The Free Staters Go Camping

What happens when you bring together politicos, voluntaryists, and off-the-grid farmers for a week?


Every summer since 2004, hundreds of people belonging to and interested in the Free State Project, an effort to move 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire, gather at a remote campground in the northern part of the state for a weeklong event called the Porcupine Freedom Festival. The outdoorsy extravaganza, more commonly known as PorcFest, is one of the biggest libertarian gatherings in the entire country.

The libertarian stereotype of the nerdy, balding, middle-aged white guy goes out the window at PorcFest. The attendees are so diverse, one wonders how organizers managed to get everybody together in the same place without burning the forest down in a fit of rage. If you want to see what happens when you bring together libertarian politicos, voluntaryists, and off-the-grid family farmers that love raw milk for a week to celebrate one of the more quixotic elements of the libertarian movement, then you have to go to PorcFest.

For Carla Gericke, the president of the Free State Project, this is her busiest week of the year. She is constantly checking on events, meeting with people, moderating panels, and judging contests. She views PorcFest as one of the best ways to convince people to become Free Staters and make the move to the Granite Stat. Recently her group has tried to attract more families, not just individuals.

"I definitely think we had over a thousand people. We sold 650+ presale tickets and allowed walk-ins. We don't count children, but there were a lot of them. Definitely moved more to a family friendly vibe, which was our goal," Gericke says in an online interview after the event. Gericke was so busy during PorcFest that not only did she not have time to stop for an interview, she lost her voice on the final day.

In years past there have been squabbles, but this year the event was "drama free," according to Gericke.

"People tend to sort themselves according to their noise level tolerance. The families tend towards the quieter zones at the back, and others gravitate to the late night noise area. We did try this year to keep late night noise tolerable, with loud music ending at midnight," she says.

The divide was certainly visible to anyone that took a stroll through the camp on the final full day of activities. Large families gathered in the back of the campground away from the action while younger people stayed closer to the fire and the merchants row, known as Agora Valley, where agorists hawked their wares to festivalgoers. In Agora Valley you could buy a wide variety of food, books, clothing, soaps, tapestries, and (of course) gold and silver. Farmers offered samplings of the fruits of their labor while promoting deals to Free Staters on baskets of fresh produce and meats delivered from their farm straight to their door. Some agorists, like George Mandrick, took a more direct route and set up shop in the main hall, the Shire Society Pavilion.

Mandrick is a full-time personal chef and home cleaner who does some catering on the side. Like many of the people here, he is committed to the ideas of agorism, a philosophy created by anarchist Sam Konkin in the 1970s. This is Mandrick's second year of catering PorcFest and, though he sees the philosophical divides at PorcFest, he doesn't see himself in any camp.

"I am not politically active at all, I have no interest in politics. I am not even an activist, I am really just a businessman. I want to live my life as free as possible and it's much easier for me to do that here because there are people that I can connect with. They also just want to have cash transactions with me," he says.

This is the first time Mandrick has had a 15 minute break all night, but soon festivalgoers start queuing for his burgers. Again. He tightens up his apron and begins to look back at his stand as if encouraging me to wrap up the interview.

"For me, it's about interactions and business dealings between individuals," he says as he heads back to his grill.

In a large tent next to the pavilion, New Hampshire Republican state representative Mark Warden holds court behind a makeshift bar. Warden left Nevada, another state with strong libertarian leanings, in 2007 when the market took a turn for the worse. Warden says one of the reasons he moved to New Hampshire and joining the FSP was the natural beauty of the state. PorcFest, he thinks, is one of the ways to show that off because it is a large outdoor festival unlike other libertarian gatherings that tend to be held at large resort hotels (think Freedom Fest in Las Vegas).

"When you're in Las Vegas at FreedomFest there are two parts: the liberty portion and investments. So you have a lot of people from Wall Street. Here we have more Main Street, more Austrian economics, people that are self-reliant, people that invest in metals, in real estate," he says, adding that the crowd tends to be younger at PorcFest.

At PorcFest, you won't see much white hair.

"It's very diverse. You see some dreadlocks here, you see some Occupiers here, you see some Tea Partiers here, you see some straight laced non-drinking Christian businessmen here, you see it all," he says.

Warden attributes the congenial nature of the event to the natural libertarian aversion to force.

"Libertarians tend to be pretty tolerant. Most people here think their way is the best or the right way but they won't force other people to do it their way. They want the competition for ideas to flourish and for the best way to run things to be settled on the battlefield of ideas," he says, as someone offered us cigars.

Despite the remoteness of the campground and nearly nonexistent internet access a web based radio station, The Liberty Radio Network, managed to broadcast from the site all week. The station's program director, Ian Freeman, moved from Florida to New Hampshire as part of the FSP in 2006 after growing increasingly frustrated with Libertarian Party there and the level of activism. Freeman is one of the more unique individuals at PorcFest because he has participated in activism across the libertarian spectrum.

"I do whatever activism I can do. Creating media, outreach, civil disobedience, noncooperation, whatever it is I can do I am involved," he says sitting with me at a table inside the Pavilion on the last day of the festival. 

Freeman programs and hosts the nationally syndicated libertarian talk show, Free Talk Live, something he considers not only a job but a calling.

"It's business first and foremost but it has a benefit of spreading the ideas," he says.

Despite his aversion to the cold weather as a Florida native Freeman knew that New Hampshire was where he had to be. When Freeman packed his bags for the Granite State he did not stop in Concord or Manchester or Portsmouth, he went straight to Keene, a place many consider to be a hub for hardcore libertarian activists.

"Political candidates don't do civil disobedience so my experience had not been anywhere in that realm. I just thought 'This is the most exciting thing happening in the liberty movement that I've ever seen.' So I had to be a part of it," he says.