Free Towners Mess With Texas, Lose

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Alan Vanneman sends in a New York Times story with a buried lead. With the headline "1 Cafe, 1 Gas Station, 2 Roads: America's Emptiest County," Ralph Blumenthal's local color piece describes Loving County (pop. 67), a super-rustic stretch of West Texas desert. But in the story's second half, the three ringmasters of the Free Town Project show up in town, and according to Sheriff Billy Burt Hopper, they're lookin' for trouble.

The Free Towners attempted to buy some land in the county with an eye toward moving in enough sympathetic citizens to allow them to "win most of the elected offices in the county administration" and "restore [Loving County] to freedom." Blumenthal sneakily conflates the group's plan, "Restoring Loving County," with an email "attributed to a group member" that speaks of getting Libertarians "to control the local government and remove oppressive regulations (such as planning and zoning, and building code requirements) and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling."

The Times article refers throughout to the three "Libertarians" the way another article might refer to three "Serial Killers," and sure enough, two of the three come bearing the usual personal Iliads of battles against government officials and/or conspiratorial co-workers. Don Bruce Duncan was convicted in 1980 of lying to U.S. customs officials, while the group's leader, Lawrence Edward Pendarvis (a.k.a. "Zach Bass") won an appeal of his conviction on child pornography charges in 2000, after proving a prosecutor had sent the jury a secret message calling him a "pervert" during the trial. Bobby Yates Emory, the third Libertarian, appears to have a scientifically questionable but harmless interest in algae as an alternative energy source.

The three also had a prominent though uncredited role in Brian Doherty's masterful story on the Free State Project from Reason's December 2004 issue. Readers will recall that Pendarvis and his group made an attempt to take over the township of Grafton in New Hampshire, striking terror into locals and pitting the Free Towners against the Free Staters, whose own plans for making the Granite State into a libertopia are somewhat less apocalyptic than Pendarvis'. At the time of that dustup, the Manchester Union Leader quoted state Libertarian Party chairman John Babiarz as saying "Zach is cold and brash and inflates his ego on line. This town project has gotten a bad name because of one person. I know he's not a member of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party. Hopefully, he never comes here." Free State Project head Amanda Phillips said: "We have urged him not to move to New Hampshire. We don't want him to be part of our project." Babiarz tried to reassure officials that the LP and FSP had no affiliation with Pendarvis by calling him "an a-hole" at a town meeting.

Pendarvis' attempt to continue his project in the Lone Star State hasn't fared much better. According to the Times, Pendarvis' group claims they bought 126 acres of land on eBay, but Sheriff Hopper claims that there is no deed for the sale in county records, and that the owners of the land told him they had sold it to somebody else. (If they had sold it to somebody else, wouldn't that deed of sale be in the county record?) Pendarvis claims he has a canceled check to prove he bought the property. Texas Rangers have filed misdemeanor charges against the three, who have left the state.

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  1. >Blumenthal sneakily conflates the group’s plan, “Restoring Loving County,” with an email “attributed to a group member” that speaks of getting Libertarians “to control the local government and remove oppressive regulations (such as planning and zoning, and building code requirements) and stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling.”

    Tim, Blumenthal is not being sneaky here, the group’s website states that these are it’s goals.

  2. I think you can make a great case for a bunch of libertarians, with or without a capital L, to go into a small town or a sparsely populated county and turn it into a pretty close to pure libertarian government. When people finally get around to realizing there was no madness in the streets (my phrase, not intended to be a quote from one of the links) due to libertarianism, then maybe it could spread on a wider basis more easily. Or not. But….

    But dueling? Cannibalism? Incest? Gulp. Count me out, and I think people who go around seriously trying to do such things give libertarians a bad name and do more harm to our cause than good.

  3. Ugh.

  4. More and more reasons why I am re-examining my membership in the LP, if it hasn’t lapsed by now, are folks like this, and the LP’s refusal to use any sort of discretion inmembership.

    As good as the philosophy is, the party sometimes makes Monty Pythons ‘Very Silly’ party, and candidates like “Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Blackpool Rock Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable Brrroooo Norman Michael (rings bell) (blows whistle) Edward (sounds car horn) (does train impersonation) (sounds buzzer) Thomas Moo… (sings) “We’ll keep a welcome in the…” (fires gun) William (makes silly noise) “Raindrops keep falling on my” (weird noise) “Don’t sleep in the subway” (cuckoo cuckoo) Naaoooo… Smith…”
    look annoyingly normal.

  5. Last verse to Charlie Robinson’s “Lights of Loving County”

    Well that sheriff he found me out wandering all around El Paso
    The very next day.
    You see, I’d lost my mind on that broken white line
    Before I even reached Balmorhea.
    Well now she’s in Fort Worth and she’s just giving birth
    To the son of that oil company man.
    And they buried that sheriff’s poor old dead wife
    With the ring that I stole on her hand.
    You know sometimes they let me look up at that East Texas sky.
    And the rain on the pines…Oh Lord, how it shines!
    Like my diamond that sparkled
    In the lights of Loving County.

  6. Ha! I like the “Artists conception of a free town”. It’s just a building on a mountain. Why not just show a picture of the real Grafton?

  7. You know, maybe the folks out in West Texas live there because they want to be left the hell alone. What right do these clowns have to come in and ruin those people’s town? Maybe they don’t want to live in a libertarian paradise. That is their right not to. Even if I supported the changes in government these people wanted, which I am not sure I do, I don’t think it is right to target a small community minding its own business to prove a point.

  8. “You know, maybe the folks out in West Texas live there because they want to be left the hell alone.”

    Yeah, I feel like libertarianism is all about being left the hell alone. And the defense that “you won’t mind our takeover once you see how great libertarianism is” sounds a whole lot like “we know what’s best for you.” I’m not sure who these clowns are, but they don’t sound like libertarians.

  9. I don’t think you folks are giving these Free Town libertarians enough credit. While you are obsessed with over-intellectualized issues like eminent domain abuse and over-regulation of small businesses, these guys are dealing with things that the average American can relate to, straight from the gut. Like a man’s God-given right to fight a duel, and then eat the loser. Now that’s libertarianism!

  10. I support dueling, cannibalism, and incest, but I at least have the good sense not to say so publicly. Or at least not publicly and under my own name.

  11. tomWright wrote: “More and more reasons why I am re-examining my membership in the LP, if it hasn’t lapsed by now, are folks like this, and the LP’s refusal to use any sort of discretion in membership.”

    Ah, like the Republicans and Democrats do? Oh yeah, that’s right, anybody can join those parties too and then spout whatever nonsense they want (see, e.g., Lyndon LaRouche). If the LP sets up “discretion in membership” the media will instead attack it as an elitist entity and it probably will end up being subject to legal challenges (has any political party in the US ever had officially binding membership criteria?). If you want to change the LP, then become active in it, go to the party meetings, get your friends/relatives/co-workers and other people you consider sane to join, etc.

  12. Wow, that’s the first thing John’s ever said that I agree with unequivocally. You make gains in libertarian governance by convincing other people that your ideas are better, not by bullying your way into someone else’s town and trying to win a numbers game. Not only is that uncomfortably close to the use of force (“There’s more of us than you, nyah nyah!”), but it’s the same crap all those stealth school board candidates pull who then end up trying to get Creationism taught in science class.

  13. “Like a man’s God-given right to fight a duel, and then eat the loser. Now that’s libertarianism!”

    parse,
    That was the funniest thing I read all week. I nearly fell out of my chair

  14. “Like a man’s God-given right to fight a duel, and then eat the loser. Now that’s libertarianism!”

    If only Reason had a Cafepress account.

    Anon

  15. Christ, they sound like the Bhagwan taking over Wasco Co.

  16. Would seem like there’s enough room in West Texas to start a whole new town. But I guess that wouldn’t eliminate county government.

  17. Let’s deal with the important question here, people: why does the sheriff of Loving County drive around with two shotguns and an assault rifle in his official pickup? That’s a lot of firepower for a county with seventy-one inhabitants… waiting for the Libertarians to invade?

  18. I’ve lived in Texas all my life. Anyone who advocates incest, duelling, and cannibalism is lucky to get off as light as these guys did. I’m surprised they lived long enough to complain about their experience.

  19. I can answer the firepower question: rattlesnakes and rabid feral dogs. There’s also escaped and injured livestock. Why he needs three guns and can’t just reload like everyone else is another question, but law enforcement in rural counties shoot a LOT of dangerous animals down here. It’s not unusual to find ’em with enough weaponry to satisfy a good-sized platoon.

  20. I joined the LP to get away from the hateful rhetoric of the other parties. Over the last year I’ve learned a few things:
    1) Most libertarians hate conservatives more than they hate liberals.
    2) Most libertarians are way too “pie in the sky” to affect many real changes in the immediate future. How do you eat an elephant……one bite at a time.
    3) I really enjoy Reason magazine.

    Is there a “sect” of the LP that is trying to eat an elephant one bite at a time, or is everyone trying to swallow a leg?

  21. New pledge:
    I oppose the initiation of force or fraud to achieve goals and I am not a weirdo.

  22. I think the dueling, cannibalism, incest, bum fights etc. remark at the Web page was to be witty.

  23. Robert Goodman,

    You know, if they really wanted to win support among seventy one people by being witty, they should have started a blog.

    Anon

  24. Another Smiling Soul:

    “Over the last year I’ve learned a few things:
    1) Most libertarians hate conservatives more than they hate liberals.”

    Maybe that’s because an ostensibly conservative party has controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress for some years now…

  25. While you are obsessed with over-intellectualized issues like eminent domain abuse and over-regulation of small businesses, these guys are dealing with things that the average American can relate to, straight from the gut. Like a man’s God-given right to fight a duel, and then eat the loser. Now that’s libertarianism!

    I agree with Mo. Funniest damn thing I’ve read in a while. I was reduced to helpless laughter.

  26. Karen: With regard to Texas law enforcement vs. animals, are you sure they know what they’re doing? One of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met was shot in the head by APD a couple weeks back. Fuckwits.

  27. You make gains in libertarian governance by convincing other people that your ideas are better, not by bullying your way into someone else’s town and trying to win a numbers game.

    So, you’re opposed to the Free State movement also?

  28. Shem-

    The difference between the Free State Project and the guys who want to take over the town is that the FSP wants to bring 20,000 people to a state with (IIRC) more than a million people. They won’t have a majority, just a good activist base. But that activist base won’t be able to get anywhere if they can’t persuade the locals to go along.

    These guys, OTOH, want to get 68 people to overwhelm 67 people. They won’t need to win debates, they’ll just show up and vote everybody down. It will be an act of conquest, not a battle to win hearts and minds.

  29. > They won’t need to win debates, they’ll just show up and vote everybody down.

    That’s what “they” have been doing to us for years. Tough shit.

  30. “Both are irrational at the fringes. One by treating people as insects and machines, the other by treating them as computers.”

    I agree with your assessment except I believe that you make too fine a distinction. Both treat human nature in the exact same manner. Although political theory is certainly multidimensional rather than left-right continuum. Libertarianism and Communism form the bipoles of a common dimension in thought. Thinking along that single dimension is overly simplistic.

  31. They won’t need to win debates, they’ll just show up and vote everybody down. It will be an act of conquest, not a battle to win hearts and minds.

    At first I agreed with John and Phil about it being wrong for people to shove their way into someone else’s town to change things, but after thinking about it more I’m not sure it really is a problem, in that they want to bring about LESS laws, not more. In other words, if these wackjob libertarians manage to take over Loving County, no previous resident will be forced to change any aspect of their life if they don’t want to.

    It’s like the difference beween Westerners taking over a Muslim fundamentalist country and telling women “You’re not required to give up your burka and gender-based house arrest, but you can if you want to,” versus Muslim fundamentalists taking over a Western country and saying “You MUST put on a burka and stay home all the time.”

    If they succeed in decriminalizing drugs, it’s not like people will be forced to take any.

    But that mention of cannibalism and incest is pretty damned stupid.

  32. Shit, there goes my investment in West Texas Soylent Green Inc.

    – Josh

  33. I agree that the LP has too many weirdos. I got involved in the Maryland state chapter in 1987, when I was 18 years old and full of enthusiasm and energy. At the first statewide meeting I attended, one guy dominated the conversation and repeatedly pushed for us to direct our marketing efforts toward working prostitutes, because he saw them as a sympathetic oppressed group. Needless to say, I left the meeting a bit shell-shocked and disillusioned. I had been hoping for a bit more professionalism and realism.

    To be fair, I think the party has made incredible strides. I dropped out in 1989, and when I checked with the party again in 2000, I was floored by the difference. Back in the old days, it was a few weirdos passing around photocopied ‘zines. If you mentioned the word “libertarian” to someone, they’d reply “libberwhat?” Now, the party is much larger, the communications are much more slick and professional, and a mention of the word “libertarian” is more likely to elicit a response of “I don’t agree with their policies” than a look of confusion. That’s name recognition, at least.

    But yeah, there are still some weirdos involved in the party, and they give us all a bad name. I am watching and crossing my fingers that they will be marginalized in the years ahead. I’ve also been watching the Libertarian Reform Caucus with great interest. They are trying to get the LP to adopt a platform which is easier for Joe Six Pack to swallow.

  34. In other words, if these wackjob libertarians manage to take over Loving County, no previous resident will be forced to change any aspect of their life if they don’t want to . . . If they succeed in decriminalizing drugs, it’s not like people will be forced to take any.

    No, but don’t you think that, in a world were drugs were decriminalized if not outright legalized, with the attendant increased possibility of a lot more crackheads and heroin addicts on the streets, that might mean some rather abrupt adjustments in the way people live their lives? I support decrim and legalization, but I try not to be blind to the potential repercussions.

    Whether people would be “forced to take any” drugs (which I’m pretty sure nobody is arguing for) is irrelevant; taking over someone’s town and inviting people to use drugs there openly because you’ve decriminalized them is a major lifestyle change. If you don’t think it is, then I’ll be recommending that Northern Virginia send all its drug users to your neighborhood.

  35. Phil-

    To be fair, taking over a county won’t change state drug laws one iota.

    But, aside from quibbles over the details of your example, the point is well taken. Even if nobody is forced to do anything differently, they would live in a different environment if libertarians took over one day and implemented drastic change. Change should happen via persuasion, if it is to have any lasting and positive effect.

    Still, I’m left wondering just how oppressive the local laws really are in a county of 67 people. My hunch is that these would-be revolutionaries would repeal the entirety of the local ordinances (all 5 pages!), fire both county employees, and discover that very little has changed, as the state and federal laws are still in effect. Meanwhile, they’d manage to piss off everybody around them.

    Not a sustainable strategy for change.

  36. “…stop enforcement of laws prohibiting victimless acts among consenting adults such as dueling, gambling, incest, price-gouging, cannibalism and drug handling.”

    I don’t care if they offer a salary and moving expenses for duelling and cannibalism; I’m not moving to Texas.

  37. If the goal is to take over some piece of land, why not go develop some unincorporated land? You’re automatically the majority, and your not fucking with anyone else.

  38. Duelling and cannibalism?

    Face it. These guys got their platform from smoking a bowl and watching Firefly.

  39. So, assuming these guys were successful in gaining a 1-vote majority in the county…have they considered the possibility that the non-libertarians find 10 people of their own to move in and put the libs back in the minority?

  40. It doesn’t matter whether their attempt to take over the county is right or wrong. What matters is whether they bought the land legitimately or not. On the one hand you have a big fat sheriff who’s got a pretty substantial hole in his story; on the other you have a losertarian fuckup who claims he bought 126 acres of land on eBay. I call that a push in terms of credibility, and the Times guy should have found out what was up.

  41. These guys, OTOH, want to get 68 people to overwhelm 67 people. They won’t need to win debates, they’ll just show up and vote everybody down. It will be an act of conquest, not a battle to win hearts and minds.

    Sounds like…democracy.

  42. but don’t you think that, in a world were drugs were decriminalized if not outright legalized, with the attendant increased possibility of a lot more crackheads and heroin addicts on the streets, that might mean some rather abrupt adjustments in the way people live their lives? I support decrim and legalization, but I try not to be blind to the potential repercussions.

    Alcohol’s been decriminalized for a long time now, and I don’t see the streets overflowing with drunks. I’m not sure why you think drugs would be different.

  43. Texas Rangers have filed misdemeanor charges against the three, who have left the state.

    Did the article say why misdemeanor charges have been filed?

  44. Alcohol’s been decriminalized for a long time now, and I don’t see the streets overflowing with drunks.

    Come on down to New Orleans and celebrate Mardi Gras!

    And mind those sidewalk pizzas…

  45. As long as the locals are still counting the votes there won’t be any 68-67 outcomes against. If you were essentially the only official law enforcement in a very big and very empty county, who wouldn’t carry lots of firepower? He has no backup and the drug runners wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a sherrif. There are probably people in the US who have no idea that there are places as big and empty and desolate as Loving County left in our country. These are 67 people in a County of 675 square miles.

  46. “Alcohol’s been decriminalized for a long time now, and I don’t see the streets overflowing with drunks. I’m not sure why you think drugs would be different.”

    Because drugs are bad, mmmmmkay?

  47. Incest, dueling, cannibalism, and child porn? Why are these guys stealing all the Green Party’s issues? Bastards!

  48. But that mention of cannibalism and incest is pretty damned stupid.

    What do you have against consentual incest? I love my cousin and wanna bonk her brains out and she the same to me. Who are you to tell me we can’t have relations? Just because we end up like the English Royal Family in a few generations is no reason to ban it.

    As for cannabalism, so long as there is a legally binding contract (signed, notarized, etc.) that covers the “consumer” from potential legal problems after the “consumee” is no longer around then I see no problems. That’s where Armin Meiwes messed up. As my momma said, “Always get it in writing.”

  49. Eeeyaaah! One of the names of the Three Liberteros just jumped out at me. I remember Bobby Emory Yates as a frequent and thoughtful contributor to the newsletter of the Free Nation Foundation, a place where minarchists and anarcho-capitalists alike could play.

    His writings and those of many other contributors, pretty much all worth reading, can be found here:

    http://libertariannation.org/a/index.html

  50. I remember Bobby Emory Yates as a frequent and thoughtful contributor to the newsletter

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he were the most presentable. In the little bit of research I did, Yates definitely came off looking like the Moe Howard in this particular trio.

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