There are several topics related to the Free State Project (FSP) that I’d like to write about. Between misinformation, dishonesty, and simple unawareness, some people have come to some incorrect conclusions about the FSP and its participants. Topics that repeatedly come up include secession, ‘hostile takeover’, motivation for moving, image (both of the project and its participants), and vision for government. Each of those deserves a post of its own.
But first, I want to address something that stands in the way of constructive dialog: hatred, bigotry, and careless, dishonest speech. I’ll start with an apology for my own speech. Then I’ll explain what I actually meant, and share some encouragement.
On April 24th, I began a Facebook status update with these words:
There’s a hate group in Keene trashing the FSP because they don’t like Free Keene (or Robin Hooding, or something like that).
The controversy stirred up by this statement revolves around my use of the phrase, “hate group,” which was aimed at the group known as Stop Free Keene (SFK; a Facebook group and website). Before I dig into what I did mean, I think it’s important that I clarify what I didn’t mean.
I didn’t intend an extreme and/or legal meaning for the phrase, “hate group.” To some people, it appears to have carried an actually-violent, burning-crosses-on-lawns sort of meaning. To you, SFK members or otherwise, who honestly thought I was using the hate group label in that way, I apologize.
I didn’t mean to imply that level of extremism. I can see why you would be offended if that was your understanding. I’m sorry that I didn’t put the phrase in quotes or otherwise make it clear that I wasn’t making a serious accusation of that nature. I’m sorry for my lack of clarity there and I’ll try to be more clear in the future.
Having said that, my use of the phrase wasn’t completely thoughtless. I called SFK a hate group for two reasons, which are much more general in nature. In one respect, I wasn’t joking or exaggerating. However, I was intentionally committing an obvious error which I’ll address below.
My first reason for calling SFK a hate group was the abundance of hateful rhetoric that has come from many of SFK’s most vocal members aimed at Free Staters in general. Some of this history, which I have quoted elsewhere, has now been deleted by cooler and wiser heads. Like it or not, the phrase, “hate group,” starts with the word hate, and hate was a real feature of rhetoric found in SFK.
My second reason for calling SFK a hate group was more important – the group part. The accusation was obviously erroneous in the same way some SFK members’ bigotry against FSP participants is obviously erroneous. It begs this question: is SFK a hate group because some of its leaders and vocal members engage in dishonest, hateful bigotry? Or is it unfair to characterize SFK by the rhetoric of only a subset of its leaders and members?
At the time I made that statement, it was common practice in the SFK group to paint Free Staters in general with the same broad brush, dipped in the paint of objectionable behavior on the part of some Free Keene activists. The prevailing view of the group’s leaders was supportive of, “practices that attack or malign an entire class of people” (in this case, Free Staters).
This practice of bigotry is dishonest, hateful, and destructive. Without knowing anything about me or my family other than the fact that we are FSP participants, some SFK members have wished violence upon us, wished we were never born, said we’re not welcome here, and wished to run us out of town. By “we” I mean FSP participants, without qualification, which includes me.
I make no apology for speaking out against this bigotry. If anything doesn’t belong in Keene, it’s the disgusting habit of bigotry, and it was alive and well in this supposedly pro-community group. Yet, the way I went about calling out the bigotry was to use bigotry: I called SFK, the whole group, a hate group. Clearly, not every member of SFK has made hateful, bigoted comments. In calling SFK a hate group, I simply applied the same bigotry tactic used by some SFK members and leaders to SFK itself.
That appears to have made the point loud and clear. Many people objected to me calling SFK a hate group precisely because it’s bigotry (my word, not theirs, but it accurately captures their reasoning). Ironically, some of those SFK members who objected to my use of bigotry were promoting bigotry themselves. Despite the fact that they lend credence to my label by promoting bigotry as an acceptable practice, I can’t, in good conscience, go on maligning all of SFK in this way. I’ve clearly made my point and it’s time to move on.
It became obvious to those practicing bigotry against Free Staters that bigotry is wrong when I practiced it against them. So, SFK leaders and members should be happy to oppose bigoted rhetoric in their group. This repudiation of bigotry has already begun. In late July, I met with SFK-moderator and website-administrator Joshua Erickson. One result of this meeting was his agreement that painting all Free Staters with the same broad brush isn’t honest.
Ed Lake’s more recent letter to the Keene Sentinel reveals that the problem isn’t completely solved yet. In one sentence, Free Staters are lumped in with Free Keene, who are called, “hostile, entitled, lazy, tax dodging, and anti-community.” That’s an excellent description of what I’m not, so it’s obviously dishonest to paint me in that light, even though my name appears at the beginning of the letter. Unfortunately, this is likely to mislead some readers who don’t already know me.
Despite the problems with the letter, the aftermath has been encouraging. I posted the letter on my wall and welcomed Ed to join the conversation. After a lengthy dialog including several other non-FK-member FSP particpants, Ed said, “Even though I may not agree with, understand or want the FSP way of life, it doesn’t mean I cant recognize that some/most FSP participants do nothing to harm our community and may be as like minded as I am on what it means to call yourself a NH resident.” What a night and day difference a civil discussion makes.
Civil discussions are impeded by dishonest, inflammatory rhetoric, which has been a hallmark of some SFK members’ communication to this day. I won’t sugar coat the harm that does, and I do ask that it stop. Was my response ideal? No, I should have been more careful. So I’m doing what I believe is the responsible thing and addressing it here publicly. If I want dishonest, inflammatory rhetoric to stop, then I should stop, too.
On that commitment, I’m asking SFK members to stop the bigotry. And don’t just stop, be responsible adults and apologize as I am doing right here. Apologizing and turning away from hateful bigotry will open the door to reconciliation with reasonable people who you have deeply offended. It will make the home that we share a much better place.
And Keene is home for me now. I’ve spent much more of my adult life living in Keene than anywhere else. I care a lot about our home and I think our family’s impact on Keene for the 10 years we’ve lived here speaks for itself. Bigotry paints a dishonest picture about who we are. So I’ll stop now, and I ask you to do likewise.