Conor Friedersdorf is a California-based staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.
In a planned community in Idaho, all teens would be required to carry loaded AR-15s.
Imagine that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg built a private city of his own design, where prospective residents would agree in advance to certain heavy-handed rules governing how they should live. Recycling and aerobic exercise would be mandatory. Trans-fats, salt, and soda would be banned. And folks making below a certain income would submit to being stopped and searched on the street. That city wouldn't appeal to me, and I wouldn't advise anyone I knew to make it home. But so long as its residents moved voluntarily and could leave as they pleased?
I'd uneasily wish them luck.
That's sort of the way I feel about The Citadel, "a small planned community of 3,500-7,000 families of patriotic Americans" being planned in the Idaho mountains. In nudist colonies, no one wears clothes. The Amish foreswear modern technology, among other beliefs. The folks planning The Citadel say they're ordering their community around the concept of "rightful liberty," as articulated by Thomas Jefferson: "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others." But the Citadel Patriot Arrangement, the "voluntary set of conditions to which every single Patriot who accepts a residence in the Citadel must agree," suggests that gun ownership and proficiency are paramount.
Just look at all the rules that relate to firearms:
- Everyone 13 years and older "shall annually demonstrate proficiency with the rifle of his/her choice by hitting a man-sized steel target at 100 yards with open sights at the Citadel range."
- They must also "annually demonstrate proficiency with a handgun of choice by hitting a man-sized steel target at 25 yards with open sights at the Citadel range."
- "Every able-bodied Patriot of age within the Citadel will maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO, at least 5 magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition." An individual mandate!
- "Every child attending Citadel schools -- with parental discretion for maturity -- shall have as part of every semester's class curriculum basic marksmanship and firearms safety training leading to the proficiency test on the child's 13th birthday as a 'Coming of Age' rite of passage."
- "All Patriots, who are of age and are not legally restricted from bearing firearms, shall agree to remain armed with a loaded sidearm whenever visiting the Citadel Town Center. Firearm shall be on-the-person and under the control of the Resident, not merely stored in a vehicle."
I am glad I live in a country where people who want to live under rules like this are free to buy between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of private land, enclose 640 of those acres behind walls and towers, and pursue their heavily fortified version of happiness. Along with the rules related to guns, there would be mandatory participation in a militia for defensive purposes, biannual town defense drills, and a mandate that every household "remain stocked with sufficient food, water, and other preparedness essentials to sustain ... every member of the household for one year."
On the whole, I can't help but find these plans to be at odds with what I love about America. As the architects of the heavily armed community say themselves on their website (emphasis original):
Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans may find that living within our Citadel Community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles.
Do you know what I love about the United States?
This country is filled with people who happily live together in communities they value and enjoy, despite having different ideologies, political beliefs, and preferred lifestyles. Take the University of Virginia, an intentional community that Thomas Jefferson actually designed. Its architecture, ideals, and residential model of living and learning has accommodated happy Marxists, socialists, liberals, establishment Republicans, conservatives, gun-control proponents, and extreme gun enthusiasts in the century and scores of years it's operated.
So is the fact that a place like Los Angeles County has happy residents from most nations on earth; people of most every ideology; mountain and desert and city and rural people; the religious and secular; and parents whose kids are different kinds of people than they are, but live close by because all kinds of people are happy here, except perhaps the types that feel impelled to order the lives of everyone around them to correspond to their own preferred lifestyles.
Tiny subcultures are free to wall themselves off in self-selecting enclaves, where everyone shares the same ideology and enthusiasms. They're free to enforce their preference that all their neighbors share their notion of how best to live, if those neighbors signed a binding contract stipulating those beliefs, and agreed to be expelled in the event that they changed their mind.
To me, it doesn't matter if the subculture is made up of extreme gun enthusiasts or hippies or Scientologists or Trappist monks. In forming their enclave, they're exercising one of their liberties; but their communities shouldn't be mistaken as being "dedicated to the principles of libertarianism," as a writer at Gawker characterized The Citadel. Nor should The Citadel be mistaken for the sort of place Jefferson would have seen as exemplifying model republican living.
And if it's "patriotic" to inhabit an application-only city I don't see how.
If it's ever built, I'd advise against moving to The Citadel. I think its imprudent to surround yourself entirely with people from a narrow slice of the political spectrum; nonsensical to dedicate so many resources to self-defense when you're living in rural Idaho, and your odds of being a victim of crime or invasion is extremely low; and foolhardy to raise your kids in a place where they'll be miserable unless they happen to share both your politics and enthusiasm for gun culture. (Plus, if you trust the incorruptibility of a private arbitration board ... exactly why do you?)
But for anyone who does move to The Citadel, it's your right to do so.
And I wish you luck.
This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.