By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON in the Union Leader
Sunday News Correspondent
NASHUA – The president of the Free State Project announced this weekend she wants the thousands of supporters nationwide who have committed to moving to New Hampshire to begin doing so in two years.
“This is a solution. We want to trigger the move. We know that what we are doing here is incredibly important,” Carla Gericke, one of the leaders of the Free State Project, who moved from New York to New Hampshire in 2008, told participants at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum.
According to its website, the Free State Project has 1,130 participants already living in New Hampshire, with more than 13,700 committed to eventually relocating here. Its plan is to entice more than 20,000 pro-liberty activists to move to the Granite State, with participants pledging to “exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty and property,” says the site.
Based on the current recruiting rate, Gericke said, the pledge total would hit 20,000 in 2018, triggering the large-scale move to New Hampshire. Under that scenario, the goal would be to have all pledgers relocate by 2023.
However, Gericke said she does not want to wait until she is 51 years old to trigger the move.
“I want to do it in the next two years,” she said, explaining the only way to accelerate the move is to begin major fundraising efforts and secure sponsors to help raise about $270,000 – a figure she believes could make the move feasible.
“The most valuable thing you can do is move, and you won’t regret it,” she told those in attendance for the opening ceremony of the New Hampshire Liberty Forum on Friday at the Crowne Plaza. ” … We are building the beacon of liberty for the rest of the world to emulate.”
The $270,000 would help the Free State Project become a 501c3 company. It applied for that status in July 2012, but are waiting for official confirmation. The money would primarily help pay for marketing material, recruiting efforts and a salary for Gericke.
Despite the attention the Free State Project is receiving this weekend during the annual forum, there are still opponents of the controversial libertarianism movement. Some elected officials in New Hampshire are critical of members’ efforts, previously voicing suspicion about how Free Staters would actually go about launching political change.
Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Chase of Keene previously posted this comment on the liberal blog BlueHampshire: “In the opinion of this Democrat, Free Staters are the single biggest threat the state is facing today. There is, legally, nothing we can do to prevent them from moving here to take over the stat. . . . What we can do is to make the environment here so unwelcoming that some will choose not to come, and some may actually leave. One way is to pass measures that will restrict the ‘freedoms’ that they think they will find here….”
Gericke said she is not upset about Chase’s comments, but instead has a “bring it on” attitude dealing with critics. In fact, she said, after Chase’s comments appeared in December, her group’s website received 130 percent more traffic and 5,000 new “likes” on its Facebook page.
About 500 people are attending the forum this weekend, which concludes later today.
“We want people to see that we are not the evil everyone is making us out to be,” said organizer Chris Lawless, who stresses that is his real last name. Lawless is a Free Stater who moved from California to New Hampshire more than seven years ago and is currently living in Hopkinton.
The Free State Project was founded in 2001 by Jason Sorens, a student at Yale University.
Dozens of pledgers have traveled to attend the forum, trying to learn more about the state and its people, according to Lawless.
“The Free State Project is about doers,” said Lawless, encouraging pledgers to become super activists. “Don’t be a whiner and a complainer, be a doer.”
According to Lawless, about 12 Free Staters are currently state representatives – some who have acknowledged being members of the group, such as Mark Warden and Carole and Dan McQuire, others who are more quiet libertarians.
Some Free Staters were not reelected in November, while other new libertarians were able to secure seats, he said.
But it is not all about politics, say some pledgers who moved to New Hampshire in the past year.
Kari Dephillips, 29, moved from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Lincoln last September. “It was a big decision, but we have been prepping for it,” said Dephillips, who signed the pledge to relocate to the Granite State in 2002 while she was a college student.
Dephillips said she has no intention of running for public office but instead wants to help use her public relations skills to market the Free State Project and its mission. She currently owns The Content Factory, a public relations and social media marketing business.
Anonymous mover, 44, feels the same way. She and her husband moved from California to Northwood last summer after signing the pledge in 2003.
“We just could never get ahead in California. It was so expensive,” she said, who owns her own company. The fact that New Hampshire has no sales tax was a big incentive for her, she said.
People are often surprised to learn she is a Free Stater, she said, adding she is not interested in civil disobedience but rather in surrounding herself with like-minded people in a beautiful state with welcoming and friendly residents.
“I am happier here than I ever was in my previous 20 years in California,” she said.
Liberty Forum is designed to give Free State pledgers who are in the process of moving to the Granite State an opportunity to visit the area, network with others and learn more about job opportunities and housing in the area, according to organizers.
Nashua is a good location to host the event because it is relatively close to the Boston area and its airport, they said.
A total of 24 speakers will take the stage during the four-day conference, including Libertarian activist Ken Krawchuk, political correspondent Declan McCullagh, policy analyst Julie Borowski and historian Thaddeus Russell.
One of those speakers is Jeffrey Tucker, a self-described anarchist and author.
“It is far less radical than it sounds,” he reassured the crowd. He said anarchy is a plausible idea because it is how most people live anyway. But when the state nudges people to behave a certain way or live within its own structures, that is when problems arise, said Tucker.
“To live this way is not good for you or us,” he said.