Utopian communities: They’re not just for hippies anymore.
Take Glenn Beck. The former television host and new-media entrepreneur has a dream. A dream that involves neither dusty chalkboards nor conspiratorial spiderweb charts.
Drawing inspiration from objectivist author Ayn Rand and Mickey Mouse godfather Walt Disney, Mr. Beck recently announced plans to build Independence, USA, a $2 billion, self-sufficient, libertarian city-cum-theme park that would mark “the rebirth of our nation through its own principles.”
When it comes to utopian visions, Mr. Beck isn’t alone.
PayPal co-founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel already has pledged $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, a group that plans to establish sovereign, libertarian-minded nations on giant mobile platforms floating in international waters, a kind of “Octopus’ Garden” for the Gone Galt set.
Meanwhile, renewed national debate over gun control has brought media attention to the Citadel, a proposed walled community — think medieval stone castle, not suburban mechanical-arm security gate — of up to 7,000 residents centered around a firearms factory and inspired by survivalist philosophy and the writings of Thomas Jefferson.
“Marxists, Socialists, Liberals and Establishment Republicans will likely find that life in our community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles,” says the Citadel’s website. “If Liberty has been missing from the life of your family, consider the Citadel for your new home.”
As President Obama begins his second term following an electoral victory that surprised many conservatives, two things seem clear: (a) most on the political right are unhappy; (b) a few are unhappy enough to want to take their ball and go home.
Home, in this case, being the middle of the ocean. Or Mr. Beck’s Tomorrowland. Or a fortresslike city in northern Idaho that will feature “no recycling police and no local ordinance enforcers from City Hall,” but will require all residents to “maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO, at least 5 magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.”
“In the 1960s, you had ‘tune in, turn on, drop out,’” said Larry Rosenthal, executive director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. “There is a parallel tradition on the right. You could call it a right counterculture. This participates in that. It has a quality of dropping out.
“At the moment, if you read the tea party blogs closely, the sense of defeat and nowhere to turn is pretty strong. People have largely given up on the Republican Party, which will do nothing but nominate the likes of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole. [These communities] are a way of saying, ‘We will no longer compete with a world that is completely stacked against us because of liberal elites,’ as well as the elites within the Republican Party.”
Visions of Division
Of the three visions of a liberal-free enclave, the Citadel appears to be the most developed. Though organizers are not responding to interview requests, the project’s website invites both reporters and the curious to check out a fairly elaborate plan for up to 3,000 acres of land in a mountainous region of Benewah County, Idaho.
According to organizers, residents of the Citadel will be bound by “patriotism,” “pride in American Exceptionalism” and agreement that “being prepared for the emergencies of life and being proficient with the American icon of liberty — the rifle — are prudent measures.”
A conceptual sketch of the community shows schools, homes, a farmer’s market, a public amphitheater, a firearms museum, a firearms factory, inner and outer walls and nearly two dozen defensive towers.
The Citadel website states that the development will have canals, ponds, waterfalls and public gardens that will offer “picturesque retreats” and “enhance the experience of residents and visitors alike”; organizers also plan to protect “up to two full square miles” of the compound behind the aforementioned walls and towers, with interior neighborhoods having “lower defensive walls, dividing the town into defensible sections.”
Prospective residents must sign a “Citadel Patriot Agreement,” which requires them to:
“Annually demonstrate proficiency” with rifles and handguns by hitting “a man-sized steel target” at an on-site firing range.
Maintain a “Tactical Go Bag or Muster Kit to satisfy the Minuteman concept.”
Keep their homes stocked with sufficient food, water and other essentials to sustain their needs for an entire year.
Carry a loaded sidearm whenever visiting the Citadel Town Center.
Despite the focus on firearms and survivalist preparation, organizers insist they are neither “militia separatists,” nor “wackos.” To the contrary, they intend to follow all state and federal laws and have the Citadel function as a tourist attraction, much like Disneyland.
“The model will be similar in many ways to that of Disneyland,” says the community’s website. “Millions of people visit Disneyland and interact peacefully. It’s exceptionally rare to hear of any serious problems. The key is that those people want to be there and understand what is expected of them. Surprisingly similar to what we are doing.”
The city of Independence, Mr. Beck said, would include a working farm, a downtown marketplace, a multifaith house of worship and a front gate modeled after the one on Ellis Island.
Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Beck also plans to build a film studio where his production company can create movies and television shows that stand apart from popular Hollywood fare by not “constantly assaulting all the things that we all stand for.”
“Again, there’s a sense of creating a counterculture, the attempt to create a counter-intellectual world,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “Especially in their plans to be visited like Colonial Williamsburg, these communities seem like a cross between the Henry Ford Museum village and the Creation Museum in Kentucky.”
Of course, there’s a major difference between those projects and the proposed Conserva-topias: Only the former actually have been built.
According to Details magazine, Mr. Thiel’s Seasteaders hope to create moveable, linkable, 12,000-ton floating structures that house nearly 300 residents; currently, however, they have yet to convert even a single passenger ship.
Mr. Beck’s project is similarly conceptual.
The Citadel’s organizers claim on their website they already have purchased a small parcel of Idaho land and that as of last December more than 200 individuals and families have paid a partially refundable $208 application fee to reserve space for the project.
Given that III Arms — the startup firearms company intended to fund the community and provide employment to its members — reportedly has yet to build a factory and only registered with Idaho’s secretary of state in August, it’s unlikely that development will begin in earnest anytime soon.
“Much remains to be decided,” said a recent post on the Citadel’s blog. “The III Arms Company will provide the initial financial base to get started, but beyond that, those who move to the Citadel will need to bring work or income with them or have employment with a current business already arranged. We aren’t going to paint a rosy, unrealistic picture of what is needed. We aren’t in this to ‘sell’ something. We are in this to build the community we want to live in. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be simple.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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