March 1, 2024

A venture fund and a real estate startup – both with links to far-right organizations – are promoting a residential development in rural Kentucky as a haven for fellow rightwingers.

The promoters have presented the planned development as an “aligned community” for rightwingers who want to “disappear from the cultural insanity of the broader country” and “spearhead the revival of the region”.

The move is the latest effort by the far-right to establish geographical enclaves, following in the footsteps of movements like the so-called “American Redoubt”, which encourages rightwingers to engage in “political migration” to areas in the interior of the Pacific north-west.

But the underlying finances of land offerings associated with the “Highland Rim Project” (HRP) in Kentucky suggest that buyers will pay a steep premium for living in a remote ideological enclave, while the scheme’s promoters are set to collect tidy profits after making few apparent improvements to the land.

The development was announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, and in a special edition of the New Founding by Joshua Abbotoy, who is managing director of venture fund New Founding and principal of real estate developer Kentucky Ridge Runner LLC according to company records.

Abbotoy offered few details on how the community would be run beyond saying: “Most of the leadership is going to be led by Protestant christians.”

He appeared to indicate the community would seek local political influence and use that as a blueprint for state-level power. “The aspiration is that long-term down the road, 20 years from today, we continue to do this. We’re regionally focused; we can expand from there to states,” he said.

The announcement was hailed on by others on the far right. But experts say that while the move reflects a longer trend of religious conservatives withdrawing from a broader society whose liberal values they reject, there may be more than meets the eye in the HRP.

“Utopian communities have long been a feature of the American landscape, but this may be more of a money-driven land speculation project with a culture war angle than an effort to create a utopian project in the classic sense”, said Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers, a key book on Christian nationalism.

Heidi Beirich, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project against Hate and Extremism, said the developments raised questions about just who would move there.

“Is there going to be something that are along the lines of like a version of a modern day racial covenant related to this land? How are you going to impose political views on your buyers? What are the litmus tests going to be?”

The Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and other categories in the sale of housing.

The Guardian asked Abbotoy via email whether he reserved the right to deny prospective purchasers of land intended for the “aligned community” and on what basis. He did not respond.

According to its website, New Founding seeks to “build and back companies defined by American ideals and a positive national vision”, that it “explicitly oppose[s] DEI/ESG and the bureaucratization of American business culture” and targets “customers disfavored by corrosive ideologies”.

New Founding is currently giving HRP top billing on its website and is described as a “real estate project developing aligned communities in Appalachia”.

Kentucky Ridgerunner, meanwhile, is an LLC founded in 2022 with Abbotoy at its head according to Kentucky company records. It is the main vehicle for HRP, and owns the bulk of the land which is up for sale to buyers with rightwing sympathies.

Abbotoy’s father, Mark, a real estate appraiser based in Hartsville, Tennessee, is named as managing partner on the Ridgerunner website, and Lazar Lazarovski, a Nashville-based tech entrepreneur and realtor, is marketing director.

The website currently advertises two developments in the vicinity of Burkesville, a town in the so-called Eastern Pennyroyal district of southern Kentucky, around 20 miles north of the Tennessee border.

One of the developments, christened “Longhollow Acres”, is described as “a rolling 550-acre farm situated six miles northeast of Burkesville, and about half a mile to the river”.

The offering on the website comprises 17 lots, mostly 3-5 acres with four premium lots of between around 93 and 126 acres. Smaller lots start at $39,900, and the largest premium lot, which prospective buyers can inspect by way of drone footage,has an asking price of $399,000, according to the advertisement on Kentucky Ridgerunner’s website.

The other development “the Bend at the Cumberland River”, Ridgerunner touts as having “prime building sites with views down to the Cumberland River that can be cleared (or maintained in forest) as you desire”.

It is comprised mostly of smaller lots between half and three quarters of an acre, with a few larger uncleared lots advertised as “forest/prairie” properties. Most of these are priced at $45,000, with some outliers as low as $35,000 and three “premium view” lots advertised for $50,000-$60,000.

skip past newsletter promotion

Using satellite imagery, maps, and property records, The Guardian was able to identify the location, purchase details, and the potential profits that Kentucky Ridgerunner and Abbotoy will realise from the two tracts of land that have been subdivided for sale.

“Longhollow Acres” is located in the hilly northeast of Cumberland County. Kentucky Ridgerunner purchased a 460 acre tract for $900,000 from a previous owner in September 2022, which was the third highest price paid for a farm tract since 2021 in a thirty mile radius, according to county property records.

A comparison between satellite imagery and the advertisements on the Ridge Runner website appear to indicate that some of the land being offered has been subdivided from a neighboring property with different owners.

The Guardian sought to confirm the separate ownership of some of the offering in the email to Abbotoy and by calling the owner of the neighboring property. Abbotoy did not respond to the request and the neighborhood property owner did not respond to a message left with another member of their household.

The “Bend” property is located around sixteen miles southwest of that property, downstream on the Cumberland River, just inside neighboring Monroe county. There, Kentucky Ridgerunner paid almost $1.03m n to a pastoral land company for 170 acres. Monroe county property records indicate that the property was subdivided into roughly two equal halves, and the eastern half was further subdivided to include the 50 small lots being offered for sale.

The pricing of lots on both developments appears to lock in significant profits for the joint venture if the land sells at asking price.

At the Bend development, where one half of the land’s original 170-acre, $1.03m lot will be divided into 50 small lots, the sellers will collect $2.05m if buyers meet the asking prices currently on the website. By comparing county land records to pricing on the Ridgerunner website, the Guardian determined that while the company paid around $6,011 an acre, buyers will pay up to the equivalent of $88,500 an acre for an unimproved lot, or up to fourteen times the rate HRP paid.

At the Longhollow development, sellers will collect a total of at least $2.27m on 550 acres of land they paid $900,000 for 460 acres of (one parcel which is under contract no longer displays the asking price). Kentucky Ridge Runner paid just over $1950 an acre; asking prices are up to $10,327.30 an acre.

Officials at Monroe county’s assessor’s office, county clerk’s office and chief judge’s office all said that there is no zoning or permitting required for land development in the county, and therefore developers pay none of the costs associated with those processes in other jurisdictions.

The Cumberland county clerk, Bryan Morgan, said that the county similarly did not require or charge for zoning or permitting.

Financial matters aside, Stewart said the move tracked with the preferences of the contemporary far right.

“This is typical of the far-right’s emotional need for a ‘safe space’,” she wrote.

“It’s not just that some members of this extremist cohort disagree with liberals, feminists, or any number of people who don’t share their views; it’s that they really can’t stand having those people anywhere nearby,” Stewart added.

“The mere existence of people not like them counts as an insult.”