The President of the Republic of Texas, decked out in cowboy hat, rose plaid shirt, jeans and silver Texas belt buckle, steps through the doors of the Capitol building in Austin, his boots sliding across the marble as he walks through the metal detector. A security guard tosses him a casual glance, but no one else in the bustling dome lobby bats an eye. Folks here don't realize that John Jarnecke, the slow-moving 72-year-old construction company owner, is their real leader—but they soon will, he's certain. Soon, the blue-eyed stoic tells me, everyone will realize the truth: That Texas is, and long has been, its own nation.
"We knew when we got into this we had targets on our backs because people don't want us to succeed, but we're going to succeed," Jarnecke declared, hands on his hips, in the edifice he believes will be the national, not just the state, Capitol in a few years. He's been a citizen of the Republic since 1997, and president since 2013—now, he senses that victory is near. "We have a 98 percent chance of making independence for Texas happen."
The Republic of Texas mints its own silver coins—with the motto "One Nation Under One God"—holds monthly congressional sessions in different restaurants, and plans to fight for freedom from the United States in international court. The diehard group maintains that the US has violated the conditions it in 1845, when it annexed the Republic of Texas--a young nation that had won independence from Mexico eight years earlier, meaning that, in their estimation, Texas is still legally its own country.
Texas could easily exist as its own nation, Jarnecke and Bob Wilson, one of the Republic of Texas's Senators, told me on a recent afternoon in Austin. The state, they explained, has it all—oil, natural gas, cattle, and "a gun behind every tree." Plenty of Texans actually support independence, the men note—a poll last year revealed 36 percent of the state's residents supported secession .
The Republic adheres to a libertarian-infused ideology that bears some resemblance to the Tea Party and other conservative movements that have recently taken hold in the Lone Star State. In the Republic, residents won't have to pay taxes to support government programs like Social Security, or even a formal military. All citizens would have the right to bear arms, because, as Wilson told me, "every Texan knows how to shoot." Schools would be optional, created and monitored by the people in a grassroots way. When it comes to crime, citizen juries, rather than official judges, will decide what the punishment should be.
"Maybe the jury will decide the killer should give half his salary to the widow for the rest of his life," Wilson said of a possible repercussion for a murder in the Republic of Texas. "Or the jury could say, 'hang him.'"
The Republic, Wilson said, has no count of its current members, because that would infringe on individuals' right to privacy. The group also doesn't take a stance on gay marriage, because they think government shouldn't be involved in marriage in the first place. But belief in a Judeo-Christian God is a requirement for members who want to serve in the Republic's government.
"We had a man who said he couldn't take the oath to God when he was taking office, so he couldn't be in the government. He was Islamic," Wilson said. "This is in the Constitution, you have to follow your oath."
But while the secessionists may have to believe in God, they don't actually have to come from Texas—in fact, neither Jarnecke nor Wilson was born in the state. "I guess I was born with the Texas attitude," said Jarnecke, who grew up on a farm in Indiana, and moved to Texas at age 42. "People in Texas are proud. Some call us arrogant, because we're a people who knows what we want and we're not afraid to puff out our chest and say 'we're Texans, the rest of y'all go to Hell."
Wilson, an Iowa native, concurred. "Texas beckoned to me, and proved to be the land of the free and the home of the brave—that used to be America, but now it's the home of the slaves," he said. "People can't do anything without getting a license or asking the government. They just don't realize they're enslaved."
The Republic's argument centers on the issue of immigration. Jarnecke claims that when the US "stole" parts of Texas after the 1845 Treaty of Annexation, it breached stipulations of that treaty. Later, the US broke the agreement again, by failing to deliver on a key pledge: protecting Texas' borders.
"Look at all the illegals crossing all the time," Wilson said. He explained that once Texas secedes, migrants will no longer want to cross the border because anyone entering the Republic of Texas will get zero welfare or food stamps, which he and Jarnecke assume is the primary reason migrants come to the US.
The officers added that even more people are Texians (the term they use for citizens of the Republic of Texas) than realize it, because the Republic also includes parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas—all pieces of territory that the secessionists claim the US "stole" from Texas. The movement uses the original Republic of Texas Constitution, formed in 1837, when Texas won independence from Mexico, with a few added amendments passed in 2007, which abolish slavery and give women the right to vote.
"Texas has more of everything than everybody else," Wilson, a wiry 78-year-old former pastor said. "We're grown-ups, we can handle this. Stop trespassing." He's driven four hours from his home in Fort Worth to meet me, explaining that his passion for the Republic runs so deep, he explained, it even prompted his divorce. His former wife thought he was "wasting time"—but Wilson believes he is "leaving a legacy."
"We've operated all this time out of our pockets but I believe in what I'm doing so strongly that I'm willing to make the sacrifice, because after we have independence our life will be good," he said. "People used to say we were crazy—but they're saying it a whole lot less these days. They're curious."
Indeed, interest in the Texas secessionist movement has piqued recently, ever since law enforcement raided the Republic's monthly joint session of Congress on Valentine's Day last month. Dozens of armed agents stormed the Bryan, Texas meeting hall, where the Republic's Supreme Court Justice had just given the ladies in the room red roses, and group was about to celebrate the 89th birthday of their auditor. Law enforcement told local media the raid was in response to a letter that members of the Republic sent to a county judge, demanding he appear in their court.
"You can't just let people go around filing false documents to judges trying to make them appear in courts that aren't even real courts," Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer told the Houston Chronicle at the time.
The Kerr County police department did not return requests for comment on the raid, but according to media reports, no arrests were made. Jarnecke said one cop told him the meeting was so tranquil "he felt like he was walking into Sunday school." But the movement hasn't always been so tranquil—in 1997, the Republic's then-president Richard McLaren and several members were involved in a seven-day standoff with police, because as McLaren told reporters, his "nation was at war" with the US government. McLaren is now in prison, and Jarnecke assured me that none of the Republic's current officials were involved in the skirmish.
"We're peaceful," he said, "and we debate politely, unlike the United States Congress."
Since the dramatic episode in Bryan last month, the Republic has been enjoying a new wave of attention—hits to the group's website have gone from about 60 each week to more than 200,000, and international media have flooded the group's officers with interview requests. "I've had contact with people in high places in Switzerland and Holland, and they want to see us succeed, and look forward to working with us," Jarnecke boasted, though he declined to give more details, or tell me whom he has spoken to.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, experts say that theRepublic's impassioned argument for secession is fundamentally flawed. University of Texas history professor H.W. Brands told me that Texas was actually incorporated into the US through a joint referendum of Congress and referendum of Texas, following the initial treaty. "No court has ever held either the resolution or the referendum invalid," Brands said. "And nearly all Texans during the last century and a half have considered them both valid and praiseworthy."
The Republic officers are in the process of figuring out how to take the US to international court, although they won't name which court that will be. (The US Department of State told me they have no response to this, and the Department of Justice didn't return my requests for comment). But Terrence Chapman, a political science professor at the University of Texas, said the idea of a court case "seems implausible."
"International proceedings typically require consent from the parties or there has to be a clear treaty obligation under which the parties have clearly delegated that consent in general," Chapman said. "And I can't imagine what venues would fit those criteria—the federal government isn't big on delegating authority to international institutions to make rulings about domestic affairs."
The Republic is among a number of secessionist movements in the US that continue to exist on the fringes of the political landscape, but hold little weight in the mainstream climate, explained political science professor James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin. But in Texas, secessionist fervor can appear particularly strong, since the southern state connects to both its Confederacy history and its origin as its own nation.
"If you're talking about secession by and large you're talking about something that echoes the Civil War," Henson said. Still, the Republic's influence is marginal, at best. "I'd consider it more a political novelty than anything that really matters," Henson added.
But to the Republic's officers, most of whom are in their 60s and 70s, the secessionist movement is part of a critical mission to save the state.
"Everybody's been living like Sleeping Beauty, asleep to the truth: they're a sovereign people but they don't realize it," Wilson said, strolling from the Capitol on the hot green lawn. "As people get older they start thinking about the legacy they want to leave. Me, I want to leave the generation of Texians after me with a better life."
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