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Secession fantasies are once again rumbling on America’s fringes, where a small but growing cadre of disaffected nationalists say they’ve had it with the U.S. and want out.
While secession movements are nothing new in the U.S., experts say the energy feels different now. It’s partly because, for the first time in recent history, the movements are drawing support from state-level GOP officials and right-wing media personalities with huge platforms, who are entertaining these fringe ideas.
“I think the issue is beginning to attain a prominence and a seriousness which is of a totally different kind than the last several election cycles,” said Richard Kreitner, author of “Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union.”
The biggest and loudest of the current movements is “Texit,” spearheaded by the Texas Nationalist Movement. Supporters first began floating this idea about two decades ago in response to what they saw as unfair taxation rates and overreach from the federal government. But this is the first year that their core mission—seceding from the U.S. in pursuit of independence—will be put to Texans for a vote. “The Texan Independence Referendum Act,” or House Bill 1359, introduced by State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, will determine whether there should be a referendum on the issue. Legislators are expected to vote on it by May, when Texas’ legislative session ends.
While the “Texas Nationalist Movement” appears to be gaining steam, elected officials and extremists elsewhere. such as Wyoming, Mississippi, and Georgi, are watching closely. Disillusioned Trump supporters online are building on the “Texit” movement and advocating for “Rexit,” a red-state exit from the U.S. And county-level separatist movements—a different phenomenon than secession but still rooted in deep divisions—are also underway in at least three states.
The renewed energy behind these secession and separatist movements —specifically the “Texit” movement in Texas—comes during intense polarization, raging culture wars, a surge in political violence and in the wake of a conspiracy-driven insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. A poll last month from Quinnipiac University found that 76% of self-identified Republicans believe the lie that the 2020 election was plagued by widespread fraud, which offers some insight into how many people question the legitimacy of the Biden Administration.
The Texas Nationalist Movement may still have a ways to go to pick up broad support across the state, but the group’s president Daniel Miller told VICE News that interest has surged significantly in recent months.
Some of the people supporting the Texit movement on social media have indicated that they’re doing so because they feel there’s no other choice.
“I am sick to my stomach watching what is happening to our country,” one woman wrote on the NRA’s Facebook page. “As a Texan, I find myself supporting HB1359 (Texit)...At any other time I would have said absolutely not, but I find that harder to say.” She goes on to list reasons for why she’s supporting Texit “Every day we inch closer to a socialist dictatorship where the constitution has lost its meaning.”
“People’s level of grievance against the status quo has reached a level to flip that switch, where they’re seeing Texas Independence as the solution to their problems,” Miller said. Texas National Movement did not respond to VICE News’ request for documentation to substantiate claims of surging interest in their proposal.
In Texas, the idea has even picked up support from the state’s GOP Chair Allen West, a stalwart Trump supporter. “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution,” West said in December, after the Supreme Court dealt a blow to the “Stop the Steal” movement by throwing out a Texas lawsuit challenging the election results in four states.
“Secession has long been an extremely fringe position. That’s why it’s so shocking that the chair of the Republican Party, a person in that position, to be endorsing it is, I think, unprecedented in recent American history” Kreitner said.
West isn’t the first GOP official to venture support for succession either. After the 2020 election was called for Joe Biden in November, Rep. Price Wallace, a GOP Mississippi state legislator, took to Twitter to threaten secession from the U.S. After widespread criticism, Wallace deleted the Tweet, and apologized for his “poor lack of judgement.”
In January, in a conversation on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s podcast “War Room,” Frank Eathorne, chair of Wyoming’s GOP, said he’d had a “brief conversation” with the Texas Republican Party regarding secession. “We’re keeping eyes on Texas, too, and their consideration of possible secession,” Eathorne said, according to the Casper Star Tribune. “They have a different state constitution than we do as far as wording, but it’s something we’re all paying attention to.”
The topic also came up at the America First Political Action Conference–”AFPAC”–a white nationalist, troll-happy gathering that takes place the same week as CPAC. America First is run by white nationalist streamer Nick Fuentes, who was heavily involved in the “Stop The Steal” movement. This year, the event drew former congressman Steve King and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar as speakers. Holocaust denier Vincent James Foxx also spoke at the event, during which he told the crowd, “we must not be afraid of the idea of secession,” ABC News reported.
Other far-right media personalities have also gone public with their support for secession. “You actually don’t need a bloody war to secede—just an agreement,” Candace Owens wrote on Twitter in December. “There are only two options now,” professional troll Milo Yiannopolous wrote on Parler, according to the Daily Beast. “Secession or war …. Secession is preferable.” In December, the late conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was widely criticized when he floated the idea of secession on his show.
Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who has over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube, even invited Texas Rep. Biedermann onto his show to discuss Texit. “If this were like Brexit, I would vote for it, because it doesn’t mean war,” Beck remarked during the program, but added that he was skeptical that a majority of Texans would ultimately get behind the idea.
And unsurprisingly, the Texit movement is also being watched closely and encouraged by conflict-oriented extremists, who are eyeing the prospect of divorce as an opportunity to sew chaos. “SECESSION OR DEATH,” one person wrote on patriot.win, a message board that caters to radical MAGA supporters, far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists. “These are your only options. The ammo box is necessary.”
“I think the issue is beginning to attain a prominence and a seriousness which is of a totally different kind than the last several election cycles.”
While Miller, and the modern day Texas nationalist movement, seeks a nonviolent, clean break from the U.S., he acknowledged that the issue does appeal to a contingent of anti-government extremists who want violence. “You don’t get to pick and choose who supports you,” Miller said.
But the roots of Miller’s movement are steeped in violence. The forefathers of the Texas Nationalist Movement in the 1990s— “The Republic of Texas”— were a coalition of militia separatists who believed that the annexation of Texas in 1845 was illegal, and that the Lone Star State remained under occupation by the US. the movement crashed and burned dramatically in the late 1990’s, during assassination threats by movement members against elected officials, a standoff and hostage situation, and a shoot-out with police.
In Georgia, a separatist movement is brewing that could bear similarities to the early iterations of the Texas nationalist movement. Following the attempted insurrection on January 6, a coalition of paramilitary groups and militia extremists in Georgia told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they’re focusing their organizing efforts on advocating for secession. The way patriots are now being hunted down and arrested by fellow men and women who have taken the same oath has disheartened any faith I had in the redemption or reformation of the USA as one entity,” Justin Thayer, head of the Georgia III% Martyrs, told AJC.
“I think this blending of the far-right militia movement with overt secessionism is something I think we’re going to see more and more of, now that Donald Trump is actually out of power,” Kreitner said.
Miller, who has built a career around the issue of Texan independence, is confident that the Texit movement has enough grassroots support that “establishment” politicians in Texas, whether they like it or not, will have to vote in favor of HB1359. The predicament Miller describes has echoes of the impact of Trumpism on the GOP: Get behind it, or lose your job.
“The political establishment is not a big fan of this legislation. But the fact of the matter is, the horse is out of the barn. Now that it’s been filed, people know that there’s enough traction out there that we can push this forward,” said Miller. “If legislators don’t give us a referendum on TEXIT in 2021, there will be a referendum on their position in 2022.”
Polling from Bright Line Watch, conducted by researchers from Dartmouth, University of Chicago and University of Rochester in early February, found that a third of Republicans nationally were in favor of secession as a solution to the deep divisions in the U.S.
When pollsters looked at former Confederate states plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, the number of Republicans in favor of secession grew to half. They also found that Democrats were more amenable to secession in “regions they dominate,” like the West Coast and the Northeast—and that 21% of Democrats overall were in favor of the idea.
“Secession is a genuinely radical proposition,” Bright Line wrote in their report. “Until recently, we would have regarded it as too marginal to include in a survey.”
What many secessionists tend to gloss over is that it’s actually illegal. Casey Michel, author of the forthcoming book American Kleptocracy in a recent op-ed for NBC, offered a reminder that state-level secession is actually illegal. Michael pointed to a letter from late Justice Antonin Scalia from 2006, which said, “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.” Back then, liberals were sharing memes about seceding from George W. Bush’s America, which they called “The United States of Jesusland.” Scalia’s letter began circulating again in 2012, amid another uptick in interest in secession—this time from the Right—following the re-election of Barack Obama.
At the same time, urban versus rural tensions and culture wars are fuelling county secessionist movements in at least three states, where disgruntled right-wing counties seek separation from their liberal state legislatures, citing high taxes, COVID-19 restrictions, and “antifa.”
In Oregon, a long-simmering movement led by disaffected rural conservatives over tax rates to join Idaho has a new culture war slant. The “Greater Idaho Project” has managed to get on the ballot in five rural southwester Oregon counties. In May, residents will vote on whether they want to join their neighboring state of Idaho. (Even if they do vote to join Idaho, they’ll have to get approval from both state legislatures and Congress for it to actually happen).
“Oregon is a powder keg because counties that belong in a red-state like Idaho are ruled by Portlanders,” Mike McCarter, President of Move Oregon’s Border, told Big Country News, a local outlet. “This state protects Antifa arsonists, not normal Oregonians.”
Oregon has found itself repeatedly thrust into the national spotlight in recent years, partly because of the standoffs between black-clad antifascists and police in Portland, and clashes between leftists and far-right groups like Proud Boys. In December, anti-lockdown protesters, including many who were armed, stormed Oregon’s state Capitol in Salem—foreshadowing the insurrection in D.C. just weeks later. And following the attack on the U.S. State Capitol, the Chair of the Oregon GOP suggested that events on January 6, which left five dead and hundreds injured, were a “false flag.”
News of the Greater Idaho Project reached the forums of MyMilitia, an online hub for anti-government organizing. “Here’s what 5 Oregon counties are doing to fight antifa,” one person wrote, with a link to a news article. “Divisions in Oregon are getting dangerous,” Carter told the Idaho Statesman. “We see the relocation of the border as a way to keep the peace. It’s not divisive.”
Similarly, a Republican state lawmaker in New Mexico has filed an amendment that would allow conservative counties in the southeast part of the state to form its own state or join a neighboring state. “It’s just a response to the lack of respect toward southeast New Mexico,” Sen. Cliff Pirtle told the Albuquerque Journal. “It seems like more and more it’s the ideals of Albuquerque that become law.” And residents of Weld County, Colorado, say they’re fed up with their state’s liberal government, lockdown measures and high taxes, and want to join Wyoming,
Though the county-level efforts to hop states is a completely different legal process and movement compared to secession, Kreitner sees them “as related to this kind of deeply ingrained separatism that there’s always been in the United States.”