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Libertarian movement gaining steam in New Hampshire

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FILE: January 10, 2012. A young supporter of Republican presidential candidate and Libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. (Reuters)

Libertarians eager to move beyond mere ideological victories are making progress in a long-term effort to migrate to one state to concentrate efforts and reshape communities based on their ideals of less government and individualism.

The grand social experiment can be traced to a 2001 essay by a Yale doctoral student who lamented about Libertarians’ failure to get candidates elected and argued the best way to make a real impact is for 20,000 activists to move to a relatively small state with low taxes and job opportunities, then making inroads in government, communities and courts.

New Hampshire won in a 2003 online vote. And 10 years later, more than 1,200 activists have already moved there, with roughly 13,000 others pledging to follow after the 20,000 sign up for the so-called Free State Project.

Though their numbers remain relatively small, and achieving full strength appears at least several years away, Libertarians now living in New Hampshire say they have already had several successes, including at least a dozen members winning seats in the 424-member state legislature.

"The first biggest success is we’re still around," Carla Gericke, the project’s president, told FoxNews.com on Friday. “People are going forward, and we’re past the experiment stage. We’re now in the getting it done stage.”

Members point to their support of a 2002 law that gives jurors the right to challenge the applicability of laws when deciding cases and a 2007 effort to keep New Hampshire from participating in the national identification card program known as REAL ID -- as they continue to push for gun rights, home schooling and medical marijuana.

Among the project members who opposed REAL ID was state Rep. Joel Winters, a Democrat who said he had a growing concern about the Bush administration intruding on the lives of Americans and that the early victory “set the stage” for future successes.

“It really helped persuade New Hampshire to shift the conversation,” he told Fox.  

The movement got a boost from the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Libertarian and then-Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul. Paul praised the project when campaigning in New Hampshire, the first primary state, and helped inspire legions of young Americans excited about a future with less government intrusion.

But the movement also has its challenges and detractors, particularly those upset about activists in the city of Keene who have chosen a course of civil disobedience -- including smoking pot in public.

Furthermore, the group’s singular, decentralized goal of bringing people to New Hampshire, then letting them do what they want, has posed challenges to recruiting and fundraising.

“We’re about individualism, not collectivism,” Gericke told New Hampshire Public Radio last month. “Freedom can be messy.”

She argues the pledge says people must move within five years of the 20,000 signups, so the 1,200 already there are really “eager beavers.” And she thinks Free State can reach its petition goal by 2015 -- three years ahead of its projected schedule.

Still, Gericke thinks the project will flourish with or without reaching the 20,000, saying Jason Sorens, the doctoral student credited with starting the movement, essentially “made up” the number.

“We don’t need 20,000 people, just a few thousand activists,” she said.