A community made up of American ex-pats deep in the South American hills of Chile – far away from America’s annoying taxes, healthcare mandate, and legal abortions — was supposed to be a libertarian paradise of rugged individualism. Instead it cost many of the people who bought into it almost everything, and now is buried under lawsuits — a reminder that everything that glitters is not inflation-proof, Ron Paul-backed gold.
It seems pretty obvious that basing one’s society on a single work of (poorly written) fiction is folly, but for many adherents of Ayn Rand and her seminal book of Objectivist allegorical grandstanding, Atlas Shrugged isn’t just any book. It’s about as close to the Bible that many libertarians have — apart from the Bible, of course. It’s influenced an astounding number of conservative public figures — from Ron Paul to Rand Paul to Ronald Reagan. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Rand-loving running mate and probable 2016 presidential contender, said it was his favorite book growing up.
“I grew up reading Ayn Rand, and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are,” the congressman told a convention of Rand followers in 2005. Rand was “the reason I got involved in public service.” (source)
In many ways, the entire Republican ethos — hard-working job creators having their vitality leeched by lazy “takers” — stems from Rand and her rigidly anti-socialism ideology. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand explores the fantasy of leaving those poor, lazy, uneducated leeches behind, creating a new society of self-sufficient ubermenschs, living free from governmental or social tyranny. That is where the mysterious John Galt comes in. A man set on freeing these enslaved freedom-lovers from the shackles of the moochers. He creates a mountain home for his followers: Galt’s Gulch.
Let’s call it what it is: Libertarian fan fiction. An artificial world where hard work is all you need, and poor people are responsible for their own misery. In fact, Rand goes a bit further than what many — even fervent “Rand-heads” — find comfortable. Such was Ayn Rand’s fury over socialism that even hallowed institutions that Americans find important were excised under the Objectivism razor. Ryan might not admit it, but that book he loves advocates for getting rid of everything from public education, to farming subsidies, to any form of welfare. If that seems a bit drastic, well hey, Rand never claimed to be sentimental.
Unfortunately, the real world is a bit more complicated — socioeconomics, cycles of poverty, economic disparity, lack of education, racism and sexism; a myriad of factors contribute to an individual’s lot in life. But for some, the dream didn’t die with the close of the book. For some, Galt’s Gulch could be real if only someone would create it.
In the book, Galt’s Gulch is based in the Western United States. Unfortunately for today’s Libertarians, “out west” isn’t far enough from America’s socialized oppression. Convinced that America is on the verge of economic collapse, they fled the country and headed south.
Billed as Galt’s Gulch Chile, the South American would-be community is 11,000 acres of pure, unregulated freedom.
According to, Jeff Berwick, one of the project’s early promoters:
With the oppression of the over regulated, over taxed, war riddled and welfare riddled society consuming the world, Ayn Rand’s famous protagonist character, John Galt, came to conclude that he would not use his talents to support such a society any longer…driving him to create a community where scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and many others would come together to escape from the confines of their daily lives to not only be free…but to thrive.
In today’s world, it is becoming more and more difficult to find true freedom from very much the same oppressive forces Ayn Rand wrote of…which drove John Galt and others to a place where they found their freedom, success and peace of mind.
Welcome to Galt’s Gulch Chile!
The community is the brainchild of Ken Johnson and a collection of investors. In 2013, when the project was just shaping up, Mother Jones went down to Chile to see how things were coming along.
Welcome to Galt’s Gulch Chile, a libertarian refuge from the coming economic, social, and political collapse of the United States. The would-be free-market utopia, named after the mountain redoubt of the protagonist of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, is taking advance payments (Bitcoins gladly accepted) for parcels on its 11,000 acres.
Joining Johnson, the project’s managing partner, are three prospective buyers: a retiree from Oregon, a California-based expert in moving assets offshore, and another retiree who doesn’t want to give much in the way of personal data. “Oh, the NSA’s here too?” he says the first time he sees my audio recorder. The men talk of a coming financial meltdown caused by the Federal Reserve, followed by a Homeland Security police state. They’re ready to get out with their silver, guns, and organic honey—but not quite ready to sacrifice fast internet, access to an international airport, and a time zone convenient for Skyping with the doomed sheeple back home. Throw in low taxes, privatized social security, and a Mediterranean climate, and you have Chile.
For the price of $48,500 you too could own a piece of Galt’s Gulch (specifically, one-and-a-half acres of it). Amazingly, people cashed in their retirements and did just that.
A year later and things have completely unraveled. According to one person who spent a great deal of her savings on this grand experiment, the thing was doomed from the start. Based on her description, what you are left with is the growing sense that this isn’t just a case of arrogant stupidity, this is a downright scam.
Writing out of The Dollar Vigilante, a website devoted to the libertarian movement, the investor, Wendy McElroy, who describes herself as an individualist anarchist, documents the nightmare of Galt’s Gulch Chile:
Many have wondered about the status of Galt’s Gulch Chile (GGC), the libertarian community that was planned and sold in lots as a liberty oasis for those who wished to live freedom before they died. My husband and I purchased an option on 1.25 acres in July 2013. Others bought 10- or 25-acre lots and some invested in the agricultural side of the venture; extremely savvy investors committed small fortunes. GGC has been an unexpectedly wild ride since then.
After throwing in considerable money, McElroy received an email from a concerned friend, essentially calling the entire operation into question. At first McElroy dismisses the email, at the harried assurance of Ken Johnson. Later, it begins to be apparent that the concerned friend was disturbingly on the money (emphasis added).
There will be no zoning for the 1.25-acre lots or other arrangements of less than 10 acres. GGC is an environmentally protected area and it would take the political movement of heaven and earth to allow a community based on small lots to be officially approved. I had the opportunity to ask a question of the salesman who showed my husband and me “our property.” I claimed it because I fell head over heels for the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen. I felt an instant connection as though the two of us were old souls who had found each other. I could believe it, I could see it… waking up each morning and having coffee under that tree, telling it about my plans for the day. Months later, in a Skype conference, I asked the then-GGC-alienated salesman, “When you ‘sold’ us the property, when you printed out a photo from your phone that read ‘Wendy’s tree,’ did you know you could not legally sell us the lot you were offering?” He said, “That is correct.”
Since writing that, the Galt’s Gulch Chile founders have been engaged in a series of increasingly dramatic legal and personal squabbles. Litigation is being thrown around, as are ad hominem attacks. Nearly all of the anger is directed at Ken Johnson. One former co-owner, Jeff Berwick, who happens to run The Dollar Vigilante website, has called Johnson a sociopath and a fraud. A Facebook community has been established calling itself “Galt’s Gulch Chile Rehab and The Exposing of Ken Johnson” to serve as a support group for other investors who felt they were ripped off.
Meanwhile, Galt’s Gulch owes “hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars to hardware stores [and] service providers” in Chile for work done in preparation for the community. As the pyramid scheme of investors collapses, it seems likely that those workers – many of them poor laborers from small Chilean towns — will go unpaid. The workers being ripped off by the moochers? How very Randian.
The Grim Reaper lingers nearby. By the end of August, the entire online existence of Galt’s Gulch Chile had been scrubbed from the web. Every promotional YouTube video made to entice
suckers freedom-lovers has been taken down. The GGC website comes back with an error message. Ken Johnson is in the wind.
It’s almost as if basing a community around people who hate other people and don’t want to have to pay for any services that don’t directly and concretely benefit themselves is inherently unstable. Who would have thought?