Documentary: Stateless - Anarchy Emigrates by Todd Schramke

grarpamp grarpamp at
Sun Dec 16 11:02:26 PST 2018

The most common questions I receive when first talking about this film
is, “How did you find these people?” So these two blog entries are
here to answer that question and help everyone understand where I am
coming from.

Stateless, is not an advocacy film. While I don’t think there even is
a completely unifying ideology which encompasses the people who appear
in this movie, I want to make it clear that I am not espousing any
specific worldview. My intention here is to cast a light on and
humanize a movement which is frequently underrepresented or

And as with any film I make, I want the people I feature to not simply
be elevated, but also put in a position to defend their decisions and

All that being said, I sincerely value the lineage which brought all
of these people together, as it overlaps with so much of my early
intellectual development. I admire anyone who is willing to question
institutions on an existential level, and especially those who are
willing to change their lives based on the analyses.

Like most people, my first political influences came from my parents.
In my home, this was mostly shaped by my father. This took the form of
a sort of Bill Buckley/National Review conservatism.

My father was the first to present me the notion that taxation is a
form a theft. To him, it was a necessary evil which should be
minimized. And this was understandable from his perspective. He was
born into poverty, the youngest of eleven kids in a Michigan farm
town. After relocating to the small city of Saginaw at age five, he
spent most of his life from then on working his way into the middle
class, allowing him to raise a family more comfortably.

We were never wealthy by most Americans’ standards. While my family’s
income may have gone pretty far in depressed Saginaw, it placed us
only in the middle-middle class of New Jersey where I grew up. It was
understandable that my father felt exploited with more than half of
his money going to fund the various levels of government, while
getting very little in return for that.

My father’s main political concern was on taxation, with a minor
post-Catholic emphasis on social opposition to things like abortion
and drug-legalization.

I passively agreed with his stances on these things until in middle
school when I fell into the world of punk rock. My favorite bands,
like Rise Against and NOFX, seemed completely opposed to my dad’s
opinions, taking persistent protests against against the G.W. Bush era

This put my in a state of liminality in which I abandoned all concern
for politics. One of the first song lyrics I wrote for my band at age

I don’t care about politics
I don’t care who’s a hypocrite
I don’t care, I can’t even vote
My mind won’t change by a song you wrote
Every day I hear the same old shit
Every song, they’re all about it
Our world sucks, I can see
But whatever happened to “Fuck Authority?”

By my teenage years, I hated everything about school. It felt like a
prison or an indoctrination camp — a sentiment I would regularly share
with my peers whom never really seemed to care.

While I still respected my father’s anti-government inclinations, his
Republican conclusion didn’t seem all too rational to me. And though I
respected the anti-Bush messages of my punk rock heroes, their
conclusion to get out and vote Democrat still seemed like an all too
authoritarian solution.

So, I was nothing.

That feeling lasted until the 2008 presidential election when the
character, Ron Paul, showed up along with my first exposure to the
idea of libertarianism. This was the most consistently
anti-authoritarian movement I had seen, and it finally felt like I had
a political home.

>From there I followed a pretty common path. I read Ayn Rand, and then
the Austrian economists. I debated with my left-leaning peers in
college feeling like I had the answers to everything. I had basically
taken what my father had taught me, and applied it to what I saw as
the most conclusive application of his principles.

The following year, I downloaded an .mp3 after searching “libertarian
podcast.” The first episode of the first search result was titled,
“The Stateless Society – An Examination of Alternatives.” In it, a man
with an ambiguous accent, maybe Irish or English, outlined in less
than 30 minutes a series of ideas in which all of the functions of the
government — military, police, contracts, social security,
firefighting — could be provided without taxation or “the initiation
of force.”

My mind had never been so suddenly changed. I was an anarchist.

And while the vision of anarchy that converted me was of a rather
different flavor than the teenage anarcho-punk ideologies I was
exposed to, the word in itself felt right. It was sort of familiar.
The same distaste my father felt against taxes, and the same distaste
my musical influences felt toward authority could finally be

The podcast was called Freedomain Radio, and it was hosted by Stefan
Molyneux, an Irish-born former software entrepreneur who lived in
Toronto. Fans of the show, or “Freedomainers” as I they called
themselves, would simply refer to him as “Stef.”

He started recording the episodes in 2005. His earliest episodes were
recorded while driving in his car during his commute. They included a
range of topics around anarcho-capitalism, atheism, and philosophy.
Though what was most captivating about his rants and writings were not
his criticisms, but his call to action.

Behind Stef’s messages there was no call to arms. His listeners were
not encouraged to take to the streets, and voting was laughed at or
even framed as a form of state-aggression in itself. The community —
through Stef’s words — instead saw the task of eliminating the state
to be most likely impossible within our lifetime. So instead, the
necessary work was to focus on future generations.

So, I became a broke 20-year-old musician, who read books about
peaceful parenting.

The government, according to Stef, would only ever cease to exist if
enough humans no longer perceived violence as an appropriate measure
for solving social problems.

The reason most citizens so willingly support taxation and other forms
of law based outside of property rights (e.g. drug control laws) is
because most people are raised as children through authoritarian
parenting and education structures.

Almost all mainstream child-rearing systems were scrutinized, from
infancy through adolescence. Bottle-feeding or early breast milk
weaning were viewed as some of the earliest forms of trauma, along
with the “cry it out” conditioning tactics often associated with

Toddlers and small children were seen as the most brutal victims of
statist parenting. Stef argued that children were the only category of
humans against whom physical assault was not only legal, but
encouraged, spanking being the most common form of this.

Schooling was of course a popular subject, one on which I was
especially easy to sway considering my miserable experience in a
government-run school system.

Yet simply talking about a paradigm-shift in child-rearing was not
enough, nor was it enough to simply assume that once people were
exposed to these ideas they would be willing to completely adopt them.
And even committed devoted Freedomainers were not likely to be capable
of immediate change. It was more or less believed that we were all
victims of childhood trauma, which could only be resolved through

This is where I first noticed things were problematic.


Much of my experience of Freedomain Radio (FDR) wasn’t shaped as much
by Stef as it was the community which built itself around him. The
online discussion forums became one of my go-to internet distractions.

There was a built-in hierarchy in the FDR community. Stef opted to
publish all of his books and podcasts for free and without advertising
support. So instead, all of the work and overhead was funded by direct
pay-what-you-want contributions from the community. Members who chose
to subscribe would get a certain “status” labeled next to their image
on the message boards: bronze, silver, gold, diamond, or “Philosopher

While there was no strong discrimination against non-subscribers,
there was a lot of social pressure to put up some money. I eventually
did, paying $10 a month over a year, which was considerable for my
pathetic college budget.

The more I got to personally know some of the other FDR enthusiasts,
the more I realized I was a bit of an anomaly in the group.

First night in Spain

The first meetup I attended took place in Spain. In 2010, several
Freedomainers decided to organize a week-long meetup in Málaga, a
small resort city on the southern Spanish coast. The meetup happened
to fall a week before my sister’s wedding in Germany. I took a leap of
faith; I bought a plane ticket to Spain to meet the Freedomainers in
the flesh.

It was my first time traveling out of North America, and my first time
flying on a plane alone. I didn’t speak any Spanish– I felt
intimidated. After a ten hour layover in Dublin, I landed in Spain on
a warm June evening, with an international flip-phone that I couldn’t
get to work.

Feeling exhausted, I made my way via taxi to a hostel where I was
sharing a room with a few others in the group. Only a few minutes
after arriving, two of the members showed up looking for me.

We walked up a hill in the dim city center toward the Alcazaba de
Málaga, a palatial fortification dated to the 11th century. Near the
summit under an amber street light within the old stone architecture,
a dozen men ranging from ages 20 to 60 stood around talking, laughing,
drinking wine, and playing music together.

They warmly welcomed me, some of the them having been there a few days
already. I had never experienced such a deep and genuine connection
with so many new people at once (though many of them I had connected
with on the forums for a while). I was intoxicated.

Though there was a surprising pattern I recognized.

The most common point of conversation which was repeated about ten
times in my first couple days in Spain was “How did you find FDR?”

It seemed the path which I followed — through the old libertarian
political chain — was a deep minority. Most of the people at this
meetup found the podcast not at all through the politics, but through
the self-improvement component of Stef’s work. This made me feel like
a bit of an outsider, but I still felt totally engaged.

There was a lot of “opening up” which happened over the week. I
expected more conversations about ethics and economics, but things
were more focused on child abuse and psychotherapy. These sensitive
topics created an intense feeling of bonding.

Like waking from a peculiar dream, I felt strange shifting from that
close-knit and vulnerable group to a bubbly wedding crowd. I left
Spain feeling even more engaged with the FDR world, and more detached
than ever from my family. I was indoctrinated.

Despite my envelopment in FDR, I remember feeling skeptical through it
all. There was a nearly absolute reverence for everything Stef said,
and I found that unsettling. Much of his work, especially his system
of ethics which he coined “Universally Preferable Behavior” (UPB)
didn’t make sense to me, though I resolved to assume I had not put in
enough effort to understand it.

Against my reservations, I still longed to be a deeper part of this
community. Once I made my way back home, I needed more.

Every year up until 2010, Stef would host a listener appreciation
barbeque around the end of the Summer at his home in a Toronto suburb.
The community was small enough at the time that it was feasible.
(Where as now his Youtube channel has 700,000+ subscribers, and over
200 million views.)

But back then, he opened his home to anyone who was a member on the
message board and willing to make the trip. People traveled from as
far as London (a couple I met in Spain), but most were from the
eastern U.S. and Canada.

The barbeque was the first time I felt off-base about the community.

Not long after discovering FDR, I stumbled upon an article detailing
accusations of the group being an “internet cult,” but that did not
deter me. The group clearly had many typical characteristics of a cult
(charismatic leader, unique phrases and terminologies, in-group +
out-group dynamics), but none of these things seemed to be inherently
wrong to me. I viewed them as common components of many communities
which helped them bond and organize ideas.

Lingering behind with Kevin during a Stef-centered discussion.

The first high profile media coverage for FDR was in 2008 appeared in
England, about a mother placing the cult allegation against Stef after
her 18-year-old son cut off contact with her after becoming a fan of
the podcast. The consensus explanation within the community was that
she was an abusive mother — who also happened to be a politician — who
wouldn’t own up to the fact that she had destroyed her relationship
with her son.

I don’t know what was true about the story. But the fact that the
community even had a specific word for the process of cutting off
contact with one’s family for whatever fucking reason  didn’t strike
me as a problem. “DeFOO” is what they called it (“FOO” meaning “family
of origin”), and all the coolest Freedomainers were doing it.

I recall watching the 2012 film, The Master, some time after that
picnic. The movie was a fictionalized version of the early days of
Scientology. A scene in the film struck me as oddly familiar. It is
set in a living room at the residence/headquarters of an L. Ron
Hubbard inspired character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The scene
plays out: He is conducting a talk therapy session, in which one of
the devotees of the movement allows the leader to extract revealing
information from him regarding early-life trauma in front of dozens of
other followers.

A similar scenario happened at the picnic I attended, at the Molyneux
house in 2010. Several lauded members of FDR took a seat on the couch
near Stef and went through the same extraction process.

I remember distinctly feeling uncomfortable about it.

I don’t think my discomfort was about the fact that people were
talking publicly about very vulnerable subjects. In fact, I think it
is positive and healthy. What truly made me feel unsettled was that in
those moments, it became extremely apparent that these people were
putting absolute trust into one person.

During that part of the picnic, I found ways to be outside of it but
still appear engaged; either lurking out in the kitchen, or outside
chatting with others who were equally uninterested in the talk show
happening inside. In 2016, I reconnected with one of those people,
Kevin, when I started planning this film.

The more time one devotes to a cause, movement, or group, the harder
it becomes to distance oneself from it. Despite the very apparent
problems within the community, I would continue to give money and
reach out for many more months.

I met some of the closest “inner-circle” Freedomainers at the barbeque
who had set up their own sub-community in Philadelphia. There were
maybe a dozen people mostly in their early 20’s (though a few a bit
older), of varying degrees of involvement who almost all at this time
deFOOed and were exclusively engaging socially with other

I met with these folks in Philly a few times before finally realizing
that the FDR wasn’t for me.

FDR Thanksgiving gathering.

I sat listening to an organized discussion after our Thanksgiving
meal, in which they made a conscious decision to ostracize a woman
from the group who had a disagreement about one of Stef’s opinions.
This moment influenced me in a pretty significant way, but that is
another story for another time.

Shortly after my experience with the Philadelphia community, I stopped
sending money to Stef, and stopped regularly listening to the show. I
stayed connected to many of the people on Facebook, and witnessed most
of them fall away too.

I still value some of the knowledge and insights I gathered from this
youthful leap of consciousness. I still strongly hold on to Stef’s
views about peaceful parenting. This is a topic I explore in
Stateless, through a couple who also had a falling out with Stef. I
also hold dearly the notion that the most productive way toward broad
social change is through collective improvement of our closest
relationships (like parents/children).

Now, in 2017, I am embarrassed to say that I once associated with and
gave money to this guy. I’m also pretty sad to see that he has
exploded in popularity since dropping an emphasize in non-violent
relationships, and opting to build a network with race-oriented
“Alt-Right” personalities. Though it is also not surprising, as racial
and ethnic prejudice is historically easier to package and sell than
philosophical rigour.

I was forgiving of Stef for the cultish mishaps, as they were largely
self-imposed by his followers. But now I feel more removed than ever.

The dream-like qualities of my time in Freedomain Radio felt more real
when I reunited with two people I met in Ontario, Kevin and Juan, on
our first shoot in Acapulco. They introduced me to several people in
the Anarchapulco community who experienced a similar distancing from

As for my present political identity: If anything I am back where I
started in high school. I have long since given up on finding my
tribe. However, I do know that I am entirely dissatisfied with the way
our social institutions seem to have lagged so far behind our

I see no reason to fear radical change to any of our long-established
systems. Education, work, the nuclear family, and the state — they are
all fair game to me. I think in the long term, these shifts will be
necessary, and hopefully they can be executed with thought and intent
rather than fear and randomness.

And I’m not just interested in change for the sake of change, but for
a healthier more secure human species. The intersection of new
technology and social structures is where these revolutions will
emerge, and I plan on being there with a camera — or maybe one day
some other tool which has yet to be imagined.


Here is a confession: This was project was not initially supposed to
take this long. Actually, this was not even supposed to be a feature
film. And to be completely honest, when I first started rolling my
camera from the balcony of an AirBnB in the middle of Acapulco’s
“Golden” zone, I wasn’t even sure that this was a story worth telling.
But here I am two years later still telling this story, and now
blurring this lines with my own life’s tale.

The original trip to Acapulco in 2016 was only partially a production
trip. I was feeling exhausted by the constantly inflating cost of
living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and facing being priced out of
my home. It was something that felt like I could not escape anywhere
in the United States, so I started fantasizing about getting out of
the country.

I didn’t have a plan or immediate desire to move away, but I wanted a
break. My personality has a hard time traveling for leisure, so my
vocation as a filmmaker/video producer combined with a chance story of
my past led me to book a trip down to Acapulco. The goal was to maybe
gather enough footage with this emerging community to put together a
short film, and at the very least open up my social circle to some
folks who managed to drop out of the American way of life.

I was immediately impressed by how open and welcoming everyone was in
the community. Me and my associate producer were invited dinners and
private meetups, driven around, and just generally treated like one of
their own.

But I had only booked that trip for 6 days, and spent most of it just
building a rapport with everyone and filtering through the amazingly
unique collection of personalities. I didn’t really know for sure upon
my departure what would come of it.

I spent the end of 2016 wrapping up a prior large project, and when I
finally got around to digging through that first batch of footage, I
felt madly inspired to keep going with this. I could see from afar on
social media how rapidly the community and the Anarchapulco conference
were evolving. And when I saw in mid-2017 that two of the people I
spent the most time with on that first trip were forking the
conference, I knew I had to be there.

So I spent the rest of the year eagerly waiting, promoting,
fundraising, and building a team to turn this incidental
maybe-a-short-film into a full feature production. Everything was
going to come together in this second trip. There would be excitement,
energy, and drama. We had behind-the-scenes access granted to both
conferences. And unlike that first trip, there were plans, questions,
and relationships all in place.

The footage we gathered on this trip was dynamic, interesting, and
spontaneous. Yet I had a feeling on my way back to California that
something was going to happen that would draw me back one more time.
That thing did happen (though I’m not gonna spoil anything) and now we
are planning on going back one more time to tie this story up.

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