Fergie Chambers Is Heir to One of America's Richest Families -- and Determined to See the U.S. Fall (2024)

Around 8 a.m. on a cool, clear Monday in mid-November, James Cox Chambers Jr. is in Gresham Park, in southeast Atlanta, bouncing on the balls of his feet, shadowboxing the air in front of him. Dressed in a black hoodie with a Palestinian flag on it, black sweatpants, black New Balances, black-and-red work gloves, a white-and-black keffiyeh, with a balaclava ski mask perched on his head, Chambers is surrounded by a growing crowd. But at that moment, focused on his warmup routine, he looks very much alone.

Paige Belanger joins him on the grass, and for a few minutes, they practice arm drags, a move Chambers picked up in mixed-martial-arts training. Belanger is a member of the Babochki Collective, a group Chambers recently formed to help turn the vast fortune he’s inherited into a socialist revolution.

“Just remember, you want to go out and away,” he tells her. “It’s a good tactic for de-arresting yourself.”

The contingent in the park, which will grow to more than 500 people, is preparing to march to the construction site where the city is clear-cutting an urban forest to build a controversial police training center its detractors have dubbed “Cop City.” The movement to stop it has been growing for more than two years and has catalyzed different wings of the progressive left — environmentalists, social-justice crusaders, police abolitionists — into a loosely unified front. Chambers, who most people know as Fergie or Jim, has considered himself a communist since his teenage years and has been on the front line of many left-wing demonstrations over the past decade. A month earlier, he’d locked himself to the front door of an Israeli weapons manufacturer in Cambridge, Massachusetts; three weeks later, he was arrested for defacing a McDonald’s at a pro-Palestine rally in Washington, D.C. This protest, though, is more personal.

Alex Taylor, who has been a chief fundraiser for Cop City, is Chambers’ first cousin. Taylor is the CEO of Cox Enterprises, a sprawling, multibillion-dollar conglomerate whose varied tentacles include the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Axios.com, Kelley Blue Book, and dozens of radio and TV stations. It’s also the country’s largest private broadband provider. The company, which was founded by Chambers’ great-grandfather, James M. Cox, the former governor of Ohio and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1920, has made the extended Cox clan the 10th-richest family in America, with a net worth of around $26.8 billion, according to Forbes. The 39-year-old Chambers owned a percentage of Cox, and received quarterly dividends until mid-2023, when after years of growing estrangement — some of it political, much of it not — he broke with the family over their Cop City support. A deal was reached for Cox to buy his shares. The exact terms are shrouded in nondisclosure agreements, but the result isn’t: In the past year, Chambers has gone from being an angsty political radical with a few million dollars at his disposal to one who’s in the process of extracting at least $250 million from Cox, which he’s committed to using to build socialist and anti-imperialist infrastructure.

“We need a revolution,” Chambers tells me. He sees himself as a “professional revolutionary”: “I see success as the dissolution of the United States government and an end to the U.S. empire. Because I say that a lot, combined with the money, makes me a target.”

As we prepare to set off on a nearly two-mile march toward the Cop City site, the vibe in the park is very much a ragtag army division gearing up for combat. Organizers distribute goggles and face masks. Protesters check and recheck their equipment. Some have fashioned makeshift shields from plastic lunch trays. A small brass band plays “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Helicopters circle overhead.

Chambers is a ball of energy, bobbing his head, raising his fist, and chanting along with the crowd: “No justice! No peace! No racist-ass police!”

“There’s a level of gratitude I have to even end up here,” he tells me. “Because I shouldn’t be in this group. Most people like me wouldn’t.”

The long line of protesters snakes down a paved trail through the woods. Chambers walks alongside Belanger and Calla Walsh, another Babochki member. As we climb a hill, Chambers leans toward me.

“My favorite Fred Hampton quote says, ‘I believe I’m going to die doing the things I was born to do. I believe I’m going to die high off the people,’” he says. “I love that idea, dying high off the people.” He motions to the marchers around him. “ ‘High off the people’ — that’s what this feels like.”

The march turns onto a roadway, when the overwhelming law-enforcement presence becomes visible: at least a dozen police vehicles, alongside dozens of officers, wearing armor and helmets, carrying heavy weaponry. As a police SUV rolls alongside the marchers, blaring its siren, Chambers dances in front of it, shooting his middle finger at the driver. One of the march’s organizers wheels a large speaker blasting Bone Crusher’s early-aughts crunk anthem “Never Scared,” as the scrum edges toward a line of riot police about 50 yards away. Calls rise from the crowd: “Stay together!” “Let’s f*cking go!”

Chambers links arms with Walsh and Belanger and inches toward the front. As the first line of marchers reaches the police, it’s chaos. Officers batter protesters with plastic shields, and noxious plumes rise from the street where tear-gas canisters have been deployed. I struggle to put on a pair of protective glasses. The formation breaks apart, and people scatter, coughing, sputtering, and yelling.

Fergie Chambers Is Heir to One of America's Richest Families -- and Determined to See the U.S. Fall (1)


“Don’t run!”


“We need help right here!”

As some marchers scramble into a nearby patch of woods, a flash-bang goes off. More panic.

“Is someone shooting?”

“Is anyone hit?”

In the woods, some gasp for air, others rinse their eyes with water. I find Walsh. She looks dazed. Then I find Chambers. He looks invigorated.

“I got blasted right in the face!” he says. “It was spicy!” We make our way back to the larger group of protesters. Chambers is still buzzing. “Man, that was good.”

A LOT OF PEOPLE don’t like Fergie Chambers, and it’s not that hard to understand why. Let’s start with this: He’s a stinking-rich white guy who has never needed to work a day in his life, yet he feels comfortable inveighing against the horrors of capitalism and declaring his solidarity with the world’s dispossessed. He does this while posting photos on social media of himself globe-trotting with model-actress Stella Schnabel, his partner and the mother of the youngest of his four children. Schnabel, it’s worth noting, is the daughter of Julian Schnabel, one of the world’s most famous artists and the director of several films. None of it exactly screams “man of the people.”

Many of Chambers’ geopolitical positions are broadly contentious, and he appears to take glee rubbing them in people’s faces. He supports Russia’s war on Ukraine, and frequently refers to Vladimir Putin as “a great man.” In 2022, he traveled to the Donbas region to write about ethnic Russians in the area who welcomed Russia’s military presence. Since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Chambers has focused his attention on the Palestinian cause and repeatedly praised the militant group. He has dismissed reports of sexual violence and the targeting of civilians during the attack as Zionist propaganda, and made incendiary remarks on social media regarding the ongoing conflict (“We need to make people who support Israel actually afraid to go out in public”).

Even putting toxic politics and class contradictions aside, there’s this: Chambers can be kind of a dick. He often speaks in proclamations, as if every word were the gospel truth and any who disagree are beneath contempt. He talks of the things he hates — Zionists, liberals, his dad, etc. — with fiery passion, and casually refers to people and organizations as “enemies” he’s “at war” with, this despite some of those people and organizations having been his allies in the recent past. He’s often at odds even with those who broadly agree with his politics.

There’s another side of Chambers though. He can be charming, charismatic, and funny. He’s whip-smart and earnest. He’s given considerable sums of money to organizations like the Black Alliance for Peace, the Abolitionist Law Center, and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, as well as a host of leftist media projects and bail funds. He’s an obscenely wealthy person committed to dismantling the system that enabled people like him to become obscenely wealthy.

“He’s a person that has been broken by this system in a different way than most of us and is trying to pick up the pieces, find meaning, and push the world to be more just,” says Tim Franzen, a community organizer who has known Chambers for nearly a decade.

Chambers’ grandmother Anne Cox Chambers was the ambassador to Belgium during the Carter administration, and a longtime force in Democratic politics, but she operated largely in the shadows. “The more anonymous you can be, the better,” she said in a rare 1991 interview with Fortune. “Why then, you can do just whatever you want.”

Chambers, who was close with his grandmother until her death in 2020, doesn’t heed this advice. “There’s something to be said for generating momentum with visibility or challenging norms by doing something you’re not supposed to, visibly, and being unafraid of that,” he says.

If you find Chambers’ politics loathsome, it’s easy to demonize him as a radical left-wing boogeyman — a sort of dirtbag George Soros — or dismiss him entirely. To his haters, he’s nothing but a spoiled, attention-seeking rich kid with a massive Oedipus complex, a thing for Karl Marx, a bunch of guns, and a need to prove his ardor by being the most extreme guy in any room. But if you glimpse some righteousness in his crusade and recognize he’s committing serious resources to causes that have never dared dream of this kind of money, then the question of what to make of Fergie Chambers is thornier.

WHEN CHAMBERS WAS in his early twenties, he lived in Brooklyn for a spell with his first wife, Anya, a Russian woman he met while they were students at Bard College. They’d just had their first child together, a son, and Chambers invited friends over to see the baby and play pickup football in a nearby park. While they played, a car hit a kitten and kept driving. Chambers and his friends discovered the animal, writhing on the ground. The person who told me this story, a longtime friend of Chambers who asked not to be named out of fear it could attract state repression, was there that day and said everyone seemed paralyzed, unsure what to do.

“Finally, Fergie was like, ‘I got it,’” he tells me. Then, according to this friend, Chambers ran the cat over again with his own car, putting it out of his misery. “It really does speak to the fact that when there’s something difficult but necessary, Fergie’s able to step up. Many people will not do the uncomfortable thing. Most are going to call the police or the ASPCA, and the cat would’ve been suffering the entire time, whereas in a matter of minutes, decisive action was taken that nobody else was willing to do.”

When I relay this tale to Chambers, he says it’s not completely true. He didn’t run over the kitten. “I slit its throat,” he says.

Fergie Chambers Is Heir to One of America's Richest Families -- and Determined to See the U.S. Fall (2)

Chambers’ childhood was turbulent. He grew up mostly in Brooklyn. His parents divorced when he was young, and he lived with his mother, Lauren Hamilton, an actress and artist. It was a privileged upbringing, but he wasn’t habitually cocooned in the world of the super rich the way that he was when visiting his father, James Cox Chambers, or his dad’s family.

Chambers was a precocious child who could read and write before kindergarten and skipped second grade. He enrolled at the Saint Ann’s School, a progressive, private institution whose former students include Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, and Mike D of the Beastie Boys. “It was the school for famous people’s children,” says Schnabel, who also attended.

Chambers had a penchant for acting out in school. A close friend of his tells me his first memory of Chambers was watching him smash a violin over his own head in front of the school in fourth grade.

Chambers’ mother took him to a psychiatrist for the first time when he was six. In addition to his behavior issues, he was still wetting his bed. “There was a calendar with marks on it, and I’d get a prize, but if I pissed my bed, it was this big wave of shame and the whole day was clouded with that,” he recalls. In addition to weekly therapy, he was eventually medicated.

“Then, when I’m 12, I’d have tantrums,” he says. “I’d freak out. I’d talk about being depressed.” He says he was sent to the psych ward at a local hospital: “That was the first time I was put in a straitjacket, sedated, and left in a room for a day.” He also alleges he was raped by another patient there.

When he was released, he began drinking and smoking weed. Within a few years, he was shooting heroin. Throughout his teenage years, he says, he was involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions at least a half-dozen times. On multiple occasions, he says, he was taken from his home and transported to out-of-state therapy programs. At 15, after shooting heroin and smoking angel dust, he attempted suicide by swallowing what he calls “a ton of pills.” When friends called 911 and first responders arrived, Chambers ran and was chased by police. When they caught up with him, he spit in an officer’s face and was detained. “They had their way with me,” he says. “I was thrown in an ambulance, and went back into an institution.” It wasn’t his first encounter with police, but it was foundational.

Throughout these years, Chambers underwent a political awakening. He knew his family had money, but it wasn’t until a classmate brought in a magazine listing America’s wealthiest families that he had any idea how much. He remembers a teacher assigning Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and prodding him to take note of Zinn’s critique of capitalism. Soon, he was reading Lenin and Marx and calling himself a communist.

Chambers believes his political turn impacted his adolescent mental-health treatment. He’s come to reject all of the various diagnoses doctors tagged him with. “I don’t believe in the biological existence of personality disorders,” he says. “Things like bipolar, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, PTSD, they’re conditions based on the society we live in. In a secular, capitalist world, this psychiatric framework is the most effective form of social control. I was expressing dissenting political ideas when I was a kid. Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by having extreme beliefs. Extreme in reference to what? Who defines that?”

Chambers believes his mental-health traumas also drove a wedge between him and his mother. “She definitely loved me and showed affection, but her reaction to my distress was so severe that it started to make things incredibly difficult,” he says. “I shut her off emotionally. Then, in my first and second marriage, she’d intervene and try to convince my partner I was bipolar and needed help and medication. I told her, ‘Look, we can have a relationship, but discussions of my mental health and you intervening in my relationships is off the table. These are hard boundaries.’” He says that after his mother reached out to Schnabel to reiterate these concerns, he stopped talking to her entirely. (Hamilton did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Chambers’ relationship with his father is even more complicated. The elder Chambers, a co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks and chair of the board of trustees at Bard College, runs an organic farm in Hillsdale, New York. According to Chambers, his father “spent most of my childhood taking drugs in California and ignoring me.” (Chambers Sr. did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

For a time, during Chambers’ teenage years, his dad moved to Manhattan, and lived in an apartment where he kept pet wolves. Chambers describes his father as the family’s original black sheep and credits him as the person who first taught him to hate cops and distrust the wealthy. But after his father got remarried in 2004 to actress Nabila Khashoggi, the daughter of billionaire Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, he believes his father’s politics softened, straining an already fraught relationship.

When Chambers’ youngest son was born in 2021, he says, his father never visited him. As he began publicly criticizing capitalism in general and his family specifically, relations between father and son grew “super icy,” Chambers says. “I asked to go visit my grandmother’s old house in France for my birthday, and he said no.” The final breaking point was Chambers’ trip to Ukraine. “There’s nothing I could’ve done worse than what I did, which was, in his mind, propaganda for Putin,” he says. As Chambers sees it, the relationship is irreconcilable. “We hate each other. My father is a bad man.”

Chambers says those who’d reduce his anti-capitalist crusade to an extended Oedipal tantrum are missing the point. “It’s a symptom of liberal idealism that people want to psychoanalyze everything and invalidate it based on that,” he says. “Yes, I have daddy issues and that informs my politics. My dad is emblematic of everything wrong with capitalist society. As a result, it has helped me develop political analyses. Life experience informs what we become. This is the case for every single human being on Earth.”

BABOCHKI MEANS “BUTTERFLIES” in Russian, so I assumed Chambers’ collective was named for “the butterfly effect,” the way small actions can reverberate across vast distances. In fact, it’s a nod to a jujitsu move that uses an aggressor’s strength against them. Chambers formed the Babochki Collective to help him allocate the windfall from the Cox deal, but the group also serves as an all-purpose advisory council. The dozen or so members include people Chambers has known since childhood, along with some he’s only recently met. When I visit him outside of Enfield, New Hampshire, in early November, most of the Babochki members are there for a three-day retreat.

One night, we gather for dinner in a large, sparsely furnished house at the top of a hill. Chambers purchased the place a few months earlier, but has been living less than a mile up the road. Platters of steak, lamb, roasted potatoes, and spinach are shuttled from the kitchen to the dining-room table and passed around. As members finish the meal, Chambers lingers at the table, in black-framed glasses and a Boston Bruins hat, nursing a glass of red wine and smoking a blunt. His sweatshirt sleeves are hiked up, revealing tattooed forearms. Despite an obsessive workout routine, Chambers isn’t a particularly big guy. At the table though, he exerts a gravitational pull. He tends to slow his speech and occasionally close his eyes when he’s straining to make a complicated point or losing patience with someone for not getting it.

Chambers’ socialism isn’t a mild “Bernie Bro” vision of expanded social-welfare programs and stronger labor unions. He identifies as a Marxist-Leninist. He lionizes Stalin and Mao and has tattoos of both on his thigh. He believes in fostering a culture of leftist militancy and owns several guns. “So long as our enemies control the state, gun control means a furtherance of their monopoly on the legitimate use of force,” he says as several Babochki members nod in agreement. “I’m not organizing militias to attack the state. We’re talking about people’s self-defense. Because we don’t know what’s going to come our way.”

Chambers doesn’t really believe in incremental reform. For him, things like socialized medicine or housing subsidies are usually just tools to prop up liberal politicians and a broken capitalist system. “If I’m able to generate a mass movement around people who want better access to health care and education, more protections for workers, and I’m willing to do this based on an economy built on imperialism, then I’ve gotten close to some revolutionary ideas but actually done nothing revolutionary at all,” he says.

So, it can only be revolution or bust?

“It is revolution or bust,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “That’s how history unfolds.”

Franzen, the Atlanta-based organizer, finds Chambers’ radical activism commendable, but says he’s prone to very black-and-white thinking: “It’s harder to think incrementalism is the enemy when people count on the incremental to eat.”

Chambers’ outsize wealth ensures his outsize opinions have outsize influence. He consistently shrugs off the notion that he’s the leader of any movement, but as Kamau Franklin, who runs Community Movement Builders, a Black-led nonprofit that works on issues of police violence and sustainability and to which Chambers has given multiple grants, puts it, “Because of the resources he has, whether people like it or not — whether I like it or not — he’s deferred to by certain people who are looking to bring him in closer in order to get those resources.”

This isn’t simply opportunism. The Babochki members I meet seem sharp and dedicated. Most were involved in socialist organizing long before Chambers and his money came along. But several of them live rent-free on his property. Sitting around the table, I ask: Who can tell Chambers when he’s wrong? The room gets quiet for a few seconds. Then, after a few moments of back-and-forth, Chambers takes a long drag from his blunt.

“It doesn’t matter as long as I’m right,” he says. Everyone laughs, except for Chambers. “It doesn’t. So, they’re here to make sure I’m right.”

Fergie Chambers Is Heir to One of America's Richest Families -- and Determined to See the U.S. Fall (3)

One person who challenges Chambers, at least occasionally, is Schnabel. She’s tall, statuesque, and at times, formidable. “This is a very valid question,” she says. “You’re never going to build a huge party having issues with every single-ass person you ever meet.”

Chambers and Schnabel have known each other since Saint Ann’s, but weren’t close until they reconnected in 2020. “Stella’s the only rich person I’ve ever been close with in my life,” he tells me later. “Any other woman I’ve been with, there’s an inherent power dynamic I can’t really escape. With her, it’s different. I have a lot more money than she does, but she doesn’t need it.”

Ever since the Cox buyout, Chambers has been inundated with grant requests, but many leftists have criticized how he’s disbursed his money.

“Where are the free community health clinics? Where are the community schools?” asks Matthew Hunter, an L.A.-based organizer with CPUSA, the country’s official Communist Party. “On the left, we idolize the Black Panthers and what they were able to do. Then I see Fergie, and to me, it all looks like a vanity project. Because if it was real, if it was socialist, there’s so much he can do to build infrastructure to support people. None of that’s happening.”

Chambers isn’t against these sorts of programs. “But lots of rich people give money to things like that,” he says. “I see my role as resourcing explicitly political things that aren’t getting resourced. We don’t want a society built on charity.”

ON A SPRAWLING PATCH of land about an hour southeast of Atlanta, outside of Madison, Georgia, Chambers conducted his first experiment in communal living. At the time, back in 2017, he and his second wife, Cameron, had recently returned from spending the winter months camped at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. During their time there, increasingly heavy-handed tactics were used to dislodge activists from the protest camp.

As the camp disbanded, Chambers was fired up by the idea of living more connected to the land and creating a haven for activists or those seeking refuge from state repression. He bought property in Georgia, and moved there with his wife and another couple they’d met at Standing Rock. At first, they lived in tents on the land, but gradually the commune expanded. Chambers invited more people, bought neighboring properties, including one with a luxury log cabin on it, and brought three tiny houses to the property. At its peak, more than a dozen people lived for free on the compound, most of whom were collecting a $2,000-a-month stipend from Chambers for their work there, which included farming, raising livestock, and political study. Nearly everyone I spoke to who was there says it didn’t go well, though untangling what exactly happened and why depends on who you ask.

Ron Pushak moved to the compound at the invitation of his ex-wife, who was living there with their young son and her new boyfriend. He says many there arrived traumatized. “Everyone kind of had shell shock from Standing Rock. These people needed professional help. They didn’t need to be left in the woods with a few bucks in their pockets and no jobs.”

On the commune, substance abuse was rampant. Booze and weed were ubiquitous, and psychedelics commonplace. Chambers, says Pushak, “was seeking a shamanistic path of healing and trying to prescribe that to other people as well.”

Chambers arranged for several members of the commune to visit the Peyote Way Church of God in Willcox, Arizona, during this period. As Chambers tells me, “I thought psychedelics would show you things in a way that I don’t now.”

Amanda Lee, who lived there off and on with her son, was alarmed. “I don’t feel like I’m going to be in a better place in my life if I’m doing tons of hallucinogenics,” she says. “They called it microdosing, but they were not always ‘micro’ doses. They felt like, ‘This is the only way not to be bipolar,’ or whatever. Everything was trial and error there, from farming to microdosing. The learning process was slow and brutal.”

For a stretch of time, Chambers was living in the property’s largest, nicest house with Cameron and another woman he knew from Atlanta, Rachael. Pushak, who’d grown close with Chambers, also lived in the house, and described the women as Chambers’ “two wives.” “They weren’t officially married, but they all went to the peyote church and were together after that,” he says.

Rachael had initially been inspired by Chambers’ vision for the commune. “He wanted us to be able to live not having to be slaves of capitalism,” she says. After moving there, her relationship with Chambers and his wife shifted. “He was in a marriage with Cam. Things weren’t going well. They were also open to polyamory. So that was a piece of it.” (Cameron declined to comment.) Others I spoke to say there was an effort to spread the polyamorous vibe. “He wanted to do this whole swinger place,” Lee says. “He wanted to have free love. It was totally sex-oriented.”

Chambers says he didn’t consider both women his wives and refers to the arrangement as “a stupid 21st-century poly thing” that was first initiated when the three decided to take psilocybin together.

The relationship between Chambers and Cameron had long been volatile. In 2013, their Atlanta neighbors called the police after hearing the couple fighting, and Chambers was arrested for domestic battery and false imprisonment. He says that he was on a bender at the time — out of his mind on whiskey, cocaine, and Xanax — and has little memory of the incident. He was never prosecuted, but calls it “the single greatest stain on my entire existence so far, something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Their unstable dynamic added to the chaos in Madison. I was told about violence among other residents, guns being drawn, and at least one person being chased through the woods at gunpoint.

“It was f*cking crazy,” Pushak says. “There were issues with alcoholism everywhere. I think [Chambers] was healing from personal family trauma. He was juggling two women. Drugs were involved. We’d go to the bank to get $20,000 and hand everybody money each week. It was nuts.”

Chambers wanted the compound to become self-sustaining but their fledgling efforts at farming didn’t produce enough food for the group, and there were frequent tensions around buying additional provisions. Chambers would assign readings — usually historical texts or political tracts — to the group, but some would blow it off. “We’re living in the woods while he’s living in luxury talking about how having clean water and food isn’t important if we’re not reading about Marxism and having intellectual conversations about it,” Lee says.

In early 2019, Chambers pulled the plug on the commune. People had been filtering out already, and there were issues with local law enforcement. Looking back now, Chambers admits he made mistakes. “Madison was f*cked up,” he says. “I thought if I threw all this land out there, got people together who wanted the system to stop, and threw resources at it, it would work. Nope. Things have to be organized. It was too open. It was like, ‘We’ll take anarchists, social democrats, anybody who’s against this system.’ That was not principled.”

Still, Chambers believed in the potential of this sort of project. After selling the Madison property in early 2020, he bought land near Alford, Massachusetts, and made plans to do it differently there.

The Alford property, a collection of neighboring lots along a scenic two-lane road that twists through wooded hills, includes several homes along with a large barn that Chambers converted into the Berkshire People’s Gym. When he first moved there, he was still trying to save his marriage. When it wasn’t salvageable, he grew deeply depressed.

The Alford project, with its focus on farming, boxing, martial arts, and a group Chambers formed called the Berkshire Communists, helped occupy his mind. He reconnected with Schnabel during a trip to New York, and she moved to Alford. Belanger, the Babochki member who accompanied Chambers at the Cop City march, first met him around this time when she attended his gym classes and study groups. She later moved into a house on the property and led study groups. She knew vaguely about Chambers’ family money, but once he completed the Cox deal last July, it became clear they could scale up this political project. “It seems crazy the amount we could do if we can strategize right,” Belanger says.

The Alford venture hasn’t been without drama. One person arrived with a plan to grow cannabis, but left a few weeks later following an arcane dispute about decolonial theory and the writings of Frantz Fanon and Gerald Horne. Another resident left the property for a couple of weeks to follow Phish on tour, then died when he either jumped or fell from a balcony at a show in San Francisco. Pushak, one of a few veterans of the Madison compound who moved to Alford, eventually fell out with Chambers. He looks back fondly on their friendship, but says Chambers just didn’t like being challenged. “People are somewhat disposable to him,” he says. “He can buy new friends. I feel like an asshole saying it, but it didn’t feel that way until I was treated that way.”

IN MID-2023, as the Cox deal was closing, Chambers moved his base of operations to New Hampshire. He planned to hang on to the spread in Alford, but New Hampshire had no state income tax, which meant he could maximize the money from the deal. When I visited him there in early November, he seemed to be following a similar road map he’d taken in Madison and Alford. He’d bought two homes on wooded properties and also acquired office space, part of which he was turning into an MMA gym.

Chambers calls these “land projects,” and sees them as an important base for his work. “Any good movement had collective comrades working, breaking bread, living together,” he says.

A week after the Cop City march in Atlanta, a group called Palestine Action, whose U.S. branch Chambers helped found after Oct. 7, staged a direct action at an office of Elbit Systems, an Israeli defense contractor, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. While several protesters held a banner outside, others spray-painted the building and climbed on the roof holding smoke bombs. Chambers was interviewed at the scene by a local news crew, and afterward, the Palestine Action U.S. social media accounts posted photos and video of the masked protesters in action. Three women, including Walsh, were arrested and charged with rioting, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, burglary, and conspiracy to commit falsifying physical evidence. Each now faces the prospect of decades in prison if convicted. (Belanger was also later charged in the same incident.) There was speculation that Chambers could be slapped with RICO charges for his alleged role as an organizer and funder of the action.

The immediate reaction in leftist circles was harsh. Although many criticized the charges as excessive, Chambers was denounced as an “adventurist” who’d encouraged these women to undertake a poorly conceived protest, then recklessly broadcast it all over social media. Many pointed to a tweet of his from the previous month — “College student radicals should be diving headfirst into direct action. They have way less to lose re: families and jobs” — as evidence he was leading young activists down a road to ruin.

“When somebody is posting online, telling people, especially young people, ‘Everyone get out there and wreck sh*t! You have nothing to lose,’ that’s very suspect to me,” says Tai Lee, a Brooklyn-based communist organizer. “You don’t post images of yourself breaking laws. This is wrecker behavior.” Lee thinks Chambers’ value to the movement as a funder comes with certain responsibilities: “If you’re going to be the money guy, you should be low-key.”

When Chambers reaches out to me a few hours after the Merrimack incident, he’s uncharacteristically rattled. “I won’t lie I’m scared to death,”
he writes in a text message. When he calls a few days later, it’s via the encrypted app Signal, and for the first time in any of our conversations, he seems to be choosing his words carefully. He says he’s left the country, but makes it clear he’s done nothing wrong by leaving. “I’m not hiding,” he says. “It’s not illegal.”

The threat of RICO charges is sobering. “If people knew all the details, they’d understand why I’d go somewhere for the moment,” Chambers says. “But they don’t, so they just think the multimillionaire who groomed a bunch of young girls to get arrested for him dipped to get away from any responsibility.”

He tells me police came to the property in Alford a few days earlier. Chambers suddenly found himself flashing back to the psychiatric interventions of his teenage years when he was taken from his home. “I was in a state of mortal terror,” he says.

In the weeks that follow, there’s more fallout. His neighbors in the Berkshires are alarmed by a series of stories that have run in local publications, and the town’s select board forces Chambers to close the Berkshire People’s Gym. In New Hampshire, the attorney general announces that due to a rise in hate crimes, the state is expanding its Civil Rights Unit, citing the Merrimack action as an incident the unit will investigate. In early December, Instagram shutters Chambers’ account for violating its terms of service. The walls seem to be closing in on him.

“The U.S. looks like Germany 1932 to me,” Chambers says when I talk to him over Signal in mid-December. “It’s really scary.” He’s still out of the country, living in Tunis, Tunisia, with Schnabel and one of his children, and has no plans for a permanent return. “I’m not saying I’ll never set foot, but the shift in public sentiment in the U.S. has been a real mask-off moment. You can be an organizer, you can do direct action, you can say agitative sh*t, and maybe they won’t come after you hard. But if you do all that and have a lot of money, they’re going to come after you so hard.”

He’s reevaluating many of the projects he’s been working on the past few years. “Alford,” he says, “is almost definitely done.” He’ll likely hold on to the New Hampshire properties, and he’s thinking about setting up new bases, possibly around Atlanta or maybe somewhere abroad where he can focus energy and resources on “strengthening people’s movements in the Global South.” The Babochki Collective will continue more or less as is, just with Chambers participating from afar. He’s been persuaded by “wiser comrades” that his resources are worth more than his on-the-ground participation. “Perhaps I have to grow up a little bit,” he says.

He tells me there’s another reason he wants to stay in Tunis. A few days earlier, he’d become a practicing Muslim. “A lot of people want to make me a meme: ‘Oh, you want to be oppressed? You want to cosplay?’ But it’s doing a lot for me.” Islam has eased his “discomfort in Western society and the world in general,” and allowed him to stop leaning on unhealthy coping mechanisms, namely, as he puts it, “sex, drugs, and violence.” In February, he and Schnabel were married in a private religious ceremony.

Truth be told, Chambers has never lacked faith. Whether it’s communism, shamanism, jujitsu, or marriage, Chambers’ problem has never been that he wasn’t committed deeply enough. It’s that he’s never known where to stop. Just like with that dying kitten in the park, he goes further than others in the service of his convictions. He’s not a con man or a charlatan, he’s a true believer, and that might be more troubling. To look at his adult life from afar is to see someone searching for something — connection, camaraderie, love, justice — and believing he’s found it, again and again.

In spite of all this — or irrespective of it — Chambers’ wealth may do a lot of good one day, it may do some real evil, or it may just largely go to waste. Almost certainly, how you weigh that final calculus will depend as much on your politics as his.

What will happen to Chambers himself is harder to discern. At one point in our final extended conversation, he explains why he still feels obligated to speak out publicly — about Gaza, capitalism, everything. “We’ll never build movements in anonymity,” he says. “Real movements are built by martyrs.”

Is that how his story ends?

I ask him, straight-out, if he wants to be a martyr. Is he hoping to die high off the people? He’s taken aback.

“No, I don’t want to do that,” he says. A couple minutes later, he circles back to the idea, as if he’s had more chance to consider it.

“To be a martyr?” he asks. “I mean, if I died fighting the U.S., I know I’d see paradise for it, I can say that. Does it mean I’m asking for it?”

For a moment, the question hangs in the air. Then he lets out a deep, throaty laugh.


Fergie Chambers Is Heir to One of America's Richest Families -- and Determined to See the U.S. Fall (2024)


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