Free State ad campaign targeting unhappy Connecticut homeowners — Foster's Sunday Citizen, 12/11/04

By Beverley Wang (Associated Press)

The Free State Project is hungry for recruits and is again casting its net in troubled waters.

Through December, the libertarian group is running online advertisements in The Day, a daily newspaper in New London, Conn., where a group of homeowners has taken an eminent domain dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Homeowners in New London’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood say the city’s attempt to seize their land to build tax-rich properties is unconstitutional because it does not adequately demonstrate "public use," a condition of eminent domain. The New London Development Corporation wants to build a hotel, health club and offices on the site of the homes, bringing in more tax dollars.

On Friday, an ad for the Free State Project appeared on the paper’s Web site next to an article about the land dispute.

"Taking away private property to give to a large corporation is like Robin Hood in reverse. Come with us to where this doesn’t happen and help us win even more freedom," the ad read.

A click on the ad takes Web surfers to a press release on the Free State Project site. It announces the group’s intention to recruit "displaced" New London residents. That site links to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm representing the seven homeowners involved.

"Most people recognize that eminent domain is one of the greatest abuses of government power in this country," said James Maynard, a Free State Project spokesman. "It does upset a lot of people, and we want to give them another option."

The New London homeowners so far have not lost their homes. Lawyer Scott Bullock says it’s not likely his clients will join the Free State Project, which aims to recruit 20,000 freedom-minded people by 2006. The ad has gotten 200 hits since it started running, said Free State Project President Amanda Phillips.

"It’s nice that the Free State Project is supportive of the Fort Trumbull homeowners, but right now we’re focused on keeping them in Fort Trumbull and New London," said Bullock, who said the institute and the Free State Project are not affiliated.

"These people don’t even know us, and they’re inviting us to live there [in New Hampshire]. It’s kind of refreshing," said Fort Trumbull homeowner Matt Dery, who said he has no intention of moving.

This is the third time Free Staters have sought recruits from towns in turmoil. Earlier this year, the Free State Project ran print and television ads in Killington, Vt., where town officials proposed seceding from the state and joining New Hampshire for tax reasons. Free Staters also advertised in South Carolina in the aftermath of a high-school drug raid.

The Free State Project chose New Hampshire as its promised land because of the state’s lack of a personal income and sales tax and its "Live Free or Die" motto. The group supports restricting government to the protection of life, liberty and property rights. Individual members support a grab-bag of issues including home-schooling, second amendment rights and the legalization of "victimless" crimes like marijuana possession.

It’s unlikely the group will make its goal of 7,000 members by the end of 2004, said project founder Jason Sorens. There were 6,250 members on Friday, 317 in New Hampshire, according to its Web site.

Sorens said the group is experimenting with different recruiting tactics to bring up numbers.

"If we don’t get things moving faster, then I guess we’ll have to reevaluate the 20,000 goal," he said.

A splinter group, known as the Free Town Project, sparked a panic in sparsely populated Grafton, N.H. Rumors surfaced that group members wanted to take over the town.

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