"We don't agree on much," says Jesse Moloney — an FSP activist and Keene City Council candidate who wears a T-shirt with Che Guevara sporting Mickey Mouse ears, and who was recently jailed for digging a 400-square-foot garden in the middle of Keene's Central Square. "But you can probably say that we all agree that government — and society in general — is too aggressive."
Ultimately, riders in this gang of like-minded curmudgeons share some common traits — even if members individually identify as everything from anarchists and socialists to independents, libertarians, secessionists, voluntaryists, and mutualists. Because it's easier for, say, an unhitched software programmer to uproot than it is for an entire family, an estimated 80 percent of Free Staters are self-employed male bachelors. With regard to the lack of women, let's just say that the scene at Vendetta could have doubled for a Dungeons & Dragons party (with modern weapons, of course).
In the movement, pushes for a better-established hierarchy have always been quickly dismissed. The horizontal ethos can be frustrating to new devotees, but veterans like Krouse and Moloney say the importance of loose infrastructure becomes understood with time. What's critical, they say, is that Free Staters ultimately support one another, like they have at court trials with 50-person choruses of dissention. There are minor rifts over tactics (particularly a noted struggle between elusive members who wish to work underground and those who are comfortable spilling to reporters), but, as has become evident in recent weeks, porcupines stand up together.
"There's no need for us to take a specific position on [Kostric's] action," says Swearingen, echoing the sentiments of Pratt, who, acting as an FSP spokesman, defended Kostric's behavior on NECN. "What matters is that it's clearly bringing people toward the Free State Project," says Swearingen. "That's a good first step — if they end up being people who advocate violence, racism, or bigotry [on the community message boards], then we'll remove them from the participant database."
Me first — the Hell with you
THE RIGHT TO BARE ARMS — AND BREASTS, TOO: Free Stater Cassidy Nicosia, 18, exercises her fashion rights, with handgun accessory.
Not everyone's a fan. Outside the press, there have been whisper campaigns charging that the settlers are violent camouflaged maniacs, and a recent Keene Sentinel column (titled "Will the Free Staters Please Sit Down?") marginalized them as a "me first, second, and third and the hell with everyone else" alliance. Some rumors even charge that members have cannibalistic tendencies (doubtful). As for elective adversaries, Keene Mayor Philip Pregent is hardly enthused by persistent FSP interruptions at City Council meetings, while Democratic state representative Chuck Weed — who has criticized the movement since its inception — believes their efforts are misguided.
"Sure, they've attracted a lot of attention," says Weed, who also teaches political science at Keene State College. "But it's negative — it de-legitimizes their issues."
Free Staters acknowledge their detractors, and are prepared to engage questions about potential problems with the lawlessness that FSP allies advocate. How would infrastructure be maintained? Who would pick up trash? Who would regulate the food-service industry? Yada, yada, yada. Members have some interesting solutions: instead of speed-limit signs, they would frighten drivers with billboard tallies of how many people have died on particular roads. Instead of preventing presidential assassinations by banning weapons . . . well, they haven't quite figured that one out yet.