Organizationally, the FSP has a president in Swearingen (a California native who defected to Keene in 2004), as well as a vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and mascot (the porcupine, which, according to one Free Stater, is "a peaceful animal that you wouldn't dare fuck with)". But that's the extent of their infrastructural formalities. It even has an elected official in its ranks — Republican New Hampshire state representative Calvin Pratt, of Goffstown — but the group recognizes no rank and file (nor does it collect dues). As I discovered on a recent trip to Keene (one week, in fact, before the FSP arrived in the national spotlight), trying to ascertain any hierarchy is about as productive as challenging the Old Man of the Mountain to a nose-picking contest. Some members, however, are better known than others.
Before Kostric, the FSP boasted such municipal martyrs as Andrew Carroll, who was cuffed for displaying a marijuana nugget in Keene's Central Square. There's also Sam Miller, of Keene, who, after being arrested for refusing to reveal his identity to police, went on a prison hunger strike. Since the project's inception, several Free Staters have been fined and jailed for disobeying laws and restrictions they consider petty, from flag burning to puppet shows and public pedi-care.
The protests are rarely organized — they're mostly random demonstrations for which fellow Free Staters may or may not have expressed mutual enthusiasm. But, as was demonstrated in the wake of the Kostric episode, FSP enthusiasts are quick to back each other. "They say you can't fight City Hall," says Free Stater David Krouse of Keene. "Well, we're fighting City Hall."
HAVE GUNS, WILL TRAVEL The Free State Project chose New Hampshire as the site of its legislatively lax colony. Scores then moved to the Granite State.
Keen on Keene
Politics aside, Keene is a glistening refuge. Save for a Subway sandwich franchise here and a Panera Bread there, the five-or-so-block strip and cul-de-sac that make up downtown are populated primarily by cute independent shops, restaurants, and even an apothecary. Culture-wise, the area's impressive art scene is focused in the well-manicured business district. The non–Free Staters who I meet are welcoming — even when I tell them why I came. Owners of the local trolley diner feed me ham steak and treat me like family; when a bitter, over-caffeinated patron tells me that Free Staters should return to their origins, my server tells her to keep quiet. For most residents in this semi-rural green oasis of roughly 23,000, it seems FSP members are either welcome nuisances or harmless novelties.
My business in Keene is dropping by the unofficial weekly FSP meet-up at the bar Vendetta, where about two dozen members there are happy to chat over chicken wings and craft beers. There are proud gun owners among them (as well as many who do not own firearms), but no one wants to lecture me about the Bill of Rights. Instead, they stress their collective commitment to nonviolence, and insist that FSP fosters intellectual skepticism to question formal power structures.