KEENE, N.H. (AP) – Five years after the Free State Project picked New Hampshire as its home base and began appealing for 20,000 people to move to the state, only a fraction have made the move.

Activists say only 558 people moved to New Hampshire, though more than 8,500 committed to do so.

The project’s aim was to make an impact politically by reducing taxes and regulations so New Hampshire would serve as a model for the country. Organizers hope ultimately to change the way government works by limiting its power.

Now, project organizers are lowering their goal to 1,000 people within three years to pave the way for others. They say they exceeded the goal by more than 30 commitments.

Project member Ian Bernard, host of “Free Talk Live,” a Keene-based, nationally syndicated radio talk show, says despite the slow-going, the project is a success because the best freedom activists are coming to New Hampshire.

“It’s been real slow going trying to get people to uproot their lives,” he said Saturday. “That being said, I think the project has still been tremendous. These are the best freedom activists in the world that are coming here. The moving aspect is a good screening process.”

Free State Project Director Varrin Swearingen told the Keene Sentinel in an e-mail that sponsoring “Free Talk Live” and advertising has helped to attract new members every year. Project members also reach out to people attending pro-liberty events. The project holds two events annually in New Hampshire, he said.

The project sent a team to the Republican National Convention and a Ron Paul rally, he said.

Swearingen, a commercial airlines pilot, moved with his wife and their two children from California to Keene in 2004, two years after reading an advertisement about the project and researching it online. A Libertarian, he felt he could not make a change in California.

“The Free State Project appealed to us because it represented a real opportunity to work together with a high concentration of people who really valued freedom – something that simply doesn’t exist in California,” he said.

Project members attempt to change the political landscape through peaceful protests, not just by voting or running for political office, Bernard said.

Some have played penny poker in downtown Keene – gambling is illegal under state law – and plan to sell hot dogs in response to a street vendor’s recent and ongoing struggle with the city to sell his food late at night.

“They are forced to show their hand, to show that they are the violent organization of men and women they really are, or ignore us and hope we go away,” Bernard said of the police. “If they ignore us, we win. If they arrest us, we win.”

In June, Keene police Lt. Shane Maxfield invited Free Staters to ride with him in his patrol car or to call the station if they had questions.

“I’m really encouraged by the fact that at least we’re communicating and sharing ideas behind the scenes,” said Samuel Dodson, a project member who plans to move to Keene from Texas later this year. “It’s not something you see very often.”

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