The Disastrous Free Town Project Explained

As described in an interview with Matt Hongoltz-Hetling (via The New Republic), the survivalists in Tent City — originally seeking a life of freedom — ended up constructing a massive wall around their homes to keep bears out. While the bears essentially caged them in and ended the dream of the Free Town Project, the smaller movement has since been absorbed by the broader Free State Project that served as its inspiration in the first place. In 2016, approximately 20,000 individuals pledged to move to the state of New Hampshire with a similar goal. Although many of these pledges didn’t play out, more than 6,000 Free Towners had moved to the state as of July 2022, per The New York Times.

Many have viewed the story of the failed Free Town as an amusing misadventure, but writer Elizabeth Austin (via Washington Monthly), points out that this story is symbolic of a larger problem in the United States. Citizens, losing faith in their government’s ability to help them, cut public services and infrastructure in favor of personal freedom and lower taxes.

Since the three bear attacks near Grafton, New Hampshire, the town has considered several measures to reduce human-bear interactions, but they’ve had trouble passing any legislation. As reported by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling (via New Hampshire Magazine), a 2013 bill proposed installing bear-proof protections for all trash cans. For many of the residents, however, this was viewed as government overreach. Officials voted 14-0 to reject it.