The Great American Disconnect

The U.S. has been drifting into a collection of red or blue enclaves. Libertarians decided they needed a state of their own

Manchester, N.H.

Fifteen years ago a Yale grad student named Jason Sorens began pondering what might seem like a wild question: How many libertarians would it take to commandeer a state government?

At the time Mr. Sorens, then a 24-year-old campus libertarian, felt failed by electoral politics. The Libertarian Party had earned a few million votes in the 2000 elections, but these were scattered throughout the country, and its candidates had never won a federal office. (They still haven’t.) Maybe the solution was for libertarians to pack up and move—to converge on a sparsely populated state and take over.

ENLARGE
PHOTO: CHAD CROWE

This wasn’t an entirely new idea. For decades libertarians had dreamed of creating a polity to call their own. “There had been some efforts to build sandbars in the Pacific, to anchor a concrete ship in the Caribbean, and they’d all failed miserably,” says Mr. Sorens, who now lectures in political science at Dartmouth College. “I wanted something that could be done easily for most people—relatively easily, compared to moving into the middle of the Pacific.”

He posted his proposal online in the summer of 2001, and the Free State Project was born. For the past decade it has centered on a pledge: Signers solemnly agreed that once the total number of pledges hit 20,000, they would move within five years to New Hampshire. As the pledge count ticked upward, some didn’t want to wait, and nearly 2,000 early movers arrived. About a dozen and a half now sit in the state House of Representatives. Not everyone is pleased. “Free Staters,” a Democratic legislator wrote a few years back, “are the single biggest threat the state is facing today.”

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