Live-Read: A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear

[Content Note: Animal Cruelty, Animal Injury and Death, Animal Attacks, Libertarians, Awful Hitler References]

A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear

I have begun reading the book by the guy who wrote the article about the town of Libertarians who were being attacked by bears and it is *surreal*. If you haven't read the article about the Libertarians and the bears and the woman feeding them piles of donuts everyday, it is an absolute must-read. I'll wait.

[The Town That Went Feral]

Okay, major content note up-front: there is an early chapter that is very disturbing because the bears have started eating local pets, which is *extremely rare* and was already a sign that something had gone very very wrong.

The entire area's history is WILD and steeped in a tradition of rampant tax evasion. This town, Grafton, is located in New Hampshire but tried to secede from the Union *during the Revolutionary War* (not after! during!) and join Vermont because Vermont double pinky swore that Grafton wouldn't have to pay taxes. Vermont told Grafton that Vermonters didn't need taxes because all the state's money came from seizing British assets. (And obviously THAT was a source of income that was going to continue indefinitely?!)

George Washington had to threaten to pause the war and attack Vermont to get them to stop meddling. At which point Vermont turned around and admitted that they didn't actually want the little backwoods counties and towns they were recruiting; it was all a bargaining chip to make Vermont a colony in its own right and not get swallowed up by New Hampshire. Once the original 13 colonies agreed that Vermont could stay Vermont, then Vermont basically told Grafton (the future site of Libertarians being attacked by bears) that they didn't actually want them, and sent them back to New Hampshire.

Grafton has basically been trying to avoid paying taxes from Day One, is the situation.

This book is extremely well written; I guffawed very early on. The author was listing the chickens that this guy (Babiarz) has with the usual parenthetical like "[name of breed] (blue eggs, cold hardy)" and then got to this one cock described as "[name of breed] (good layer, leads bears to owner)" because a bear was chasing the chicken *and it beelined straight for daddy*. NOT IDEAL.

He showed me two chicken coops that held three dozen birds, a mess of colors indicating a mix of breeds including Barred Rock (prolific egg counts, bossy with other breeds), Buff Orpingtons (big eggs, friendly personality), and Ameraucanas (blue eggs, cold-hardy). But it was a rotating cast, because the bear typically ate three or four chickens a pop.

The chicken, a black Australorp (good layer, leads bears to humans), caught sight of Babiarz and rushed toward him, the bear right behind.

What is wild about this book is that the locals had plenty of warning! They knew the local bears were getting bolder and more dangerous! The bears in the area had been eating pets and livestock for 20 years! and escalating! I haven't gotten to the Doughnut Lady yet and her habit of feeding piles of donuts to the bears, but I'm already wildly frustrated with her. But first we're going to talk about Babiarz, Grafton's first Libertarian and the one who invited all the other Libertarians in.

"The problem [of how to convince other Americans that Libertarianism is peachy keen] was still hanging over the heads of the party in 1992, which is when Babiarz and Rosalie (also a libertarian) got married and decided that Connecticut's high income tax was cause to flee the state."

*deep breath* As a queer person who actually did have to "flee" a state because a threat of state violence planning to force all trans people to detransition, I'm hyperventilating a little at the idea of going through all this because of taxes that the Babiarzes could almost certainly pay with their comfortable white collar computing jobs. Libertarians like to say that taxes are violence, but that rhetoric drives me bonkers; it is not violence to make sure the roads work and to protect people from bear attacks.

"He articulated the Libertarian Party's basic principles to an audience that was probably unfamiliar with them. The government's real function, he said, was to protect individual property rights, and he expressed the libertarians' moral opposition to the income tax, the sales tax, and the property tax."

This book spans several centuries of history as well as delving into the last couple decades of this area, Grafton. At this stage in the book, it is year 2000 and this guy, Babiarz, is running for office on an anti-taxes platform while wild bears decimate his gardens and kill his livestock. This is all just backstory. The Libertarians haven't invaded Grafton yet.

Online Libertarians come up with the idea that they could immigrate en masse to a town and take it over by force of numbers, "liberating" the town from all those pesky government laws, regulations, benefits, and taxes that the locals had (presumably) voted on and approved over the years. You see, the Libertarians insist that they are more "logical" than other people and that the locals will welcome them as liberators once they see how much better their lives are without government infrastructure.

"If all went as planned, hundreds of Free Towners would concentrate their voting power to effect a political makeover, transforming a small American town from a stodgy and unattractive thicket of burdensome regulations into an "anything goes" frontier where, according to a website created by Pendarvis, citizens should assert certain inalienable rights, such as the right to have more than two junk cars on private property, the right to gamble, the right to engage in school truancy, the right to traffic drugs, and the right to have incestual intercourse.

Oh, and also, Pendarvis sought to assert the right to traffic organs, the right to hold duels, and the God-given, underappreciated right to organize so-called bum fights, in which people who are homeless or otherwise indigent are paid small amounts of money to engage in fisticuffs. Logic is a strange thing."

The online Libertarians are interested in New Hampshire because it already has low taxes (ugh) and now they're literally just driving aimlessly around rural New Hampshire looking for a place that gives off good vibes. This is how they are searching for their Libertarian paradise to invade. They reject one town because it's about to enact fire zoning regulations and that's way too much government and community organization. They want a place they can invade without resistance. I am forced to remind everyone that the Libertarians think they're the Good Guys in this situation.

They visit Grafton by invitation of Babiarz, who is a Libertarian and a transplant in the community. (He, too, immigrated here from elsewhere in the US because of the draw of low New Hampshire taxes.)

"They also got the sense that Grafton was a sandbox in which they could play, with little state or federal supervision. No longer tethered by rail lines and commerce to the broader world, Grafton had become a tiny fragment of civilization hidden away among the trees. And because Grafton had far more land than people, plenty of plots were available for would-be homesteaders.

Together, the colonists and their hosts strategized a naked power grab of the town government. Grafton had fewer than eight hundred registered voters, most of whom didn't show up on election days. They figured that just a couple of dozen new voters could join an existing base of like-minded people to tip the scales in favor of a new order.

Might it be possible, Condon asked, to defund the local public school district?

There's already talk about that, said Rosalie, who was a payroll clerk with the local regional school district."

THESE PEOPLE. They literally just want to move in, most of them without children or indeed even wives, and tear down the school system that the locals are using to educate their children, thereby forcing the locals to either homeschool (which is expensive!) or seek private schooling solutions that the area doesn't have available to offer!

"Condon and the others asked their hosts if they had "any hesitation about a bunch of wild libertarians invading your quiet town?… Should we choose Grafton as the Free Town?"

"Absolutely," said Rosalie.

It's not clear whether, at this point, the Babiarzes fully understood that the libertarians were operating under vampire rules—the invitation to enter, once offered, could not be rescinded."

I love this writing. Have I mentioned that already? This is some amazing writing. Just bask in that last sentence. ANYWAY. The Free Town Project people plan to invade the town entirely in secret, but after a bunch of out-of-towners start suddenly quietly buying up land, a local journalist caught wind of the project and circulated the website contents. Because the Libertarians have a website. And it is a DOOZY.

"Pendarvis also vowed [on the website] to force Grafton to withdraw from the school district and to legalize organ trafficking, cannibalism, and duels, among other things.

"All of a sudden people saw what he was saying," said Babiarz. Like many Free Towners, Babiarz implied that it was grossly unfair for people to judge the Free Town Project by the views expressed on the Free Town Project website."

LOOK AT THIS WRITING. This is how you write a non-fiction book about awful ridiculous people while making it clear that they are awful and ridiculous. It reminds me of the tour de force documentary Kings of Kong which is about Donkey Kong players and video game high scores and a few very terrible people.

Now that the Libertarians are being politely-but-firmly asked to explain themselves to the locals, they have shown up with crosses to climb onto. They are comparing people who don't want their hometown to be invaded by political assholes TO HITLER. Because these men are online trolls and nothing more.

"I never knew till that point how Hitler could get people all riled up to support him in war," John would later say. He called it a mob mentality. "It was interesting, because it was all emotion-based. Logic and reason was out the door."

Emotion-based. Why are the locals, some of whom are impoverished!, so *emotional* about the rich Libertarians (and yes, many of them are rich) demanding the right to move in and organize "bum fights" in which they will use their money to force homeless people to fist-fight in public for people's enjoyment. Because that's just cool-headed Vulcan logic!

[TW: CSA] We have to talk about this Pendarvis guy who is running the Free Town Project website. If I understand the book correctly, he was convicted of downloading a LOT of child pornography at work. The conviction was overturned because the prosecution engaged in some stupid legal shenanigans. This is the guy they put in charge of the public-facing website. He is also trying to run an online "mail order bride" service that sounds really goddamn sketchy. The Libertarians are sensitive to the fact that these details might upset the locals, so rather than remove him from being the de facto head of public relations, they... agreed to use an alias for him in order to obscure his past legal troubles. And then they just keep telling the locals not to judge them, the Libertarians, by the Libertarian guy they put in charge of running their public website and who keeps going onto radio shows to espouse his beliefs. It's a MESS.

The New Hampshire Libertarian Party (because of course there is a New Hampshire Libertarian Party) is furious with the Free Town Libertarians for "poisoning the well" on Libertarianism. They're watching in dismay as news stories unfold about Pendarvis and the Free Town Project, because people are coming into contact with Libertarians for the first time and NOT coming away with a good impression.

"Though some defended Pendarvis as a truth-teller, many of the disheartened libertarians blamed him for ratcheting up the rhetoric around the most inflammatory topics, like bum fighting. The state's Libertarian Party, which considered itself a different entity than the Free Town Project, sent Pendarvis a strongly worded email accusing him of poisoning the well in Grafton.

"The people of Grafton are armed, dangerous, and extremely pissed at you," wrote John Barnes of the state party. He instructed Pendarvis to stay away from New Hampshire. "We will certainly not protect you."

Pendarvis politically exits stage left at this point, after the thinly veiled threat that the state party won't step in to prevent armed locals from shooting him. But the remaining Free Town Libertarians are still certain that they'll be welcomed as liberators after they take the town over by force. And secrecy. (Well, an attempt at secrecy, anyway. They aren't very good at carrying out the secrecy.)

As humans flood into the area--humans from other states that don't have bears in them, and therefore humans who may not know how to secure food away from bears--the local community notices that bears are starting to engage in strange and unusual behavior, venturing onto porches and (noteworthy!) not hibernating when winter comes. Instead of sleeping through the cold, they're raiding bird feeders and dumping over trash cans and licking barbeque grills. The bears are also studying the humans' habits and showing an unusual level of intelligence by, well, the standards of bears.

"Thurber’s experience with the bear was surprising, because the bear wasn't simply seeking cover when humans approached. Rather, it seemed to be specifically avoiding the light.

Which suggested that the bear knew human passersby could only see where the light struck.

Which further suggested that the bear had the mental capacity to understand the physical properties of his surroundings, as they would appear to a human, and act accordingly—and under our common human understanding of animal intelligence, that would make this particular animal some sort of bear genius."

How many Libertarians moved into Grafton during this time? It's hard to say. A lot of the people moving in are also bringing guests with them in campers, tents, and so forth that they park on their new property. Not all the newcomers want to be registered by the state, some for idealogical reasons and others for more practical reasons. (I am convinced that some of them are tax-dodgers given how scared they are of talking to the IRS later when a rather major problem could be easily solved by turning in a simple form.)

"No one knows exactly how many libertarians moved to Grafton for the Free Town Project. Census records show that the town's population swelled by more than two hundred between 2000 and 2010, but there could have been fewer libertarian colonists than that, or there could have been more."

And of course the Libertarians bring their guns with them. Everywhere. This causes more strain in the local community, on account of it being hard to discuss taxes with the logical Libertarian wearing a cannon on his hip.

"At Grafton's church-based town meetings, the once-civil tone of discourse became strained, as citizens debated amendments and motions under the double scrutiny of Free Towners openly displaying 9 millimeter handguns and armed officers from the Grafton County sheriff's department, which decided it had better send someone, just in case."

God, this book is amazing and well-written but it needs SO MANY trigger warnings for animal neglect. Okay. Deep breath. The story of Grafton and its bears now comes to the saga of Doughnut Lady, one of multiple Libertarians who decided to feed the bears and (in doing so) trained them to be food-aggressive with humans. In order to talk about Doughnut Lady, we need to talk about Goat Man. And in order to talk about Goat Man, we have to lay down a MAJOR trigger warning for animal abuse and hoarding.

Goat Man is a 60yo British-born man who fancies himself a Buddhist and find it abhorrent to "isolate, castrate, or slaughter" his goats. With nothing left to do except eat and breed, the his 3-goat flock grew over four years to 252 goats. (He's also actively acquiring goats, so it's unclear whether this is all from breeding.) Neglect on his property is rife and I can't really describe this section without triggering folks.

The short version is: Goat Man may or may not be one of the Libertarians (I'm honestly not sure) but he is a perfect example of why we absolutely do need a government to intervene when animals are being hoarded and abused. Before the government steps in to help the animals (which they eventually do, thank goodness), Doughnut Lady tries her hand at her own sort of neighborly intervention: she has a grieving cow who needs company and Goat Man has a starving steer who is dying from neglect. Doughnut Lady convinces him to let her take his steer home to her lonely cow.

Here again I have to say that the writing in this book is amazing because the author clearly hates these people as much I do, but he's deft at using gentle humor to convey it in ways that never feel cruel. For example:

"Without any knowledge of the dark days that awaited Goat Man, Doughnut Lady and her husband drove home, reflecting on a man who had seemed somewhat out of synch with reality.

Anyway, Doughnut Lady was anticipating the happy moment when she could introduce [new steer] Monty to her bereaved [cow] Buttercup. She sure hoped Monty would get along with her bears."

I am afraid that quote doesn't convey the surrealism that is happening, so let me try. This woman, Doughnut Lady, has just rescued a starving steer from an animal hoarder, Goat Man. She's taking the steer back home to Buttercup, who is a cow that misses her cow friend which recently died. Doughnut Lady is reflecting on how out-of-touch Goat Man is, while pondering that her hopes the new steer will get along with "her bears". Because she has bears. We'll get to those later.

I'm trying to be calm about this summary, but honestly I'm very angry. I know that animal hoarding is a mental illness, and I don't blame Goat Man for the horrific neglect and abuse he's perpetrating. But I'm furious that Libertarian bullshit makes it harder to get help for him and the animals on his property. Because when your position is that government shouldn't exist except to protect "property rights" and that a man "owns" the animals on his land (rather than being a steward or guardian to those animals) then, yeah, you're making it really damn hard for people to intervene and get help for mistreated animals.

And Doughnut Lady.......we'll get to my feelings about her in a minute. I'm going to go hug my cats and take a few deep breaths of air. I would not recommend this if you have animal triggers; I'm not sure if the MODERN bears are going to come out of this ok (Editor's Note: They do NOT come out okay.), but there was a chapter on HISTORICAL bear hunting in the region and it's pretty sad how many bears were killed.

Okay. I'm back. Reading further, I just want to shake all of these people.

"In Grafton, some residents work hard to discourage bears from entering their property by getting fierce dogs and putting up electric fences. Burrington, who kept up her mother's sheep farming tradition, used a tractor to bury her dead animals deep in the ground. When the ground froze and she could no longer dig such graves, she drove the carcasses up an old county road to dump them around the back side of a rugged outcropping known as Aaron's Ledge, where the bears were thick as trees.

Burrington told me that, when she drove by Doughnut Lady's home one day, she looked down the sloping pasture to the rear of the house.

"All I could see was brown. I said, 'Jesus!'" Burrington tried, and failed, to count the animals she saw milling around. “I don't know how many bear there was, but there was a lot of bear down there.”

The reaction wouldn't have surprised Doughnut Lady. She understood that most people are afraid of bears. She used to be afraid of bears too."

"She used to be afraid of bears." Jesus. Back to the Libertarians at large, they've fully invaded Grafton at this point and are trying to shut down both the school and the local library, because freedom.

"At Grafton's annual town meetings, the libertarians floated all sorts of new ideas, hoping to find common ground with longtime residents. They were stymied in their efforts to withdraw Grafton from the regional school district, explicitly condemn The Communist Manifesto, and eliminate funding for the Grafton Public Library. They were successful, however, in getting a measure passed to cut 30 percent from the town's $1 million budget, as well as another to deny funding to the county senior citizens' council. They failed to muster enough votes to abolish the town planning board but did manage to stock it with libertarians, who effectively shut it down."

The Libertarians, mostly male, have also created a (possibly illegal) camper encampment where they're making meth. (This is actually very dangerous! Please do not make meth!)

"I'd been told that, in addition to the camp, the woods in this region provided cover to modern-day bootleggers, who were growing marijuana and cooking meth with relative temerity, knowing that the citizenry would react negatively to aggressive enforcement by the town's sole full-time police officer."

There's no garbage collection in town, as that would require taxes and the Grafton area is historically hostile to taxes, so it's on residents to drive their trash to the collection place. You can probably guess that not everyone is good about doing this in a timely manner and that bears are eating the garbage.

"They [the Libertarians] permanently extinguished most of the town's streetlights to save on electricity bills and discontinued long stretches of dirt road to save on highway materials and equipment. The town rejected funding for frills like community Christmas lights and Fourth of July fireworks. And though the planning board survived, Free Towners and other like-minded residents gutted its $2,000 budget, first cutting it to $500, then to a token $50. Contrary to the libertarians' expectations, however, real life in the Free Town seemed to be almost the reverse of Rand's fictional vision—by 2011, while the rest of America was chugging along unperturbed, the holes in Grafton's public services gaped stubbornly, creating a spreading malaise."

It's great how the book keeps repeating that Libertarians see themselves as "logical" but can't follow the logic that if you don't upkeep roads, things go to shit.

"Despite several promising efforts, a robust Randian private sector failed to emerge to replace public services. A theoretical private fire department run by Bob Hull never seemed to actually stop fires. A freedom-themed farmers' market sputtered along for a while, then faded. A proposed public-service militia never got off the ground."


"Meanwhile, the constant bloodletting was turning the once-vibrant town government into a symbol of societal decay. On the town's few miles of paved roads, untended blacktop cracks first blossomed into fissures, then bloomed into grassy potholes. After voters rejected a funding request for $40,000 to purchase asphalt and other supplies, embattled town officials warned that Grafton was in serious danger of losing the roads altogether. The town was also put on notice by the state that two small bridges were in danger of collapse, due to neglect."

I think it should be noted that several of these Libertarians are wealthy, with some of them appearing to be outright millionaires, just to be clear. A lot of them are/were successful owns-their-own-computer-business types. It's unclear whether they're working from home at this point or if they just retired entirely, but most of them aren't working local jobs in Grafton. So it's not like they just can't afford taxes. ANYWAY. The Libertarians manage to demonstrate that meth labs staffed by heavily armed men on the run from the government is, perhaps, not the best environment in which to dwell.

"As libertarians continued to worry away services, what emerged from the fray was not an idealized culture of personal responsibility, but a ragged assortment of those ad-hoc camps in the woods, some of which began to generate complaints about seeping sewage and other unsanitary living conditions. Other indicators also seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. Recycling rates dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent. The number of annual sex offender registrations reported by police increased steadily, from eight in 2006 to twenty-two in 2010—one in sixty residents. In 2006, Chief Kenyon joined state authorities in arresting three Grafton men connected with a meth production lab in the town, and in 2011, Grafton was home to its first murder in living memory. After a man was accused of being a "freeloader" by two roommates in a temporary shared living situation, he killed them both, using a 9 millimeter handgun and a .45 to shoot one of them sixteen times. In 2013, police shot and killed another Grafton man in the wake of an armed robbery. In all, the number of police calls went up by more than two hundred per year."

There's a great chapter here that I can't possibly adequately summarize but the gist is that the author compares another town with Grafton. This comparison town, Canaan, started off in similar size but with a different attitude towards taxes. Whereas Grafton tries to cut taxes at every turn, the other town sought to use the taxes meaningfully to recruit new residents so that the taxes could be spread around for lower impact on a larger community. The other town now has twice the residents of Grafton and is a thriving community, while Grafton is falling apart and has no roads.

Grafton is only saving *70 cents a day* over the thriving community because:

- Fewer residents means a higher tax burden per person in Grafton.
- The Libertarians are causing WAY more taxes than what they "saved".
- because they're applying for public aid (sometimes fraudulently),
- and generating massive legal bills by suing every regulation over and over,
- and also there are legal impacts to the whole "meth labs" situation.

"In other words, Grafton taxpayers have traded away all of the advantages enjoyed by Canaan residents to keep about 70 cents a day in their pockets."

Back to a historical discussion of Grafton and its self-sabotaging approach to taxes: Grafton refused to invest in fire department services, choosing to instead let the nearby town, Canaan, service them out of apparently the goodness of their heart!! (You may remember Canaan's name as the prosperous town mentioned above, the one that doubled its size by luring folks in with sweet governmental services.) Not having a fire department turned out to be a bit of a problem when a local auto repair garage caught fire:

"It would only have taken a few minutes for a fire truck to drive from the center of Grafton to the Watsons' garage, but that was of little value to the Watsons, in part because, in 1938, Grafton had no fire truck, and also, and mostly, because Grafton had no fire department.

This was not simply a sign of the times. By 1938, the fire department in Hampton, New Hampshire, had been operating for more than a century. Canaan equipped its first firefighting squad with hooks, ladders, and hoses in 1890; Enfield, Grafton’s western neighbor, followed suit in 1892.

But Grafton voters had refused to spend the money on firefighting, leaving other communities to literally carry Grafton's water."

Again, I feel it is important to note that Canaan and Grafton are point socio-economically similar! This apparently isn't a case of a poor community needing to lean on a richer one! It is seemingly a case of two similar communities wherein one of them has embraced the Libertarian ethos (even though it hasn't yet embraced the Libertarians themselves) of small government and small taxes and "personal responsibility" and thereby forcing the more compassionate/responsible community to either watch while Grafton burns or step in and help on their own dime.

"Canaan's firefighters had to contend with not only the distance but also Grafton's infrastructural shortcomings, which included a total lack of fire hydrants. (This deficit was addressed by the federally funded Civilian Conservation Corps, which built a series of strategically located firefighting retention ponds, but Grafton neglected their maintenance until natural sediments filled them in, rendering them worthless.) The Canaan firefighters used their equipment to chop a hole in the ice of the Smith River, which ran along Route 4. Then they tapped the water beneath with their sole pump.

With the garage and house as yet unscorched, the Watsons watched while Canaan’s crew knocked the flames back in the barn. But just when the blaze appeared to be under control, the pump got stuck in the mud, interrupting the flow of water.

As the firefighters worked desperately to unstick the pump, the fire rekindled itself. The Watsons could only pace as a reinvigorated inferno consumed the rest of the barn, then the garage, and then, heartbreakingly, their home."

How is this town still even existing?? They have no fire department to deal with the fires, and no police to investigate the arsonists. The fact that anything was still standing decades later for the Libertarians to invade at all is something of a minor miracle.

"By morning, the business and homestead were reduced to a lone chimney, a pile of blackened stone sticking out against the desolate snow-covered landscape.

"A gruesome sight," wrote a Watson descendant, adding that, by the morning's light, they could also see for the first time that someone, in a decidedly non-neighborly manner, had stolen many of their salvaged household possessions from the field.

It was a bad year for both neighborliness and fires. The burning of the Watson buildings was part of a rash of seven unexplained conflagrations that year, sparking rumors that there were, in addition to thieves, arsonists among the more upright citizens."

The voters continue to decide that an arsonist is preferable to a tax-based fire department.

"In 1939, just months after the Watsons lost their home and garage, Grafton’s selectboard finally—finally!—decided to take action. During a town meeting, the selectmen asked voters to approve five installment payments of $400 per year (roughly $4,200 in 2019 dollars) to finance a fire truck, fire pump, hose, and accessories.

Voters said no.

Six months later, at about 10:00 p.m. on an August night, Bungtown suffered another loss. A short circuit in a hay-loaded truck parked in the barn of Martin Farm reduced every stick of lumber on the property to ash. (It’s possible that, had the Watson garage still been standing, routine truck maintenance would have averted this catastrophe.)

For ten more years, voters fiddled while homes burned."

I remind you that this is all happening in the past, long before the Libertarians moved in!!

"Between 1943 and 1948 alone, fires were reported at the homes of Julia Custeau, Olif Harris, the Tuttle family, Frank Dean, Philip Paight, the Gray family, Weston Rollins, the Sulloway family, Laura Sweet, the Tyrrell family, the Sulloway family (again), George Barney, Lester Barney (it was a particularly bad year for the Barneys), and in the chimney of the house of train railman C. B. Lovering—and that's not counting forest fires, such as the one that raged at Banks's Pinnacle, or another along the Boston and Maine Railroad.

With the wind of capitalism flagging, the burned properties were not always being rebuilt. Between 1940 and 1950, roughly 20 percent of Grafton's homes disappeared, many lost to fire. Wherever homes were abandoned, nature crept in. On thousands of acres of untended farm pastures, trees sprung toward the sky, eventually shading the land in a semipermanent, bear-friendly gloom."

20 PERCENT. Fast forward to modern era:

"Though it now operated from a reasonably modern building, Grafton's fire department never received funding on par with neighboring towns. In 2019, Enfield spent $220,000 on its fire department and ambulance services. Canaan spent $261,000. Grafton spent $29,000. But the volunteerism that once allowed Grafton to fight fires on the cheap has been waning. These days, when a fire truck first arrives at a fire scene, it is often empty of firefighters, save for its single volunteer driver."

Plot twist: That single volunteer drive? John Babiarz, the Libertarian who invited the other Libertarians in. This is both ironic and will be important later, because it turns out that the other Libertarians don't like fire departments because they enforce pesky little things like fire regulations. IRONY.

Then there's the church. How do I describe the church? There's a historical gorgeous church in the area. Grafton residents kind of helped pay for the church, a little, because they didn't want to build a separate town hall meeting place (taxes!) so they just poured a much smaller amount of money into more church pews and made the building pull double duty as both a religious meeting place and a secular one.

When the church leadership eventually pulled out of the area for reasons, the church offered to give the building to the town FOR FREE so the town could continue to hold meetings there. Voters said no, fearing they'd be on the hook for maintenance of the historic building. (Please note: Nobody even knew if the building needed maintenance, because they wouldn't even spend the small fee it would take to bring a building inspector out. The voters were just scared of historical building maintenance in general.)

At this point, church leadership was basically forced to put the church building on the open public market and a Libertarian bought it. Because he thinks that churches don't pay taxes, so if he owns and lives in a church, then he won't have to pay property taxes on his home. And he's pretending to be a pastor now. He painted the beautiful historic building a garish purple and red, with white doves on it. The residents did not feel the result was as artistic as he did.

"Connell followed up by populating the churchyard with a hodgepodge of sculptures made from found materials. A thick-framed mirror and a thigh-high metal lion sat on a small stack of wooden pallets beneath a pyramid of hollow aluminum poles; wooden obelisks painted white memorialized those who had died at the hands of "government abuse"; slabs of rocks and concrete were piled and decorated with sacred Zen Buddhist enso symbols; there were assorted wind chimes, a man-sized crucifix, a repurposed traffic sign, a dozen banner-bearing flagpoles of varied height, and homemade benches where one could sit and contemplate the cacophonous glory all around."

Even if this were a church, it's heavily steeped in politics, which means it would not be subject to tax-free policies! You don't get to preach politics from a tax-free pulpit! (In theory, anyway.)

"He sometimes fasted to protest government actions, and in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, he joined other libertarian activists to burn FEMA flags."

Church Guy asks the town to approve his tax-free request. You'd think the other Libertarians would be on his side because Taxes Are Bad, but there's a catch: if Church Guy doesn't have to pay taxes on the church, then everyone else's taxes could conceivably go up a dollar or two in order to cover the difference. Libertarians are crabs in a bucket, pulling each other down.

"Soon after buying the church, he filled out the town's formal application for property tax exemption, based on his churchness. At issue was an annual tax bill of roughly $3,000.

Though Connell was simply staking out his own place in Grafton's carefully nurtured tax-avoidant landscape, news of his request for a religious exemption spread like a shock wave throughout the community. People were intensely interested, because dodging municipal property taxes comes with a certain irony: it’s a zero-sum game. Anytime one person successfully avoids paying taxes, others in town must pay more to make up the difference. The system incentivizes people to champion their own reasons for not paying taxes, while attacking the reasons presented by neighbors."

The Libertarians even voted against granting tax exemptions to blind residents because, and I cannot believe I am typing this, a tax exemption could draw in BLIND MILLIONAIRES to move to Grafton to take advantage of their tax laws. A tax law that the entire rest of the state was also implementing, so why would the blind millionaires choose Grafton specifically? Not to mention that most of the Libertarians did move to Grafton to "take advantage" of low New Hampshire taxes, so how would this be any different? And where are all these blind millionaires seeking to move to a backwoods town with no social services or safety net to help them? LOGIC. That is what Libertarians possess in spades: LOGIC.

"To take just one example, in 2011 the state recommended that all towns consider granting tax exemptions for blind residents. Grafton officials told voters that adopting the exemption would have a negligible impact on the town's tax rolls, because Grafton was home to only one blind person, who lived on a fixed income and paid very little in taxes anyway. Libertarians didn't directly object to that resident getting a tax break—a position too blatantly heartless—but they regretfully opposed the measure anyway on the grounds that, when word got out, scores of blind millionaires might flock to Grafton to take advantage of the loophole. (The measure narrowly passed over these objections, and over the following eight years Grafton's population of blind millionaires remained relatively static, at zero.)"

I hate them so much? How can they claim to be against taxes, but want to tax blind people? How can they see that Church Guy's tax-dodging increases the burden on others, but then they turn around and dodge taxes themselves because it benefits them and that's all they care about! I hate them. ANYWAY, the locals are pointing out that Church Guy's home is not actually a church in purpose, if not in structure.

"In Connell's case, despite the Sunday services and the addition of a small food pantry for those in need (located just outside his bedroom in the church), most people in town didn't consider the Peaceful Assembly Church a legitimate religious organization—partly because it wasn't affiliated with a nationally recognized church, partly because Connell had no degree in religious education, and mostly because it seemed more political than spiritual, given Connell's personal brand of activism."


"Though most felt that a tax exemption for Connell would be against their own financial interests, a healthy minority of more creative thinkers agreed, in a suspicious display of Christian generosity, that John Connell was a church. In fact, they argued, there could be other, hitherto-undiscovered churches hidden among Grafton's sprawling groves of hallowed hemlocks, white birches, maples, and white ash.

Town officials quickly realized that if they approved Connell's exemption, the forest's sacred shadowed dapple could soon yield up a whole host of self-professed churches, with legions of prayerful hermits kneeling to thank their respective almighty deities for being blessed with freedom from taxes.

Though granting the exemption was likely to ring a death knell for the town's ability to provide municipal services, Connell seemed to have no problem with this scenario. "We have freedom of religion in this country, supposedly," he said. "We don't need the government to tell us which ones they accept and which ones they do not."

How? How are these Libertarian men not all in prison for tax evasion? Someone explain that to me.

"The town told Connell that, if the IRS recognized the Peaceful Assembly Church as a public charity, it would give the town grounds to approve his tax exemption application without opening the floodgates to a tsunami of frivolous claims. Grafton officials were eager to put the matter to rest because by now it seemed that every time the issue was raised in public, two or three people would threaten to declare that their own houses were churches too.

But Connell had just one small problem with clearing the low bar that the town set out. To apply for nonprofit status with the IRS, he would have to first correspond with the IRS. And to correspond with the IRS, he would have to accept that the IRS was a legal authority, which he most emphatically did not."

The town doesn't want to just grant the tax-free exemption because that will open the floodgates to everyone ELSE insisting that they're a church too, but they explain that if Church Guy will file with the IRS and get their blessing then that will be good enough for the town to grant the exemption too. But Church Guy isn't willing to talk to the IRS because he doesn't see the federal government as valid.

Given that Church Guy is totally unwilling to work with them, the town rejects his claim because they basically don't have a choice. Church Guy angrily announces that he just won't pay the tax bill. The town sends repeated bills and Church Guy starts issuing threatening rhetoric about what will supposedly happen if the town tries to retake the land. Chapter ends ominously. Like, I don't know where this is going yet, but this? This is a threat. I grew up a stone's throw away from Waco, Texas and this kind of rhetoric is SCARY.

"A moment later, he made a dark prediction. "They will be coming to steal this church eventually. I can promise only one thing." He added great emphasis to his next words as he vowed in his rough voice that there would "not be violence coming from inside this church. Ain't gonna happen.” But no one had suggested that it would."

The Libertarians are now setting cooking fires outside in order to bait the city officials because dangerous and illegal fires...Owns The Libs or something? This is politically awkward because the Grafton fire chief (and indeed ONLY fire fighter in Grafton) is Babiarz, the Libertarian who invited all the other Libertarians to town. He would like to keep on good terms with them partly because they're the only locals left who don't hate him (the other, non-Libertarian locals are angry about the invite he extended to the Libertarians) and partly because he has political ambitions to run for Governor as a Libertarian. (Libertarians! They hate the government but keep trying to run for government positions! LOGIC.)

"Somewhat awkwardly, Babiarz explained that he intended to extinguish the cooking fire. "This is a Class 2 fire danger day. It's kind of dry here," Babiarz said. He gestured toward the nearby shed. “And the law says this has to be at least fifty feet away from the building if it's a campfire."

"It's not a campfire," offered Kanning.

"What is it?" asked Babiarz.

"I am burning debris," replied Kanning, who at that very moment was roasting a hot dog over the flames."

Fire Chief Babiarz extinguishes the fire anyway, on the grounds that it's a serious danger, and the Libertarian group loses their collective shit. They want an apology. They want reassurances that this will never happen again, that the Fire Chief won't intrude on their properties to put out their fires. There is talk of suing the Fire Chief "for putting polluting chemicals" on the guy's property. (You can, perhaps, see how the litigious Libertarians caused the legal expenses of the town to skyrocket after moving in.)

But for Babiarz, who had no intention of apologizing, the whole incident had crossed the line from all-in-good-fun freedom-fighting to something more sinister. "They thought it was a joke," he said, recalling the incident years later. Babiarz has a fun, even goofy, side to him, but when it comes to fires, his tone is always somber. "No, it was serious. It was a high danger day. They were burning too close to a building."

The Libertarians start having earnest meetings about the Fire Department Problem. They can't defund it very easily because, ironically, the town's historical tax-adverse nature meant that the fire department was largely run on volunteer time and money. (Babiarz is the only fire fighter and he's a volunteer.) There is talk of whether the Libertarians can kickstart a privatized fire department, or maybe whether nobody even needs a fire department at all, because freedoms.

"Connell, who was friends with Babiarz, declined to join in on the general bashing, but he did suggest that the choice between a tax-funded fire department and a privately run fire department was a false dichotomy. "Maybe a 3rd option,” he wrote, “is to put out the fire oneself?"

LOGIC. Just put the fire out yourself! Why didn't everyone think about that! Just buy and maintain your own fire fighting force! Like a little landed gentry lord! This book would be *insufferable* but it's saved by the fact that the author clearly despises these people and used his writing skills to show it in deft touches they can't complain about. MEANWHILE, one of Libertarians opens a restaurant ("Grafton Gulch", an Ayn Rand reference) but didn't realize there are food safety requirements he has to adhere to. The restaurant closes.


Oh no.

Oh no.

Oh no.

Oh my god, NO.

We are getting the backstory of Doughnut Lady and how she came to feed donuts to bears every day.

"One morning she was dragging a sled filled with grain and hay and water out to the cows when she spied a bear walking right toward her, on a logging road that ran through the property. Doughnut Lady abandoned her sled and hurried back to the safety of the house.

Though the encounter made her heart pound, Doughnut Lady also noticed how thin the bear was. Almost gaunt. No wonder it had acted so boldly—the poor thing was desperate for a meal. Not much later, after going out of town for a pizza dinner, Doughnut Lady pulled into her driveway and the headlights illuminated a mother with three cubs sitting on a large rock. They looked hungry too. "I just felt they needed something, you know?"

So she starts feeding the "thin" bears.

"Soon she progressed to dumping a pile of sunflower seeds directly onto the ground. When the bear came, Doughnut Lady sat, delighted, on her second-floor porch, watching from among the potted flowers. The bear would flop down onto its belly while eating the seeds. Its soft, pink tongue lapped them up delicately, seemingly one at a time. Every day, on her way to feed her cows, Doughnut Lady began taking out a separate bucket for the bear. Sunflower seed was expensive—bears eat more than birds, after all—so she switched to grain."

She was feeding them twice daily buckets of grain AND ENTIRE BOXES OF DONUTS.

"It's not clear how exactly word of Doughnut Lady’s largesse was being circulated throughout the bear community, but it quickly became clear that quite a few woodland bears were in need of help. She began taking out two buckets of grain per day; then four, with one feeding at sunrise and another in the late afternoon. She doesn't want to say how much the enterprise was costing her.

"I'm embarrassed," she said, "I really am." She admitted only that it represented a significant portion of her monthly budget. People have told me that she had to back up her truck to a loading dock to receive the grain.

Rather than lurking on the forest's edge, the bears began to wait closer and closer to Doughnut Lady's makeshift feeding stations as she tottered outside, her weight steadied by two buckets full of grain. She carefully upended one beneath each of two trees, topping the steering wheel–sized piles with a dozen sugared donuts, the cheap kind from Market Basket.

Inevitably, the bears got to the point where they were waiting expectantly when she arrived, jockeying for position like cats anticipating that a dinner bowl is about to be set down."

She started telling the bears "Go away!" right before feeding. The intent behind her words was to tell them to back up a few feet so she would have room to dump the food out on the ground. But you may notice that those exact words are sometimes spoken by people who do not have food and would simply like the bears to leave. This will be important later. Meanwhile, the bears in the area abruptly stop hibernating because they're getting so much food that it doesn't trigger the hibernation response. She feeds them all winter long.

"Their bond was growing. Doughnut Lady's husband began taking pictures of the bears, and extended family would watch during visits. Over time people from outside the family began to hear about the trusting relationship between Doughnut Lady and her bears. It sounded like something out of a fairy tale."

It's important to note that this is dangerous and illegal! And that Libertarians want it not to be!

"Libertarians believe that a landowner like Doughnut Lady owns any natural resources on that property—oil deposits, trees, and even wandering wildlife, like bears or endangered species. In Grafton, I was told, four or five families were intentionally feeding the bears, and the libertarian community saw this as their absolute right.

In 2009, when Alaskan authorities fined a man named Charlie Vandergaw $20,000 for illegally feeding game, Grafton’s Free Towners saw it as one more example of a victimless crime being targeted by "control freak government parasites."

"Fish and Game is not for the protection of animals, it is for prosecuting the people that love animals," said one. "I hope they never find out that I feed the wild turkeys, gray foxes, deer, and bear here in my own yard."

Meanwhile, in "Tent City" where everyone is living in campers and tents, people are trying their hand at survivalist training. They can't grow crops because the bears would eat everything, so they want to forage off the wilderness and eat berries and mushrooms. Slight problem is that none of them know anything about mushrooms.

"Another logistical difficulty facing the survivalists is that most or all of them lack most or all of the survival skills they would need to get most or all of their food from the forest.

"I'm meeting up with a guy who's going to teach me all about mushrooms," Adam says. But, he admits, he isn't confident about picking up the skill. "The problem is, I'm color-blind."

In fact, the more I see of Tent City, the more apparent it is that, outside of burning wood for heat, the hard work of survivalism is mostly a theoretical discussion point that occupies the airspace over campfires during bouts of partying."

The bears, having been trained to be bold, are now openly moving into the Tent City where the survivalists play all day at being in Minecraft. I'm literally screaming. They put up a SIGN to keep the bears away. This is why you don't make a survivalist camp with people whose only skills are internet trolling.

"The survivalists, beginning to get uneasy, decided to respond. First they posted a sign by the trash bins that read NO BEARS ALLOWED. It seemed unlikely that the bears could read, but you never knew, right? Bears had recently torn down and broken a man’s tree-mounted game cameras four times, as if they were convenience store burglars disabling the security camera system. So maybe a three-word sign wasn’t beyond their capabilities. Anyway, the sign boosted morale and solidarity among Tent City’s humans by reminding them that the bears, not the survivalists, were the interlopers here.

The more realistic line of defense was Adam's "bear gun," the Taurus Judge, which he began wearing most of the time. Annie and the others were comforted by the sight of Adam charging around camp with the oversized .410 in his hand. But though Adam often threatened to shoot the bears, he never actually pulled the trigger. His reluctance stemmed in part from being sympathetic to the bears, and in part from knowing that dead bears could draw unwelcome official attention. The survivalists, like most Graftonites, prioritized staying under the radar of state authorities."

I remind you that some people are brewing meth in the woods, so it may be clearer why they didn't want to draw official government attention to the area. Oh god. They.........They're using firecrackers now.

"Annie, meanwhile, worked to overcome her natural fears. When the bears were not physically present, it was easier for her to see their boldness as mere friendliness. She worried that the too-chummy bears were going to make them easy targets for hunters. So she too began throwing firecrackers at them. Adam is proud of her progress.

"Now that she's been within twenty feet of the bears several times, I think she's getting more used to—she realizes this isn't some wild animal rearing up aggressive, ready to kill her," he says. I have my doubts about this framing. Many times I've heard that it's dangerous to let bears get acclimated to people. I've never been told what now seems clear to me—that it's at least equally dangerous to let people get acclimated to bears."

Remember when I mentioned that Doughnut Lady tells her bears "Go away!" right before a feeding as a signal to back up a couple feet so she can dump the food out on the ground?

"Not until later did I realize that Adam and Doughnut Lady, who lived relatively close to each other, had both tried to communicate with what were almost certainly the same exact bears using the same exact words—"Go away! Go away!" But while Adam intended for the bears he shouted at to retreat, Doughnut Lady intended for them to simply be patient for an imminent snack time.

This underscored just how confusing Grafton's people must have seemed to its problem-solving bears. Every house was a potential source of calories, but the people who inhabited them might flee, or sic a llama on them, or offer food, or throw firecrackers at their head. It was a lot to sort out."

You may be wondering whether the state's Fish and Game department could help with all these aggressive bears, and the author was too. He now explains that apparently the state of New Hampshire is really shitty about bears. They implement practices to increase the bear populations to dangerous densities so they can sell as many hunting permits as possible every year to hunters and tourists, and maximize state profit. The state message to the public is that bears aren't dangerous unless YOU do something to set them off.

In Grafton, a bear literally invades a woman's home--a woman who is a veteran and a wheelchair user--and Fish and Game tell her to go fuck herself when she calls about the bear threats.

"Of the dozens of people I spoke to in Grafton, only two had called the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to report their worrisome bear encounters. One was Soule, and she didn’t waste any time that day; the blood was still surging through her veins while she waited on hold. In a sign of the broader disconnect between the department and Graftonites, she was unhappy with the response she got.

"They said, don't bother the bears," Soule remembered later. "If you do anything to them, you're not allowed to shoot them. I said, if it does it again, it's going to die. They said, you will get arrested if you shoot a bear."

It is apparently perfect legal to shoot a bear if you pay the state money for the right to shoot the bear, otherwise it is illegal to shoot the bear even if it is in your home and nosing towards you and your wheelchair. THIS IS BOOK MAKING ME REAL EXCITED FOR THE ELON MUSK COMPANY-TOWN. /SARCASM

Chapter 9 isn't worth reading. Skip that one.

Church Guy is learning that historical church buildings aren't built to LIVE in.

"Right from the beginning, he'd learned that the church building's walls functioned like a sieve: a large percentage of the warm air generated by the ancient furnace bled straight to the frozen world outside, leaving him chilled. He spent many hours shivering beneath the drafty roof of the Peaceful Assembly Church in his guitar-strewn sleeping quarters, which adjoined the large cluttered space of the main meeting room on one side and a small food pantry on the other.

He was rapidly running out of money to pay for the building's utilities. In fact, he was rapidly running out of money to pay for anything. He sent out a message on social media channels, warning supporters of the church that his funds were dwindling. "This will not last," he said."

Church Guy has decided to gift the church to a nonprofit group, formed of local Libertarian friends and friends-of-friends, who are willing to talk to the IRS so that he doesn't have to, leaving his political purity intact. All they need to do in order to receive the property for free is agree to let him live there rent-free forever as pastor, and to promise to give the property back to him if they ever come to a disagreement. Contracts? No, no, we die like men: with verbal deals and handshakes.

"It seemed like Connell had covered all his bases. Conveying all of that detail—lifetime appointments, unanimous decision-making process, exit clauses that would return the property to Connell—in a contract was a complicated enough endeavor to keep a professional lawyer busy for many hours. But that smacked of governmental bureaucratic jibber-jabber. So instead, to consummate their agreement, they shook on it."

The chapter ends, but this will not end well.

We have gotten to the first bear attack. An innocent woman who never did anything wrong and wasn't one of the Libertarians opened her porch door one evening during a drought and a bear attacked and almost killed her. She only survived because her Husky ran the bears off. I will share this happy quote instead of the scary stuff:

"Huskies prance," Tracey said. "He come prancing out of the shadows, big grin on his face. Like it was the most wonderful thing he's ever done. For him, it was like his, his one big, you know, showdown with bear."

The state is Not Useful, which I do feels plays into the shitty Libertarians' hands. Ugh.

"Within minutes, emergency responders flooded the fire station while Babiarz called the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. For an awful, awkward moment, two worldviews of bear management collided. The man who answered the phone sounded doubtful.

"It's been a century since we've had a bear attack on a person," he said. But the quantitative statistics the man was citing did not match the qualitative experience unfolding in Grafton. So Babiarz shouted at him too. "I'm HERE!" he said. "I see the BLOOD!"

It will later unfold that one of the reasons there are so few recorded bear attacks in the state is that the state doesn't consider a bear attacking a human to be a bear attack, per se. More on that later. But I'm just so ANGRY at New Hampshire for prioritizing the money from tourists hunters over the safety of its own citizens and animals!! DOUGHNUT LADY IS STILL FEEDING THE BEARS EVEN AFTER THE ATTACK.

"Burglary rates were up, drug crimes were up, and two different groups of people began talking seriously about how to address the area's bear surplus: state officials discussed a ten-year population reduction plan, while a group of Graftonites discussed blowing the heads off of every bear in town. Throughout it all, Doughnut Lady and a handful of libertarians continued to feed the bears, which needed the food more than ever—after all, it was a drought year."

I just want to point out that it's the wealthy Libertarians who are feeding the bears (daily donuts!!) but the two women who have been menaced by the bears have been impoverished locals. There is a class divide between the Bear Feeders and the Bear Victims.

"Under state law, it is generally only legal to kill a bear in season, with a hunting permit, and when following a long list of rules that govern which bears can be hunted, how to report the kill, and what weapon can be used."

Wait, what? Are the permits just for sport? If you need to shoot a bear for safety or for food, then the state would like to invite you to go fuck yourself? BACK TO THE BOOK. I'm going to teach this book as a master class on how to quote shitty people without inadvertently looking like you agree with them.

"I gently steer the conversation. Many people, I observe, seem to feel unsafe around so much bear activity. Some, I venture, might even feel so unsafe that they would feel compelled to take action. Bowen agrees instantly. He has no love for game wardens, mind you, but he finds it upsetting when people shoot bears illegally.

"It's like being a German in Nazi Germany and not wanting to kill the Jews," he says—presumably with an underlying recognition that there is no moral comparison to be had between the shooting of bears and genocide."


The drought means that the bears are thinner come winter-time and actually hibernate this time. This creates an opportunity for the Libertarians who are worried about the bears (as opposed to the ones feeding the bears). Cue the illegal hunts of hibernating bears.

"Others also noticed unusual fusillades of gunfire in the woods that year. They made little sense in the context of a legal hunt. Groups of hunters didn't typically cluster together, all shooting at the same target, at the same time, like a Revolutionary War company executing a defense from behind a stone wall.

But who were the shooters? The more questions I asked, the more I realized how well hidden the poachers were. It wasn't the dense tangle of leafy forest scrub or the crumbling rock walls that hid them—it was a thicket of social relations and a stony culture of resistance to outsiders."

The state does pretty much nothing about the bear who attacked a human. Well done, New Hampshire, top fucking marks.

"After the attack, a state game warden asked her questions and erected a huge box trap in her yard. Once the bear entered, the heavy metal door would fall and lock into place, at which point the entire trap would become a cage for transport. After the warden left, Tracey and her friend peeked inside to see what they'd used for bait—a single little pink doughnut, resting inside.

Tracey didn't want to be home alone, and so she convinced her friend to sleep over. That night, as Tracey lay in bed, she heard a bear (the bear that got her, she was certain) banging on the side of the trap. She was sure the bear had been caught, but when they woke the next morning, it turned out that the wily bear had assaulted the trap from without, not within. The box lay empty, doughnut untouched. A few days later, the warden removed the trap and never returned."

I'm so mad at New Hampshire, I wanna go on a road trip to kick New Hampshire in the shins. The state held a press conference to lie and blame the victim.

"In addition to failing to capture the bear, Fish and Game also failed to defend Tracey in the court of public opinion; instead, within hours of the attack, officials told media organizations across New England that the bear was attracted to the pot roast Tracey had been cooking at the time. That narrative shifted the blame away from the bear and also away from the state policies that led to a record-high number of drought-desperate bears in the woods of an increasingly lawless Grafton.

But even assuming that it is reckless to cook a pot roast in one's kitchen, Tracey wasn't cooking a pot roast on the night in question. She had simply removed a cold pot roast from her refrigerator and spent a minute or two slicing it on the kitchen counter."


"I wrote to Andrew Timmins, the state's leading bear biologist, with a request for copies of all paperwork related to the attack. But Timmins responded that there was no paperwork—no narrative of events, no analysis of the bear's actions, no correspondence among officials. The only formal record of the whole incident was a single check mark among many check marks in the tally of bear encounters associated with the presence of human food.

This is the end result—and the ultimate failing—of the quantitative approach: Tracey's potentially fatal experience was treated on paper no differently than a garbage can raid."

NEW HAMPSHIRE, WHAT THE FUCK. My god, the Grafton residents keep feeding the bears and blame the victim entirely, just making up events about how she supposedly provoked and hurt THE BEAR. So we've got two groups now, sigh. The Bear Feeders and the Bear Poachers.

The Poachers kill a bunch of bears while hibernating (which is awful and inhumane and this part is really disturbing to read), and bear threats go down for one measly year. ONE YEAR. Then the bear population bounces right back because New Hampshire's terrible bear policies which are designed to maximize bears for maximal hunting license income fails to address the underlying problem of dangerous bear density levels near vulnerable human populations!

"And anyway, their vigilantism hasn't helped, not really. It put a brief dent in the local bear population, but nothing more. With Fish and Game administrators still too overworked to step in, the woods soon teemed with more bears. Graftonites may have thought they had a bear problem, but you could equally say it was a problem caused by the retreat of their sworn enemy: taxes."

Back to the saga of Church Guy, remember how his plan was to turn the church over, for free, to a nonprofit group who would talk to the IRS for him, so that his conscience would be clear of federal dealings? Yeah, those people took the church for free and....are now refusing to talk to the IRS, because as fellow Libertarians they also don't want to recognize the federal government.

They go before the town board asking for non-tax status while apparently lying to the board about the charitable works the church is supposedly doing (they name-drop a charity they're supposedly working with, but get several major details about the charity, uh, wrong). This quote is just amazing:

"That church is open to everyone," he told the officials. "Of all faiths or no faiths. If they choose not to enter the door or step onto the property, we will not force them. We will not use force." He spread his hands a bit while shrugging, as if the church not physically dragging uninterested people to its on-site activities was a great overlooked virtue."

Church Guy also failed to ask for a salary when he negotiated his eternal pastor role.

"Perhaps he had envisioned that his basic needs would be served by the proceeds of the collection plate; if so, that never happened. In October, in a public call for donations, he said that he was unable to pay the church heating bills and was having a difficult time buying food.

"I've spent EVERYTHING I had, and I've been (for almost 4 ½ years) the UNPAID, FULL-TIME, VOLUTEER [sic] pastor and sexton to get Peaceful Assembly Church this far," he wrote.

When winter came, intermittent donations allowed Connell to scrape by, but just barely. At times, he said, he was forced to retreat into a small storage space with a ceiling less than four feet tall, because it was the only place in the church where he could get the temperature above 40 degrees."

The church board tries to sue the town board because that's a fine and correct use of the government, but filing a form with the IRS isn't. (I am convinced that half of these people are just afraid of an audit of their home businesses if they bring themselves to the IRS' attention.) Church Guy isn't very helpful with the lawsuit so the new church board tries to oust him. Also, he's been hampering their pro-gun message with his peace-and-love talk. There are ideological differences.

"He accused Redman of training a laser light scope on the chests of people (which Redman denied) and also brought up the earlier firearms display on church property. "Is the Peaceful Assembly Church," Connell asked, "moving from… 'Peace through Forgiveness' to 'Peace through superior fire power'?"

Church Guy seems very touchingly naive. Like, I absolutely could not bear to be around this man, I have no patience for people who pull this shit (like, please can you fill out the IRS form for me so that I don't have to sully my hands, are you KIDDING me, Church Guy), but from afar I can pity him. If that makes sense. ANYWAY. It's winter and the church board members who technically own the property because he gave it to them for free with a handshake agreement are now going back on that agreement and threatening to evict him. Plus he has no money, food, or fuel. Handshakes do not heat a home. Chapter ends.

New chapter and I get to be mad at New Hampshire again. Their terrible awful no-good government services just end up making the Libertarians look reasonable when they proclaim that the government is useless. If you are making Libertarians look reasonable, something has gone very very wrong.

"While Doughnut Lady was immersing herself in a Disney-tinged world of semi-tame bears, [her neighbor] Beretta was trapped in a suspense film in which she was forever forestalling the final bloody scene (as heroines so often are). "I don’t want to get mauled by a bear," Beretta insists. "I really, truly don't."

Once, when she was preparing to leave the house to get to her volunteer shift at the hospital, she saw the bears outside. She called the police and asked for help to get to her car. The police dispatcher offered to stay on the phone until she got to her car safely. Beretta, correctly deducing that this was unlikely to lead to anything more helpful than an audio recording of her own dismemberment, instead hung up and dialed another number. She could not make it on time, she told the hospital, due to unforeseen bear."

Oh no....the historic church building has burned down.

[TW: Unexplained Death, Possible Self Harm, Fire/Smoke] "A day or two after the fire, when the body was identified as Connell, the news rocked the Free Town community. It was eventually determined that he died of smoke inhalation. His three adult children expressed deep concern and shared the information from investigators that he did not have drugs or alcohol in his system. His daughter circulated a survey in which she asked people to weigh in on whether he had committed suicide, been the victim of a homicide, or been killed by an accident or an act of God. The results were inconclusive.

Three years later, state investigators still considered the case unsolved. It was unclear whether a strict adherence to fire codes—of the sort that both Connell and the Free Towners eschewed—might have made the difference in Connell's death."

The survey is a strange detail. I can only really make sense of the survey by thinking back to how everyone knew exactly who the poachers were, and exactly how many bears were poached, but no one would say anything even off the record because they were afraid of gun-based retribution. Maybe she was hoping that people who knew what happened would tell her anonymously? Either that, or it's a grieving adult trying to make sense of something bigger than us. My own two cents, not knowing this situation at all, is Accident. He was cold and using heating fuel to live and cook his food. It would've been very easy to fall asleep and knock something over. It's sad.

So, did you like the Free Town project, where Libertarians try to take over a town by moving into it? Then you'll love the Free STATE project, where Libertarians try to upscale their approach. You see, it turns out that Libertarians living elsewhere decide that this project has been a raging success (in spite of all evidence otherwise!!) and it's now time to increase their efforts at political visibility.

"The entire time that the Free Town Project was unfolding—from the moment Babiarz welcomed Larry Pendarvis into the firehouse in 2004 through the burning of the Peaceful Assembly Church in 2016—other libertarians were busily working on a much grander plan: the Free State Project.

Started in 2003, the project sought to take the idea of a utopian freedom zone from fuzzy concept to fully executed reality. A group of volunteers began urging libertarians to sign a solemn statement of intent to move to New Hampshire and reimagine the state's power structures and culture.

Under the plan, once twenty thousand people signed the pledge, the initiative would be "Triggered." No one knew exactly when, or if, the Free State Project might cross that lofty threshold, but once the Trigger was reached, all those who had signed on to the pledge were expected to actually move."

New Hampshire is still their preferred state due to the lack of taxes.

"Other features tailored to the liberty-sensitive included New Hampshire’s many gun clubs, private shooting ranges, and black bear hunting opportunities; its lack of an income tax, general sales tax, or capital gains tax; and its status as the only state in the union that doesn't mandate automobile liability insurance or penalize the uninsured."

If you're uninsured and get into an accident in New Hampshire, what...happens? You get to sue someone from your hospital bed? What if they don't have any assets to seize other than a now totaled car?? ANYWAY. Alexa, show me Sentences Which Have Aged Poorly:

"Outside of the statehouse, the libertarians have worked to build self-perpetuating cultural and economic infrastructures. The more tech-savvy members have helped make New Hampshire first in the nation, per capita, for Bitcoin use."

Libertarians pour into the state by the thousands and the bears begin to be a problem again. Or still.

"And they certainly didn't realize that, soon after the Trigger, Grafton's bear problems began to go statewide. It is unfair to entirely blame the Trigger, but it does seem like 2016 was also a tipping point for a long-gestating problem of bear management that respected Free State boundaries. Neighboring Vermont, which has roughly the same number of bears and acres of land as New Hampshire, has about half the number of bear complaints."

Before you read further, it's important to note that this victim survives what is about to happen.

"It seemed only a matter of time before a human-habituated bear came across an unarmed, non-bear-habituated human. It's just a shame that it had to happen to Apryl Rogers, a seventy-one-year-old woman who lived in a modest, one-floor home in Groton, less than twenty miles from Grafton."

This is another disabled wheelchair user, by the way, so even more evidence that the bear problem is falling on poorer people rather than the rich Libertarians. This woman was totally silent and did nothing "wrong" and the bear attacked her anyway. I'm sure the state will still find a way to blame her!


"While Rogers was in the hospital for what would prove to be a month of rehab, Fish and Game sprang into action, once again spinning the event in a way that exonerated the bear and the state policy that helped put it there.

"First of all," Fish and Game major Jim Juneau told a reporter, "bear attacks are extremely rare. It's not really fair to call this a bear attack." Speaking to another reporter, Juneau drew on all the blamelessness that passive sentence construction could provide. "The bear reacted in a panicked manner and unfortunately," he said, "she sustained some injuries."

A game warden, the same one who had responded to Tracey's attack, took care to note the home's food crimes, which were nonexistent. "There was an empty bag of birdseed next to the front door," he said. "And there was some cat food in the house, and it obviously investigated that."

Though Rogers had neither bird feeder nor barbecue grill in her yard, the state also took the opportunity to tell people to remove those items, admonishing that "people need to be responsible when they know there are bears in the area."

Literally, New Hampshire is saying that if you have cat food inside your house, you're at fault for a bear attack. I want to be clear, this bear broke into her kitchen and she rolled into the room in her wheelchair. She then held very still, not wanting to startle it, and it walked over and attacked her. To recap:

- the state is deliberately building up bear population levels for profit,
- the Libertarians are training the bears to be food-aggressive by illegally feeding them,
- and vulnerable people are being attacked by the bears, then blamed by the state.

"As the disconnect spread statewide, wildlife officials continued to push the limits of acceptable numbers of bears, and libertarians continued to promote a culture of civil disobedience and individual rights, including the right to feed or shoot the bears in one's backyard. The stage seemed set for more conflict, one that would involve more deaths for bears and perhaps human casualties as well."

Well this is an interesting hook:

"Colburn and Rogers were both marginalized women living on fixed means in remote towns; neither was likely to make a fuss that could threaten the status quo. I wondered what would happen if the bears instead threatened privileged, politically connected people. It didn't take long to find out."

SETTING: Hanover. Home of prestigious Dartmouth college. Home of the New Hampshire elite. It has a local bear that someone "tamed" by feeding her, again, bloody goddamn donuts. Within a couple years, the bear and her cubs are breaking into homes looking for more food.

"In 2017, after a couple of the cubs entered a residential home in Hanover, Andy Timmins, New Hampshire's bear biologist, and other game wardens set traps to capture the whole family, with the intent of euthanizing them. Timmins, making the case for euthanasia, explained that once a bear has become accustomed to people, it can be extremely difficult to break it of its foraging habits. "When their behavior reaches a certain point, it is tough to be wild bears again." The eminently reasonable explanation was met with, predictably, outrage."

"[...] In Grafton, public opinion had split between shooting and not shooting the bears. In Hanover, the schism was characteristically different—some people wanted the government to spend a lot of money to modify Mink's behavior, while other people wanted the government to spend a lot of money to capture and relocate Mink and her cubs to someone else's backyard."

They relocated Mink and her three cubs to the Canadian border, and the mama bear promptly came back with four new cubs.

"The public furor died down until the spring of 2018, when Mink strolled back into town, this time with four new cubs trailing along behind her. She promptly began to raid bird feeders and garbage cans again, teaching her foraging tactics to her new brood. Euthanasia was even more strongly recommended now, but the idea was a proven nonstarter. The outraged Hanoverites knew just what to do: spend more money."

They catch the bear, put a tracking collar on her, and start literally stalking her around the city, trying to take food away from her before she can access it. This seems unwise, because it's still acclimating her to humans. The humans have forgotten that bears are dangerous. Eventually they decide to catch and relocate her to the Canadian border. Again. (Because it's totally fair to make her Canada's problem!)

Who is worth more, women or bears? Hard to say, I guess!

"The contrast with bear management in Grafton could not be more stark. A bear's life in Hanover is threatened, and the state moves heaven and earth to find it and treat it in accordance with the wishes of the public. A bear threatens a woman's life in Grafton, and the state makes a half-hearted effort to capture it before the incident quickly fades from the public imagination."


"In my correspondence with Andy Timmins, he acknowledged that there was nothing built into the state's bear management system that prioritized cases in which bears actually injured humans or dogs. "We are hesitant to call these 'bear attacks,' because we don't view them as such," he said."


"Her radio collar showed that in 2019 she found her way back to Hanover by a very circuitous route that involved traveling more than a thousand miles and crossing the Connecticut River. The story made national news."

"I'm back bitches,” said Mink (according to a Twitter account in her name). “Where the donuts at?"

The author concludes "bears will be effectively managed only on the doorsteps of the elite." He's right, of course, but I want to scream into a pillow. MEANWHILE, the Free State project is undercutting the Free Town project because now the Free Town isn't special anymore and it has no amenities to draw in newcomers (because it has no taxes to support amenities!).

"The continuous trickle of incoming colonizers dried up as new Free Staters passed up Grafton in favor of places like Keene, a city of twenty-three thousand. Keene had triple Grafton's property tax rate, and restrictive zoning ordinances to boot, but apparently even libertarians were attracted to Keene's amenities—a baseball team, tennis and basketball courts, a village green with a musical bandstand, playgrounds, the restored historic Colonial Theater, manicured parks, and a bustling downtown strip, all underpinned by robust, tax-supported municipal services.

[...] As people packed up and left Grafton, no new recruits appeared to replace them. Stalwarts remained, but they had largely assimilated into Grafton’s larger population. In the 2016 presidential election, just 33 people voted for the libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. (The remainder favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, 367–297.)"

Meanwhile, Doughnut Lady is upsety-spaghetti that someone finally complained about her to Fish and Game.

"He asked her questions about her bear-feeding habits, questions to which he already seemed to know the answers. He told her that she could be prosecuted under the state's public nuisance laws and handed her a copy of the law that he had printed out.

Doughnut Lady then spoke to the warden for the first time since he had entered her home. "You deserve a budget cut," she told him. After he left, Doughnut Lady was angry and upset by what felt like both an intrusion and an accusation from distant strangers."

She has a lawyer, in case you're wondering whether the woman who has spent god knows how much money on bear-feed is rich.

"Though falling down among wild bears did not frighten Doughnut Lady, the invisible threat of criminal prosecution held her in check. The Free Town era was at an end; law and order had begun to encroach. And so, the following morning, she stayed in, trying to find something to take her mind off the hungry bears waiting outside for her. "It was, like, a lousy day," she says. The feeling was terrible. She didn't even look outside where, presumably, the bears lingered hopefully for a while, then went on to knock over barbecue grills and garbage cans in the neighborhood. "So," she says. Little traces of tears appear in the creases around her eyes. "That was it."


"She stands on her front stoop, still subdued as I make my way to my car. Knowing that the people of Grafton have a special sensitivity to home invasions, I tell Doughnut Lady that, if she was told someone had been skulking around her residence earlier that morning, she needn't worry—it was just me. Her tone brightens a bit. She doesn't worry about home invasions, she says. "We'd get out the guns," she calls cheerily, waving."

She's cheerful at the idea of shooting another human, and doesn't care that her feeding of the bears has very likely contributed to two people being harmed by the local bear community, but she feels bad for the bears because they're thin. Humans are so complex and infuriating. Per the author's latest communication, Doughnut Lady is trying to plant sunflowers and blueberries for the bears, as a legal workaround to the "don't feed the bears" rule. After all, it's not HER fault if bears come and eat her berries, right? Meanwhile, the church is mouldering and the Libertarians are still refusing to take responsibility for ruining it:

"Despite many calls for amity in the wake of John Connell's death, the libertarians and the town continued to fight over the tax bill associated with the Peaceful Assembly Church. They eventually crafted an agreement that offered tax forgiveness, on the condition that the libertarians seal the building envelope, so that it would not be degraded by the elements. Three years later, a structural engineer declared that the church was in danger of collapsing, and the parties resumed their legal battle."

Herein follows the most surreal epilogue I've EVER read:

"For one thing, there's been another bear attack, this one in Canaan (the town next door). On a sweltering night in June 2020, a man was removing an air conditioner from his truck when he felt the bear's claws penetrating the skin of his back. Thankfully, when he shouted and shoved at the bear, it ran off into the night."

(No word on whether the state explained that this bear attack against a man wasn't really a bear attack because, idk, someone in the area owned a bag of beef jerky.)

"Though the attack demonstrated the continued effect of Grafton's laissez-bear attitude toward local bear management, it was pretty small potatoes in a landscape of bizarre bear tales that continued to roll, tidally, across the world, each one held up as a curiosity to delight the public. In the summer of 2020 alone, I read about bears wandering into and out of grocery stores, a bear overdosing on cocaine, a Canadian novel that centered on the sexual relationship between a woman and a bear, a bear punched by a drunken visitor at a Polish zoo, a bear found swimming in a lake with its head stuck in a giant container of Cheez-its, a bear castrated by the Italian government for escaping from its enclosure and eating donkeys. There was a bear illegally tagged with a pro-Trump MAGA sticker, a bear corpse starting a grass fire after being electrocuted by a power line, a bear breaking into a pizza delivery vehicle, bears vying for champion-level portliness during a government-sponsored “Fat Bear Week,” bears tearing the doors off of rental storage units, an elderly bear treated for arthritis with stem cell therapy, a wild bear fed cookies from an idiot's mouth, and a 22,000-year-old cave bear unearthed by melting permafrost."

Covid makes an appearance:

"The stage was set. Over three short acts, a uniquely American tragedy unfolded in the legislative statehouse. Act 1 took place on November 20. Having just won control of the state legislature, a group of Republicans asserted their commitment to freedom by gathering indoors, mostly maskless, at a ski resort. One of them, a realtor named Dick Hinch, lauded Republicans who refused to wear masks as patriots and the "freedom group." Admiringly, they asked Hinch to be their leader. He accepted.

Act 2 took place on December 1. Hinch, facing fire from Democrats and the press, admitted that "a very small number" of Republicans who had attended the ski resort gathering had come down with COVID-19. The following day Hinch was formally voted in as House Speaker by the full legislature. Act 3 took place on December 9. Having led the House for barely more than a week, Hinch died of COVID-19. Five days later, the federal government released the first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine to the public. The irony of the drama would have been comic if it wasn't so sad."


"I also thank the bears, who, during several wild encounters, have not eaten me. Yet."

I have finished. That was one of the best books I've ever read. Masterful writing, really.

That book will live rent free in my head. I can't stop thinking about it. There was this one point where a guy went off on a rant about how he's pro-guns but he's anti-open carry because open carry is unnecessary and just scares people and moms and moderates, right? And after this impassioned rant against open carry, he then goes and admits (totally without putting together the pieces!) that he "accidentally" open carries when he goes into town because he "forgets to take his gun off" when he leaves his property.

HOW. How do you do that and still call yourself "logical" and act like you're MORE logical than the other lesser humans who aren't libertarians like you? There was this survivalist guy who didn't want to grow food or livestock, because the wild animals would just eat them but he wanted everyone to survive on FORAGE. Which would put them in direct competition with the bears!! Berries!! He thinks the government is going to collapse and they will live on BERRIES and mushrooms he can't identify yet and acorns.

I wanted to ask about the quality of his poops, but I know...didn't. And they kept trying to defund and tear down the library which just made me angry and feel protective of librarians and library workers, but You know who would have resources on foraging in the wake of a societal collapse? LIBRARIES. One of the Libertarians said they didn't need a library because the internet exists, but the library is the provider of internet for many of the residents AND the internet will not exist if society collapses.

This bear book reminds me so much of the reading I've done about cults and specifically the FLDS Mormons. Because there's this same mentality of the government not being a "real" authority, but the people are still more than happy to "milk" the government for fraudulent welfare claims and tax breaks. Almost to the point of considering it a moral duty to defraud the community, because that'll "stick it" to the bad bad government. The attitudes are strikingly the same. The FLDS call it "bleeding the beast". I do not know what the Libertarians call it. Either way, it is profoundly selfish and just hurts others.


Post a Comment