He essentially “bought” a town, and is now retrofitting it as a parallel-economy destination DAO for dissidents and other breeds of opt-outers who want nothing to do with mainstream society. The values of the project are pro-local, anti-corporatist, and anti-elitist: the polar opposite of everything Jackson Hole has become. That being said, he’s well-aware of the prospect of becoming just the type of parachuter he seeks to resist.
He and I were both featured prominently in James Pogue’s Vanity Fair exploration of the so-called Dissident Fringe.
“I drove north toward Montana, where I visited with a man named Paul McNiel, whom I’d first met back during the fervid summer of 2020, at a Fourth of July picnic and anti-government rally headlined “Rage Against the State.” “I think that Livingston has the highest per-capita concentration of contributors to The New Yorker of any city in America,” he’d said when I introduced myself as a writer. McNiel is extraordinarily well read, and friendly with a number of literary types. He is a bit of a prepper, and while he is deeply Christian, he doesn’t consider himself right wing. “I don’t think the division is right-left anymore. It’s us against the machine,” he said, borrowing a phrase from the English writer Paul Kingsnorth—whose writings critiquing the power of tech and money in modern life have become popular among dissident types. He was dismissive of the local armed groups being flooded with new members. “At the end of the day,” he said, “if you’re not willing to shoot federal agents, then you’re not serious about it. They aren’t serious.”
McNiel had served in Afghanistan after college, and when he left the military, he’d taken out an almost unbelievable amount of debt, largely on credit cards, so that he could get himself in the position of buying his crown jewel, a trailer park in the small town of Belgrade, Montana, just outside of Bozeman. He now owned trailer parks as far away as Alaska. He had ridden the wave. “I always tell myself: No more deals. I want to stop, and I know I have to. But I can’t.”
We discuss how not to become another Jackson Hole, his background as a trailer park magnate, and his experiences as a combat veteran in Afghanistan.