Free Towners Mess With Texas, Lose


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.