The HBO docuseries The Anarchists opens with a roaring beachside bonfire. Shirtless children squeal happily as they rip pages from books and toss them into the flames. A hyped-up middle-aged man holds a textbook up to the camera and yells “Fuck you!” as his young son looks on attentively. “Bitch!” another kid yells, throwing crumpled papers into the blaze. It’s a wild, repellent scene. Who are these people?
The textbook-destroying ringleader, we learn, is Nathan Freeman, a hard-partying software designer who had recently moved his family from the middle-America suburbs to Acapulco, Mexico, to help run a new conference called Anarchapulco. Along with his wide-eyed wife Lisa, Freeman hoped to build a community devoted to a strain of libertarian thinking known as anarcho-capitalism. The bonfire straight out of Fahrenheit 451? Typical community-building exercise, of course. And, as it turns out, it took place during a relatively peaceful moment within this debaucherous, squabbling group of tax-hating libertines. Book-burning was just a prelude to far more serious chaos.
When Todd Schramke started filming in Acapulco in 2015, he thought he was cobbling together an exploration of an eccentric countercultural group that might work as a digital short. Instead, he kept his cameras rolling for six wildly eventful years, witnessing the group rapidly expand and spectacularly fracture. He followed a colorful, frequently belligerent cast of characters, including the Freemans, conspiracy-theory-spouting Anarchapulco founder Jeff Berwick, and a charismatic fugitive couple known by the aliases John Galton and Lily Forester, as they attempted to live out their ideological convictions—down with governments, up with free markets—in their cobbled-together expat cadre in Mexico.
Since they dreamt of a stateless existence, the group enthusiastically boosted the use of cryptocurrencies, and found themselves flush with money after Bitcoin’s price spiked in 2017. (Also, so no one yells at me: If you ask actual anarchists, they’ll tell you anarcho-capitalism has nothing to do with traditional anarchism—which is anti-capitalist and left-leaning—making the title of this docu-series a misnomer. “The Hedonistic Libertarians” would’ve probably been more accurate, but oh well!) Along the way, fortunes were gained and lost, and several of Schramke’s principle characters ended up dying, sometimes violently.
WIRED talked with the director about the filmmaking process, anarchist web forums, and how to roll with unexpected real-life plot twists.
This conversation contains spoilers and has been edited for clarity and length.
WIRED: I want to hear the origin story of The Anarchists. What first drew you to Anarachapulco?
Todd Schramke: I came across the concept of anarchism during my own development as a young punk rock musician. Some of the bands that were associated with that world had an interest in more classical anarchism, which is actually emergent out of a 19th-century labor rights movement—which has very little to do with what was going on at Anarchapulco. That desensitized me to the concepts of anarchy and anarchism, and when I came of voting age, I started exploring some of these ideas.