John Galton and his girlfriend Lily Forester had finally made it. On a March 2017 evening, the young American couple sat on their balcony above Acapulco, Mexico, counting their blessings. They’d recently moved into a big house on a mountainside and were eyeing an ambitious push into the artisanal bong business.
Galton and Forester were anarcho-capitalists who slipped U.S. drug charges worth 25 years in prison, they said in a YouTube video that night. They’d hopped the border and resettled in what Galton called one of the world’s “pockets of freedom,” a community billed as a libertarian paradise.
Almost two years later, Galton was murdered.
Last week, gunmen burst into the couple’s mountaintop home, killing Galton on the spot, and seriously wounding one of the couple’s friends. (Forester survived, badly shaken.) The killers are presumed to be a drug cartel; Mexican authorities say Galton grew marijuana at the home.
Galton was part of a small community of fellow anarcho-capitalists formed by Jeff Berwick, who promised a drug-friendly haven and hosts the annual “Anarchapulco” festival. Berwick says Galton and Forester should’ve known what they were getting into.
“They started up a competing conference to Anarchapulco, called Anarchaforko and John continued to be involved in one way or another with the production or sale of plants,” Berwick told The Daily Beast in an email. “Unfortunately, that is the one thing that is very dangerous to do in Mexico as the drug cartels will attack anyone they see as competition and that appears to have happened to John.”
Anarchapulco will go on as scheduled next week and might be even bigger due to the murder, Berwick says.
“We’ve received nothing but love from attendees and expect this will not affect attendance in a negative way at all,” he said. “In fact, it could increase attendance as more people are exposed to our message this week due to media coverage of this tragic event.”
Berwick is a Canada-born anarcho-capitalist podcaster, who moved to Acapulco part-time in 2009 and became known for a hard-partying lifestyle. In 2015, he launched Anarchapulco, a festival for anarcho-capitalists, some of whom relocated to Acapulco full-time.
“Every year, as people would visit, they would be attracted to the freedom, weather and culture of Acapulco and many people would stay or move there,” Berwick told The Daily Beast. “This was not anything planned and happened quite organically. But there are likely in the neighborhood of dozens or hundreds of voluntaryists who now live in Acapulco.”
A former member of the community told The Daily Beast the community’s membership fluctuates, but is likely around 50 to 60.
This year’s Feb. 14-17 Anarchapulco promises a nudist pool, psychedelics, sex counseling, and sessions on radical homeschooling—as well as big-name Republican figures like former presidential candidate Ron Paul and Fox News personality Judge Andrew Napolitano.
The conference is located in a ritzy Acapulco hotel. Attendees will have shelled out $545 for tickets, with options to pay an additional $495 for an “investment summit,” $255 for the “Infinite Man” summit with a pickup artist, $140 for “De-Mystifying the Occult,” and $250 each for various drug ceremonies like “Jaguar Vision,” an hour-long DMT experience.
Anarcho-capitalists (“ancaps”) believe in dismantling the state and allowing unchecked capitalism to govern the world in its place. Even within the small anarchist world, ancaps are fringe. Anarchists typically describe their movement as inherently anti-capitalist. Their philosophy describes anarchy as the rejection of hierarchical structures, which they say capitalism enforces. Anarcho-capitalists, meanwhile, see money as a liberating force. They promote a variety of libertarian causes like using cryptocurrency, legalizing all drugs, and privatizing all public institutions like courts and roads. The movement reveres the novelist Ayn Rand, whose work outlines a philosophy of radical selfishness and individualism. Her best-known character, an idealized capitalist named John Galt, appears to have inspired Galton’s name.
Berwick is an unofficial leader in this movement that eschews leaders. And Acapulco is only his latest attempt at building an ideal ancap society.
A native Canadian, Berwick made his fortune by founding and selling the stock promotion website Stockhouse, and by investing in bitcoin before the cryptocurrency boomed in value. Then his ventures took a more experimental turn.
After moving to Acapulco in 2009, Berwick became something of an ancap pied piper, selling passports and real estate to non-Mexican anarchists who wanted to live in the city, according to a 2014 Wired profile. Today, Berwick’s real estate business appears dead. Its website, which advertised “paradise,” now redirects to the homepage for Anarchapulco.
Berwick’s passport company, TDV Passports, also appears to have stumbled. The site used to sell “professional facilitation services for those seeking to establish citizenship in countries abroad.” In practical terms, that meant putting clients in touch with people who could fast-track immigration and citizenship applications. Various versions of the site charged from $12,000 for the Dominican Republic citizenship process to $40,000 in “legal fees” for U.S. citizenship. The company appearsfrequently on scam-reporting websites, where alleged TDV Passports customers complained of spending tens of thousands of dollars without ever obtaining immigration documents.
“Mike,” who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, is a former Berwick colleague who lived in Berwick’s Acapulco community for two years.
“The first Anarcapulco was funded by this passport scheme,” Mike said. “Essentially Jeff was selling Mexican passports to Middle Eastern people. I met Egyptians and a lot of Syrians… He promised to provide passports. I’ve heard of one or two who got them before the scheme collapsed.”
Berwick did not respond to The Daily Beast’s comment on TDV Passports.
While running the passport business, Berwick was also eyeing anarcho-capitalist utopias in other Latin American countries. He tried to set up a free trade zone in Honduras, Wired reported. When that plan failed, Berwick poured his efforts into Galt’s Gulch Chile, an anarcho-capitalist farming utopia in Chile’s deserts.
Investors dumped millions into the project, which promised to be an ideal society of freedom-loving individuals. Instead, would-be Gulch residents found themselves part-owners of a mismanaged patch of desert. When investors visited the site in 2014 to pick out the plots where their homes and farms would go, they learned that the area had not been zoned for their habitation. One ancap investor defected from the project with a scathing blog post, accusing the Galt’s Gulch team of failing to secure water rights for the desert community. The project, now an outright failure, is the subject of lawsuits in Chile. Berwick, who is not a defendant in the lawsuits, claims he was duped by one of his colleagues on the project.
With Galt’s Gulch drying up, Berwick returned his focus to Acapulco, launching the first Anarchapulco festival in 2015. The event, a celebration of cryptocurrency, alternative health, and post-government politics, was a success, both in attendance and in establishing a year-round ancap presence in the city.
According to the forthcoming documentary “Stateless,” Berwick’s first festival “was designed to attract other ‘ancaps,’ libertarians, and crypto-anarchists to Acapulco, with hopes of encouraging many to become residents of the region and build a new community of government-evaders.”
Most Americans know Acapulco as a vacation town. The city is home to beautiful beaches and sleek resorts. A spike in cartel-related murders over the past decade has also given the city a reputation as Mexico’s “murder capital,” but most tourists never interact with local crime, except when bodies wash up on the beach.
Members of Acapulco’s expat ancap scene might declare themselves “stateless,” but “tourist” is a more fitting term. When Mexico’s military took over the city from its police in 2018 (exactly the kind of aggressive federal incursion anarchists oppose), or when cartel violence targeted loved ones, Acapulco locals had fewer options than expat or part-time residents, who could return to other countries at their leisure.
And for anarcho-capitalists who stay in the city permanently, vacation has to end sometime. Berwick’s old real-estate sites might have advertised paradise in Acapulco, but the reality was something different, Mike said.
“After the first Anarchapulco, quite a few people moved down there, which became the core of this community. They were a mix of varying idealists, anarchists, heavily into drugs and partying and all that. That was the core of the group,” Mike said. “You don’t get a particularly nice, functioning community. Over time, the community’s broken up and splintered off about a dozen times.”
Mike said he grew worried about his physical safety. The city was notorious for murders; armed robbery and cartel extortion were a fact of life, he said. But Berwick and others make frequent reference to the ease of living in the city.
“At one point quite a large crowd came, but they were extremely naive,” Mike said. “Jeff was always saying publicly that Acapulco’s not dangerous, that you can do anything, nothing will happen to you. People believed him.”
Galton and Forester also lauded the city’s safety. In the March 2017 interview on their balcony, the couple declared Acapulco safer than American cities. “You’ve got to have common sense about it, but I’d say it’s safer than any big city I’ve lived in in the U.S. Way safer than Chicago or something like that,” Galton said. (Acapulco has a higher murder-per-capita rate than Chicago.)
For a time, the couple tried living an idealized anarcho-capitalist lifestyle. They made their money off Forester’s hand-blown smoking paraphernalia and fundraised on their frequent blog posts. They adopted a dog named Rebel and a cat named Satoshi (named after the pseudonymous founder of bitcoin). The pair hosted “meat-ups” for people interested in carnivorism, an all-flesh diet popular in some right-wing and libertarian circles, particularly among libertarians with an interest in cryptocurrency.
In the YouTube comments on their 2017 video, several commenters warned the couple to be safe. “Best of luck to these two. The cartel will own that business in a matter of time,” one wrote. “Be diligent.”
Anarcho-capitalists who complained of robberies or street corner assaults faced ridicule, Mike claimed.
“Because this is a very ideological group, everything Jeff says is dogma,” he said. “If you said anything contra to the dogma, you’d be ostracized and in some cases doxxed. I know people who moved there and got robbed… However, when they publicly state this, the whole community turns against them and treats them as some kind of informant or spy.”
Mike’s fear for his well-being led him to quit the community, he said. Others left too, for their own reasons, including moving to Belize to work on a new cryptocurrency called Hempcoin. “By the time I left Acapulco, I blocked everyone on Facebook,” he said.
Eventually the violence caught up to Galton and Forester. On Friday night, the couple had dinner with friend and fellow anarcho-capitalist Jason Henza in their Acapulco home. Shortly after the friends finished, armed men stormed the house, according to a video Forester uploaded to Facebook.
“If somebody’s listening, please,” Forester said in the panicked video. “Somebody showed up right after we finished eating and they shot John and Henza, and I was in the house and John’s dead at the gate. Henza’s in the other room dying. I really need help. Somebody please come.”
From another room, Henza recorded his own video.
“I just wanted to say I love you,” he said in the video uploaded to his Facebook. His shirt and face were bloodstained. “We were attacked. I’ve been shot three times. I’m not doing so good … I wish I could do something. I’m at John and Lily’s. I think it’s backlash. I love you. I’ve got to go.”
Henza survived, and told The Daily Beast he would comment on the shooting at a later date. Anarchapulco organizers attributed the attack to cartels. Mexican authorities offered a similar explanation. The prosecutor’s office in Acapulco’s state of Guerrero posted pictures of what they said was a marijuana operation in Galton’s home.
Forester, meanwhile, suggested the murder had an anarchist connection.
“All I can say is be careful of everyone,” she wrote in a Telegram post, first reported by CoinSpice. “Those who talk anarchy don’t always Live in accordance. This was because we trusted and helped the wronfg [sic] ‘anarchist’. Be vigilant, on your toes and skeptical of all.”
In another Telegram post, she added that “the news is wrong, but I have to wait to tell my story.”
While the story of the slaying emerges, Forester is still trying to manage Anarchaforko, the festival she and Galton planned for the days after Anarchapulco.
“My heart is broken. Trying to find a way to make the fork go on without bringing too much risk onto myself,” she wrote in a public Discord chat group for Anarchaforko participants.
“Freaking out quietly and laying low,” she continued on Discord. “This is a big mess and while I’m sad about it I don’t want to leave Mexico. Mexico isn’t the problem, this was due to an American who hired Mexicans.”
Anarchapulco, meanwhile, is still proceeding as scheduled. After the tragedy, the conference is more important than ever, Berwick said.
“Anarchists understand that the government’s prohibition of plants and substances cause these problems and if anything it just makes events like Anarchapulco even more important in order to change the world and get rid of the violence and chaos caused by government,” Berwick said.