayed her usefulness.