Several people in America have become so fed up with how the government is running their country that they’ve decided to leave mainstream living behind and dwell within a massive medieval fortress located in Northern Idaho instead. Although still in the planning stages, the largely leaderless, grassroots group known as the Citadel are designing a compound 2,000 to 3,000 acres in size that will support between 3,500 to 7,000 “patriotic American families” and include, among other things, a farmer’s market, a retirement facility, a tourist centre, a bank, a hotel, a jail, an airstrip and helipad, a large amphitheatre, a power plant, a parking centre and, most importantly, a firearms factory, which will provide the community with a sustainable income and a stockpile of weapons capable of fending off the outside world. They currently have 1,430 followers on Facebook.
As their website makes clear, this isn’t an inclusive project: “Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans may find that living within our Citadel Community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles.”
Oh, so this is just a bunch of right-wing gun nuts coming together to build some kind of gun utopia, the skeptics might think. No. Not exactly. At least not according to the group’s latest blog post, which describes firearms as “liberty repair tools” required to “provide the last resort to defend” freedom. To the Citadel, semi-automatic rifles and pistols — which have come under severe scrutiny after the latest school shooting took the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut — are not an end in themselves, but merely the means to obtain what the Citadel organizers cherish most: Liberty. Indeed, the group’s main motto is Thomas Jefferson’s axiom on the subject, which states: “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” It’s a tenet the Citadel movement apparently believes the majority of their fellow Americans no longer hold near and dear.
Of course, while the Citadel is far from the first group in American history to attempt such a feat, they are assembling at a time when end-of-the-world paranoia is ripe in the U.S. Whether it’s the threat of economic collapse, climate change, terrorism, gay marriage or a president named Barack Hussein Obama, something is spooking our cousins to the south.
Although the Mayan apocalypse failed to materialize, consider those perturbed individuals featured on National Geographic Channel’s popular reality series Doomsday Preppers, where the story of a man named Bryan who spent over $100,000 merely on equipment to create his own ammo is typical behaviour. Or consider the upcoming film starring Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and a dozen other names you’ll recognize titled This is the End where… the world ends. Or browse the websites of legitimate companies such as 20th Century Castles, Silohome, and Northwest Shelter Systems— all of which provide underground bunkers or abandoned military bases of some sort to people who are convinced the breakdown of society is near. According to CNN, U.S. companies selling these Judgment Day sanctuaries are “seeing sales skyrocket anywhere from 20% to 1,000%.”
And what might be feeding this strident partisanship, this miasma of fear and loathing in a century meant to be as rational and enlightened as the 21st?
“We often think of the internet as something that’s wide open, but if you get on a certain type of listserv and you’re only talking to people who have the same mindset — even though you may be talking to a hundred or a thousand people — you’re just reinforcing your own beliefs,” said Dr. Kenneth Roemer, a professor of English at the University of Texas at Arlington and former president of the Society for Utopian Studies. “We see the same with television and radio in America today, where there’s all these niche stations. People don’t listen for information to learn; they listen for information to reaffirm. And that’s scary.”
As reported in the National Post, groups akin to the Citadel in temperament have been on the rise since Obama’s first term in the White House. It’s an uncomfortable trend, but despite all the initial fervour and excitement, these factions tend to disperse after not too long. Setting up a website to attract others interested in discussing how great it would be to construct a high-walled fortress in Idaho that contains both a gun factory and a retirement facility is, after all, much easier than actually doing it.
So, if things do indeed progress beyond the internet, how will a group of strangers fiercely devoted to individual liberty and disdainful of Socialism ever manage to forge a healthy community that lasts?
“The survivalist groups generally want to create an enclave, and aren’t that interested in contact with other communities, so a lot of their success depends on their social skills,” says Laird Schaub, Executive Secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community (an organization that promotes communitarian living of all shapes and sizes — minus the overtly belligerent ones, like the Citadel). “Becoming a resistance against the government isn’t the big challenge; the big challenge is how to solve internal issues. How do they come to agreement? How well do they create an equality of life for all of their members? If you don’t have good social skills, you have almost no chance of succeeding.”
But, then again, the only way to develop good social skills is to constantly practice interacting with colleagues, acquaintances and neighbours — an activity that Schaub believes is waning.
“Our position is that there’s a tremendous sense of alienation in the wider culture,” says Schaub, who mentioned that FIC has experienced steady growth over the past few decades. “There’s definitely an interest and hunger for something different.”
As fringe and far-out as the Citadel movement may appear at first glance, they too espouse this longing for more connection. Last October, a frequent Citadel blogger identified only as “VJ” posted the following:
Something that I can’t predict, but am hoping for, is a greater level of social interaction. Neighborhood barbeques, musical jam sessions and plays at the amphitheater or the Citadel Society club house, interest groups, clubs, organized and spontaneous activities of all sorts. I enjoy board games, myself, and used to go to a game club every Friday night. We’ll have some great pubs with local brews, walking and bicycle paths, a firing range you don’t have to drive a half hour or more to get to. Maybe a hill with a rope tow for sliding down on inner tubes in the winter time. Militia training will also have a unifying social aspect to it.
Doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Maybe a bit idealistic, but certainly nothing most of us can’t relate to.
On a lighter note, Idaho is coincidentally — though perhaps not — the home of Castle Magic, one of the only companies left in the world that still constructs actual castles made of stone, according to owner Roger DeClements.
“I only build one like every two or three or five years,” says DeClements, who’s heard of the Citadel group, but has yet to converse with any member directly. “It takes a long time to build one, and I just do one at a time.”
Most people hire DeClements to build castles just for fun, but if a client ever asked him to build one specifically for defensive purposes, DeClements said he’d recommend curved walls as opposed to straight, since the former’s design is more able to withstand attack. “It’s just like having ribs on the body panels of a car,” he said. “Without them, you could just push the sheet metal right in.”
Although some of the locals are reportedly scoffing at the Citadel project and calling it a “pie in the sky” fantasy, the movement is currently taking applications for a fee of $208 and have purchased 20 acres of land in Benewah County, Idaho, for an administrative office that they plan to erect later this spring or summer. Perhaps the most important development, however, is that Jim Miller, president of the Citadel’s proposed gun factory, has recently received his license to manufacture firearms. As VJ puts it in a recent blog post titled “Threshold:” “Things just got WAY more interesting!”