Fringe activists hope to infiltrate vote and set up a breakaway minimalist government
Joanna Walters in New York
Wednesday October 1, 2003
A libertarian movement promoting "minimalist government", the free market, drugs, prostitution and gun ownership plans to infiltrate New Hampshire to create a breakaway American regime, its leaders will announce today.
The Free State Project, which has supporters in the UK and worldwide, will reveal today at a meeting in New York that its members have voted for the small but highly-symbolic north-eastern state as its target to win power.
Project chiefs will now try to persuade 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire and sway the electorate towards blocking federal "nanny" laws and social restrictions.
Jason Sorens, a lecturer in political science at Yale University and president of the project, said he wants to create an "autocratic territory" and the Free State Project will follow the examples of the Mormons in Utah, the French separatists in Quebec, Canada, and the conservative Amish religious communities.
Political sceptics have dismissed the project as the fringe cult fantasies of a disorganised shower of anarchists and internet geeks.
But Professor Sorens claims membership is soaring as people become angry over increasing restrictions on personal freedom, government surveillance of private individuals and greater state power in the justice system.
Membership of the Free State Project rocketed after an article in Playboy this year.
"I think that was a good place to find people who are socially tolerant and wary of government regulation over private behaviour," Prof Sorens said yesterday.
The FSP argues that civil government should exist only to protect life, liberty, and property. Individuals are free to do as they please, provided it does not harm others.
In a "Free State", that would translate as a green light for casinos, brothels, cocaine farms and gun supermarkets. Leaders would also do away with seatbelt laws, limits on gay marriage and most taxes.
"The classical liberal philosophy has a long and respectable pedigree. We see ourselves as a kind of chamber of commerce, promoting the state as somewhere where people will come and live freely and do business," he said.
Schools and hospitals would be entirely privatised. Prof Sorens sees new New Hampshire as having economic parallels with Singapore and Hong Kong, and social parallels to the tolerant Netherlands.
New Hampshire's state motto is already "Live free or die".
A ballot last week had members choosing from a shortlist of 10 states, each chosen on the basis that the FSP had calculated the populations were low enough and federal influence weak enough that moving 20,000 members there would give enough leverage to sway the state legislature.
Wyoming came second in the ballot. Other states on the list included Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Vermont and the Dakotas.
Members must agree to move to the chosen state.
But the New Hampshire Democratic chairwoman, Kathy Sullivan, said she considered the project "sort of a very fringe group that can best be described as anarchists".
A British member, Matthew Hurry, a 24-year-old computer technician from Brighton, was already preparing to move to the chosen state.
"It's one of the few good ideas I've seen actually put into practice with a good chance of success. Freedom is important for people, and the western world is severely lacking in it," he said.
But Francis Tyers, a 20-year-old University of Wales student, who studies in Aberystwyth but is currently on placement with the computer giant Hewlett Packard in Ireland, said Alaska would have been his first choice. "I specified on my membership form that I would move when they had legalised the cultivation of marijuana. I'm hoping that this will be one of the first things on their agenda. And secession from the United States would be great," he said.
It is this kind of radical idea that Prof Sorens emphasises is not the FSP's main thrust. "We have no wish to alienate the people of New Hampshire. We want to win them over," he said.
James Maynard, one of 150 project members who already live in New Hampshire, is currently campaigning as a Libertarian to try to win a council seat in the Keene city elections in November.
"The FSP is a mix of common sense ideas and "thinking out of the box". Within the framework of a real-life state and local politics, a group will not be afraid to try new things and take lessons from the business world to bring New Hampshire a smaller, less expensive, more accountable government," he said.
Project members are mostly men and in their 20s and 30s. Many own small businesses and half of them have a university degree, with 18% possessing doctorates and 40% earning more than £40,000 a year.