L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 280, July 18, 2004
Dotting all the "e"s and crossing all the "i"s
Wyoming or Bust: Boston T. Party's Q&A on Free State Wyoming
Special to TLE
Lady Liberty: There's already a Free State Project. So why another one?
Boston T. Party: Because many people desire it. New Hampshire is not the best choice for thousands of western free staters. Wyoming is for many of us, including myself. And even if NH was viable, many free staters are losing faith in the FSP's leadership and direction. For example, the recent Grafton, NH town meeting was an unmitigated public relations disaster for the FSP, and one which could have been largely avoided with better marketing to the locals.
LL: Didn't you used to be a member of the Free State Project?
BTP: I did, though I had opted out of all ballot choices but Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming [an option that was permitted by the FSP bylaws prior to the vote selecting the Free State. LL]. When the FSP chose NH over Wyoming by just 251 votes, the FSP and I parted ways. This has been poorly taken by much of the FSP hierarchy, past and present.
LL: You've gone to great lengths to explain on your web site why you chose Wyoming from a numbers point of view (click here for those details), but in a nutshell: Why Wyoming?
BTP: A free county or free state effort is first and foremost a numbers game. Wyoming has 2.7 times fewer voters than NH, thus Wyoming would be only 37% as difficult a place to create an effect as would be NH. Also, Wyoming has only five people per square mile vs. the 140 people per square in NH. Only in Wyoming is there room for thousands of newcomers who can arrive without elbowing the locals. Having plenty of space is vital to us easing into Wyoming without local antagonism and resistance. What happened in Grafton, NH is not likely to happen in Crook County, Wyomingsimply because there is so much more space there.
The final reason why Wyoming is the best free state choice is because of its rugged Western culture and values. It still retains much of a frontier ethos even into the 21st Century. To any potential free stater torn between Wyoming and NH, I say only this: Visit both states extensively, and the choice will become obvious. The FSP is somewhat targeting Grafton County, NH (pop. 80.000). The Free State Wyoming will begin in Crook County, Wyoming (pop. 5,900). Tour both counties, and decide which has the best chance of success.
LL: Do you believe a free county or a free state is really possible?
BTP: Without question. Probability, however, is another question. A Wyoming free county is extremely likely. A successful free state Wyoming will require many more people and a greater time horizon.
LL: Are you moving to Wyoming yourself?
BTP: Absolutely! This will happen very, very soon. I've been to Wyoming three times already this year, and it feels like I'm leaving home when I sadly depart. While I've very much enjoyed life in Colorado over the years, I prefer Wyoming even more. When Colorado Prop 22 passed in 2000 (which prohibited most private gun show transactions), that was the last straw for me. Wyoming has no Boulder/Denver urban/liberal equivalent to rule over the state. In fact, it's about the only western state without a top-heavy urban/liberal component (beating even Montana in that regard).
LL: The FSP is quite organized in an official way, with a Board of Directors and many Committees; it's working toward a paid presidency, getting 501(c)(3) status from the government, etc. Will the FSW be organized in a similar way?
BTP: Granted, little gets done in life without organization, but to me the FSP have exchanged titular organization for leadership. They have no real leader. Committees don't have followersonly leaders have followers. While Jason Sorens is the founder, this 26 year-old scholar is, by his own admission, no leader, much less a dynamic one. What any movement requires for leadership is the personality of a combat company commander. "We're taking that hill, straight on. Follow me!" He's picked the right hill, and his troops know it. He's dedicated and competent, and his troops know it. He has the will to take that hill, and his troops know it.
The FSP does not have, to my knowledge, a single prominent libertarian personality signed on to actually move to New Hampshire. Not Claire Wolfe, not L. Neil Smith, not Aaron Russo, not Gary Nolan, not Vin Suprynowicz, not J.J. Johnson. And why not? Two words: New Hampshire. Nonetheless, this doesn't dissuade the FSP from still using many pre-NH vote quotes, even though the authors (e.g., Claire Wolfe) are not moving to NH. Generic support for a free state effort (back when there was only the FSP, versus a western alternative in the FSW) is not the same as actually declaring, "I'm going to NH, come and join me there!"
Regarding the FSP's recent fetish for 501(c)(3) status so that they can pay their Director an annual salary of up to $60,000, this new and unfortunate plan was not in the pre-vote brochure. If it had been, I never would have joined. It would have precipitated my membership resignation had I still been in the FSP. For a libertarian think tank to have tax-exempt status may be one thing, but I find such wholly incompatible with a free state organization which is supposedly trying to avoid any government nexus or "benefit." I give my public word that the Free State Wyoming will never seek IRS tax-exempt status.
Regarding the Free State Wyoming's table of organization, it will be as minimial as possible. The FSW is a means to an end, and not a primary end in itself. We want to be good neighbors and have good neighbors. I don't imagine that such a goal requires a NASA-level of complexity. I favor Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne approach. Putting Melville into space for $20M was what NASA spends on a simple study. We will have more local effect in Wyoming than the FSP will in NH, and more quickly.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on the FSP's internal complexity, for the unwieldy choice of NH may indeed require it. Wyoming, however, does not.
LL: Some critics have said the competition between the free state projects could cause neither project to get "enough" support. The FSP says it needs 20,000 members. How many does the FSW need? And do you agree that recruiting for one project is harmful to the other?
BTP: Last year, before the vote, I thought that getting 20,000 to move to Wyoming under the FSP would be difficult even with my novel and my direct personal involvement. But, in my mind, it was possible. So, I joined the FSP in the hopes that, with my help, Wyoming would be chosen. Wyoming was not only the FSP's best chance, it was likely their only chance.
Now, with their NH choice, the FSP has a nearly impossible challenge and is very sensitive to Free State Wyoming competition as the FSP needs more than even 20,000 to make a dent in NH's 1,300,000 people. So, one can understand their mindset on this matter, especially since the Free State Wyoming has a prominent leader and the FSP does not. However, the Free State Wyoming (beginning with 1-3 counties) needs no such numbers. About 1,000 newcomers/county will see actual political resultswhich can be maintained without any larger statewide success. So, we in the FSW are not at all paranoid about free state competition. In fact, there still exists a significant Montana free state faction, and nobody has ever heard a harsh word about it from me.
In short, recruiting for the Free State Wyoming may hurt the FSP, but not vice versa. If any potential free stater is ambivalent about the choice between Wyoming and NH, then by all means move to NH! We're looking for very enthusiastic newcomers, not those who must flip a coin. Western free staters were never going to NH anyway, though the FSP hierarchy has trouble accepting this. I mean, what was the point of the pre-vote opt-out? Did they imagine that the 1,000 who had opted out of NH would rejoin after NH was mistakenly chosen? How are they at all surprised, much less bitter, that western free staters are going their own way? The bottom line is this: NH is unlikely to get the numbers, even if the Free State Wyoming did not exist. Conversely, the FSW will see local results even with FSP competition.
LL: Speaking of recruiting, some accusations have floated around the 'net and at some gatherings that you're trying to recruit Free State Project members for the FSW. Can you, on the record, tell us if that's the case?
BTP: Certainly. It's not the case, and never has been.In fact, we explicitly dissuade pledged FSPers from even general inquiries (much less actual Free State Wyoming membership) on our website.
Those who signed the FSP's Statement of Intentment and had not opted out of NH are clearly morally bound by their agreement (unless they believe that the FSP unilaterally changed that agreement, or barring some significant moral or ethical qualms). I have never tried to cleave such FSPer from their pledge. The 1,000+ FSPers who opted out of NH are, however, fair game for the Free State Wyomingas are any potential free staters not signed onto the FSP and NH.
Nonetheless, FSP founder Jason Sorens erroneously lambasted me for my "public attempts to persuade FSP members to abandon their commitments to New Hampshire and join [my] movement instead." He had no evidence to support this claim, because there isn't anythus he had to know that his allegation was false. Unfortunately, Sorens copied his email to several people, including a magazine reporter contracted to pen a story about the free state movement. (This, by the way, is libel.) I was naturally aghast at his false public accusation and I immediately, explicitly denied it:
After weeks of silence, I emailed him again...
...and to date have received neither evidence nor an apology. (Perhaps now folks can understand what I've been through with these people since October.)
On an ironic final note, some apparently false rumors about Jason Sorens's past are floating about, and he is vigorously and profanely demanding a retraction without success. Now, there's a very young man who doesn't like his own cooking.
[For the record, I spoke with Boston T. Party shortly after the Free State Project vote to let him know I agreed with his assessment that Wyoming presented a more viable opportunity. At that time, although he was very gracious, he pointed out that I had signed onto the Free State Project in good faith and that I was bound to the FSP accordingly. In subsequent discussions, he spoke not only of my own, but of the moral obligation of all those who'd signed an agreement to participate in the FSP. I did, of course, agree with him.
Although I openly worked for a number of pro-freedom organizations as time and talent permitted, I continued to support the FSP both in front of and behind the scenes, and including the donation of professional services. More recently, when the FSP announced that it was seeking 501(c)(3) status, I vigorously protested the decision both publicly and on a personal one-on-one basis with some members of the Board. The Board was not dissuaded. Once it became clear that the application was moving forward, and amidst various more personal difficulties with the FSP, I tendered my resignation on the grounds that the FSP no longer resembled the organization I'd pledged to support. That resignation, while freeing me to pursue an FSW affiliation if I choose one, had nothing to do with the FSW or with Boston T. Party. Instead, it had everything to do with what is, in my opinion, the FSP's breach of its own commitment to its cause and its membership. LL]
LL: Last November, I saw a post by an FSPer who claimed that "the problem the FSP had with the Western Free Staters was all about timing," and not necessarily about the establishment of other groups. According to that post, the FSP leadership asked you to wait two years to announce any project of your own so as to let the FSP garner the publicity and momementum it needed to "really make it all happen." Is there any truth to that?
BTP: Absolutely none whatsoever. Nobody in the FSP (leadership or not) had asked me to wait, much less for any specified length of time. It's simply untrue. There was never any such discussion, either before the vote or even before my public announcement. Between 1-19 October 2003 (i.e., the NH vote and my Freedom Summit announcement of my Wyoming effort). nobody from the the FSP contacted meabout anythingmuch less to procure any kind of understanding or agreement from me to delay. There was nothing but complete silence from them, even though they knew that I was still set on Wyoming.
Even if the FSP had asked me to delay, I'd have politely refused. Some have termed my 19 October announcement as ungraciously hasty, but people must remember that I delayed my 1997 Wyoming plans for two years while I gave the FSP its chance from July 2001 to September 2003. Had I started my own Wyoming organization back then, the FSP would still be scraping for its first 5,000 members in order to even vote!
So, I don't much care for FSP whining that I didn't wait even three weeks after the NH vote. I gave them the previous two years, without any appreciation on their part. Some FSPers need to cultivate a larger perspective on the matter. After 1 October I was no longer a member, owing the FSP nada, and having wasted over two years. As a free agent, I've a right to act, and expeditiously so, for time is running out for all of us.
Before making that post I wish its author had first confirmed that rumor with me. But since it has by now received wide circulation and festered into "fact," my reputation has been sullied. Some FSPers now see me as a bitter spoilsport who didn't have the grace to allow the FSP a requested head start after I "used the FSP solely to sell books." It's just not true.
I gave the FSP more than they will ever understand. They had their chance, and blew it. Now, those of us favoring the West and the best choice of Wyoming must make up for much lost time. I apologize to them for waiting as long as I did.
LL: I've personally said in a couple of past commentaries that I think the free state projectswhich have essentially the same end goalshould work together rather than at loggerheads. Do you agree? If so how do you think the two might join forces?
BTP: Until recently, I'd have welcomed a joint effort with the FSP. I even said so in my Open Letter #1. Today, however, I'm not as amenable to any significant public collaborationfor two reasons.
First, I'm not convinced that we need FSP help. We've already cleared a few high hurdles without them, and we've become accustomed to running this race on our own. Second, given how it's going with the FSP lately (e.g., Grafton), I'm uneasy about any public association. They have a few loose cannons they should dump overboard, and I disagree with the FSP strategy (if it may properly be termed as such).
Still, I am on cordial terms with their VP and a few others, and am open to favorable FSP developments which would engender Free State Wyoming collaboration. However, in the final analysis, I'd be amazed that the FSP would ever publicly support the FSW for our "product" of Wyoming is clearly superior to theirs of NH. (You'd be shocked at who within the FSP has personally admitted this to me!) I don't think they'd risk losing the random free stater to Wyoming because of an FSW link on their own website. Conversely, I've no generic problem with the Free State Wyoming telling website visitors about the NH option of the FSP. In fact, we've had an FSP link on our site for months. Since we're talking about peoples' lives, free staters should be informed of their choices and not kept in the dark about both movements.
LL: What kind of person is, in general, attracted to a free state project? Do you think the kinds of people attracted to the FSP are different from those who have an interest in the FSW?
BTP: Most free staters are extremely well-studied into our national predicament, and have correctly concluded that libertarian politics will continue to have little/no effect in Washington, D.C. However, our numbers are sufficient to contemplate geographical concentrations in states and counties for local political effect. It's really our only hope.
Beyond that, free staters must have a pioneering spirit. It's one thing to champion merely the concept (e.g., L. Neil Smith), but it's quite another to actually live it by uprooting your life and moving to Wyoming or anywhere else. It's easy to vote with your mouth. Voting with your feet is what really matters. I think the FSP ratio of mouthvoters to feetvoters is extremely high (recall that only 46% even sent in their preprinted ballot last October). This is not to disparage the feetvoting FSPers, as they no doubt exist. They're just likely outnumbered, that's all.
Those who have contacted me about joining the Free State Wyoming, however, are very action-oriented. Of them, I have a few dozen who are literally panting in anticipation of moving to Crook County! One man is already in Sundance, looking for a home and job. And I'm not even there yet!
LL: Of the people attracted to the concept of a free state project, who would you most want to welcome into the Free State Wyoming effort?
BTP: First, I want people with a history of action, not talk. Then, I want people with a great deal of reasonableness and perspective. While I appreciate the pure principles of many libertarians, it is locally counterproductive to blather on about the right to use drugs, own brothels, etc. Just ask the FSP after their Grafton, NH town meeting. Free staters need to keep a larger perspective in mind. While every individual indeed owns their own body and has the right to control their own diet, many locals have an understandable concern that a wave of libertarian migration will negatively affect their quality of life regarding moral issues.
Folks in rural Wyoming are not going to welcome what is generally considered skanky behavior, and who can blame them? Libertarians have a perception issue to overcome. Few locals want to prohibit what goes on in your own home, but why publicly antagonize them with things you already know will offend? Look, concentrate on first being a good neighbor. When they are convinced of that, then you have a chance of making your point about the drug war or zoning or privatizing education. We have to sell ourselves before the locals can buy our beliefs.
With the above in mind, the Free State Wyoming is open to all voting-able adults of any color, race, creed, or religion who will honor their word and pull their own weight.
LL: When will the FSW get underway beyond the preliminary planning stages?
BTP: First, the Free State Wyoming needs a place to land in Crook County. Currently, there are very few homes and small ranches for salefar too few for us. So, in order to attract even a couple dozen newcomers, we must buy a large acreage and develop it for our needs. This is already well in the works. Exciting details forthcoming soon! Also, I am putting together a Free State Wyoming Jamboree this year, most likely over Labor Day weekend. We'll formalize this in the next couple of weeks. The FSW Jamboree will be a great chance for us to get together in our future home of Crook County, tour the area, and meet the locals.
LL: What should people interested in the FSW idea do first to learn more?
BTP: To become a member they need to sign and mail in the Free State Wyoming Statement of Intent found on the temporary Free State Wyoming web pages [the Statement of Intent will be available soon. LL]
Then they should email me at email@example.com and describe what they can bring to the table, and what they'd like from the Free State Wyoming. I'm only leading this thing. It'll take a lot of work from many dedicated people to pull it off, and all of us are crew. The FSW is not a passenger ship.
LL: You have a full plate simply keeping up with your writing and teaching activities. Why are you signing on to lead the FSW? BTP: Because it needs to done, and nobody else was poised to accomplish it. I gave the FSP their chance to grab the low-hanging fruit of Wyoming, and they blew it. Often, when you want something done, you simply have to do it yourself. I've become accustomed to that. Most of my books were written primarily because I wanted to read them myself, such as You & The Police!, Hologram of Liberty, Boston's Gun Bible, and Molôn Labé!
Regarding the Free State Wyoming, somebody had to step up and make it happen. I looked around and that somebody was me. I am happy to harness my experience and author reputation to such a worthy venture, and I am honored to enjoy such enthusiastic support from so many dedicated free staters. Come join me in Wyoming! We're all going to be neighbors!
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