This is the time of year when people all over the country are coming together and getting food to needy families, but for one community in Manchester, N.H., private acts of charity aren’t just a holiday tradition — they are a display of anarchist and libertarian principles.
On a recent day, about 50 people gathered in a converted office space with $6,000 worth of food and a list of needy families. Mike Ruff, with help from a couple of kids, filled shopping bags with food for the hungry.
Ruff, a 40-year-old mediator and blacksmith, helped organize the event. He carries an M1911 pistol strapped to his waist because he says he doesn’t trust tax-funded policemen to protect him. For all the same reasons, he doesn’t trust the government to help the needy either.
Ruff is a member of New Hampshire’s growing Free State movement, which means he moved from somewhere else to New Hampshire for the state’s low tax burden, its “Live Free or Die” mentality and to agitate for smaller government.
Ruff isn’t the only person here who thinks this kind of private charity should replace all tax-funded social services.
“We all agree that privately funded, voluntary charity is superior to the welfare system,” says Amanda Bouldin, the event’s coordinator. Bouldin is humbled by the $6,000 that was donated to buy food, and it’s her job to make sure her volunteers get suitable meals to needy refugees and diabetics.
Like Ruff, Bouldin moved to New Hampshire to join the Free State Project. She says she doesn’t blame anyone who uses food stamps or public housing, and she knows her $6,000 is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to ending hunger. But, she says, forcing the public to pay taxes to solve social problems is immoral.
“If you stick a gun to somebody’s head and say, ‘Give me $20 to feed this guy that’s dying of starvation on the street right now, or I’ll kill you,’ have you done something charitable? No,” she says. “You’ve committed a crime.”
Not everybody here sees taxation in such strict terms.
Merav Yaakov, an Israeli who recently moved her family from Colorado to New Hampshire to join the Free State Project, says she’s not comfortable in big organizations.
“There’s research out there that says people function best in groups of 150 people, and I would like to organize my life in this kind of terms,” Yaakov says. She says big organizations – like the government – just don’t work for her.
“I don’t know who runs them, I don’t know their interests … [and] it’s hard for me to be part of big things like this that I don’t have personal contact,” she says.
Yaakov says the people at this event are some of the most creative people she’s ever met, and the strength of their relationships is striking.
Caitlin Appell moved a year ago with her fiancée, Elizabeth, to join the Free State Project. The 24-year-old says they didn’t expect to make so many friends so fast.
“It was like this whole wider community that we didn’t know and over this last year we’ve just been completely like embraced by them it’s kind of amazing,” she says.
Appell is not the only one. Almost everyone at the event moved to New Hampshire in the last three years – many in the last six months. In that short time, they’ll tell you emphatically, they have come to love each other and their community, perhaps even more than they dislike taxes.