In December 2004 (“Revolt of the Porcupines!”), I reported on the early days of the Free State Project. Conceived by the political scientist Jason Sorens, the project was based on the idea that libertarians’ “most realistic chance to wield political power is to congregate in one state.” Participants would promise to take part in a “freedom lovers’ exodus” by making a major commitment: “The pledge commits you to the proposition that, once 20,000 like-minded libertarians have also made the pledge...you will within five years move to New Hampshire and be an activist for increased liberty.”
The Free State Project’s organizers originally hoped to reach their goal by 2006. That didn’t happen. But in early 2010 they did reach the halfway mark of 10,000 pledged members, with about 800 already living in New Hampshire. According to project director Varrin Swearingen, the group includes at least 10 state politicians, among them four members of New Hampshire’s legislature.
While New Hampshire’s motto remains “Live Free or Die,” it is not yet a Free State. Still, Swearingen says activism by Free Staters can be credited with deregulating homeschooling, shooting down seat belt laws, and defeating Real ID, an attempt by the federal government to impose biometric national standards on state-issued identification cards.
Like the libertarian movement in general, the Free State Project has its more colorful and outré wing, including an anarchistic crowd that has gathered in the city of Keene. An August 2008 article in The Keene Sentinel noted such Free Stater civil disobedience as playing penny poker and selling hot dogs in the street. When they get in legal trouble, Keene Free Staters like to film everything about their interactions with the legal system, including their court hearings, which is also against state law. One Free Stater conducted a hunger strike in jail after being arrested for filming in court and refusing to tell jail officials his legal name, a protest that attracted coverage by The Boston Globe.
While early planners thought they’d give up if they didn’t hit 20,000 participants by 2006, Swearingen says he is encouraged by the small victories the project has enjoyed so far. He notes the rate of signups has increased lately. “Whether we make 20,000 next month or in five years,” he says, “is less important than the fact that it can work if we get to that goal. So we will press on until it succeeds.”