In New Hampshire, living for a week in libertarian paradise
LANCASTER, N.H. (AP) — T-shirts promoting “Bitcoins not Bombs.” An ice cream stand selling cones of “Bananarchy.” A refurbished school bus housing young men debating the presidential candidacy of Gary Johnson.
Welcome to PorcFest, a weeklong camping festival billed as a libertarian utopia of sorts in the mountains of New Hampshire. Run by the Free State Project, the annual festival attracts 1,500 people from across the nation, who started trickling in Sunday.
Called “porcupines,” the animal that serves as a logo for libertarians, they come to share ideas and be among others who dream of a small government society where taxes are limited, trade is free and people are allowed to eat, imbibe and inhale whatever they please. The festival, officially called the Porcupine Freedom Festival, offers a glimpse into the kind of libertarian paradise Free State Project leaders hope to one day create statewide.
“I always kind of keep an eye out for jobs in New Hampshire,” said Kyle O’Donnell, a 26-year-old PorcFest attendee who knits socks for a living in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Hopefully, one day in the future I can join the rest of them here as we assemble, like, a critical mass of libertarians to affect state policy.”
This year’s PorcFest comes at a key moment for the Free State Project, a plan devised in the early 2000s to persuade 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire en masse. New Hampshire was chosen, in part, because of its “Live Free or Die” motto and the relative ease of getting elected to office: The state’s citizen legislature has 424 seats. In February, the movement earned its 20,000th “signer,” the threshold that is supposed to trigger a mass move within five years.
Matt Philips, the group’s president since March, estimates 2,000 people have already moved. The group is now working to convince other signers — some of whom committed more than a decade ago — to join them. Philips knows all may not come, but his ultimate goal is to hit 20,000 incoming residents.
Weston Cooke is one signer who hasn’t made the move. From under a tarp shielding his hammock from rain Wednesday, Cooke said he currently lives rent-free in Boston and won’t move until he can find a similar setup in New Hampshire. Cooke, 23, was drawn to the Free State Project’s limited-government message when he was diagnosed with diabetes last year and found some of the medical devices he wanted to use for his treatments hadn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In his second year at PorcFest, he’s selling temporary tattoos with the porcupine logo, attending talks about YouTube’s value to the marketplace of ideas and catching up with friends.
What draws Cooke to PorcFest?
“I think the obvious answer is freedom,” he said. “There’s nowhere else you can go and get served a cheeseburger by a 14-year-old with an AR-15 strapped to his back.”
Guns are indeed allowed freely at PorcFest; a posted flyer reminds gun carriers: “Be respectful. Be careful. Be safe.” Marijuana is freely smoked too, as most participants believe the drug should be legal.
Food and other goods are sold in a mini marketplace for cash or Bitcoin, the virtual currency that operates outside of government regulation.
Tim Davis, of Philadelphia, cooks up burgers made with locally sourced, grass-fed beef. He does not have a permit to sell, but most PorcFest attendees would say he shouldn’t need one.
Davis stood under his burger tent Wednesday with his friend Will Coley, whom he met at PorcFest four years ago. Coley, a Tennessean wearing a shirt reading “taxation is theft,” ran for the Libertarian party’s vice presidential nomination.
Coley and others say they enjoy PorcFest because it brings together people with views all along the libertarian spectrum, including anarchists and voluntarists.
The Free State Project’s members haven’t always given it a good name in New Hampshire. A group in Keene known for harassing parking meter attendants was disinvited from this year’s event.
Other critics say the project and its members aren’t open, especially if they’re running for political office. Many run as Republicans, but some are Democrats, and they don’t always publicly identify themselves as members or supporters of the project.
Opponents of the movement believe its members are trying to dramatically change the state in a negative way.
Philips said he hopes for a future where Free Staters can openly identify themselves as members of the project and begin to rapidly expand their message statewide.
That’s the first step, at least.
“First New Hampshire,” Philips said. “Then the world, right?”