Breakaway US Republic Builds Ties to Regional Extremist Movements

Internal documents obtained by Motherboard show Oroville leaders aiding and supporting other radical factions, but the path to peace remains open.
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Vehicles on the Bidwell Bar Bridge over Lake Oroville during a drought in Oroville, California, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. Residents failed to significantly cut back their water consumption in July, California state officials announced, foreshadowing some difficult decisions for Governor Newsom's administration as an historic drought lingers into the fall. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

UNITED STATES — As the crisis over the Constitutional Republic City of Oroville continues through its second year, hundreds of internal documents newly obtained by Motherboard show that the leaders of the separatist faction that has seized control of the restive Northern California enclave of 15,000 and put it on the brink of war not only have ties to the leaders of other breakaway movements but also have provided them aid and support.

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The new revelations call into question the integrity of a 244-year-old political union and raise fresh concerns about the possibility of armed conflict, even as the crisis seems to have settled into an uneasy detente. The circumstances under which these documents were obtained, however, show that elements of the regime are obeying provincial law—strongly suggesting that the separatists’ grasp on the mechanisms of government may not be as firm as has been widely assumed.

Among the documents are communiqués from enigmatic Vice-Mayor Scott Thomson, a world-traveled religious leader who, according to an autobiographical account located in the cache of documents, “helped plant three churches and a Bible College” in Russia and was the driving force behind the November resolution in which Oroville leaders, who oppose regional COVID-19 policies, declared that they would no longer follow provincial or federal law. They offer rare insight into his strategy and motivation and his background, as well as his dealings with foreign media outlets. (“I have no real ‘credentialed’ education to speak of since the church-based Bible College I went to is only really recognized by my denomination,” he wrote in a statement provided to the president and CEO of a firm “creating a conservative television network with nine stations in Northern California.”) The most substantial document was produced on November 15 of last year, after a Fox News booker asked Thomson to provide “a few bullet points outlining the main ideas or opinions you would like to express” ahead of a 1:50 a.m. appearance on the Fox and Friends First program. In response, Thomson produced a detailed manifesto, which you can read in full here.

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“As California seems to be moving toward a ‘dictatorship’-style government, we’re putting our ‘steak [sic] in the ground,’” Thomson wrote, “that we’re staying a Constitutional Republic.” He went on to explain his false belief that COVID vaccines are lethal (“I know people who have died within days of taking the vaccine,” he wrote) and issue an ominous warning.

“History shows us,” he wrote, “that once a people surrender any freedom, it often takes bloodshed to get it back.”  

Citizens, the documents reveal, are not uniformly in favor of secession, much less bloodshed. ”We must maintain social cohesion between local, state and national governance for all our best interests and health during this difficult time,” one wrote to regime officials. “Division will only destroy us.”

Residents of the broader region also expressed dissatisfaction with the regime. “I travel through Oroville multiple times a year, and you have just ensured that I will never again stop in and leave any tourist revenue,” wrote one, a week after Oroville announced its new status.

A majority of correspondents, though, expressed support and even fealty. One sought a meeting with regime leaders concerning a proposed association of auto body shops, showing the intimate financial ties between the local business community and separatists. “I have seen the secrets of how the highest-paid shops operate, and how they are within their perfectly legal rights to do so,” he wrote. “I also now [sic] that the more local revenue we create, we will have the funds to stand alone more efficiently with our new declaration of a constitutional republic.”

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Several expressed hopes that the secessionist message would spread beyond the borders of the Constitutional Republic City.

“I fully support the city council voting to become a constitutional city,” wrote one couple. “I hope that your courage in this vote paves the way for the county and other cities in California to take similar steps.”

“The State and Federal government have proven time and again that they are not above complete overreach of their authority and no end is in sight,” wrote another resident. “The time is now for local control and I wholeheartedly support the Oroville City Council voting to become a constitutional city, hoping this will pave the way for Butte County and other cities in California to do the same.”

Nor was support limited to Oroville citizens. One couple from Carmichael, California, wrote to Thompson to detail their plans to immigrate. (“Thank you so much for the encouragement,” Thomson wrote in response. “Your email brightened my day for sure.”) A resident of Orange County, California, meanwhile, was so moved that he wrote to Thompson to express his willingness to bear arms against his own country.

“I applaud your principled stand. That took courage,” he wrote. “When heat gets turned up on you, you just call out and I will be there to defend the Republic with whatever it takes. ‘We mutually pledge our lives our fortunes and our Sacred Honor.’”

This sort of support is widespread here in this once-proud nation, whose embattled president, Joseph R. Biden, faces widespread criticism not only from opposition leaders but from his own loyalists over his management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, and foreign affairs—all of which may put pressure on Biden to cede to hawkish advisers who counsel a muscular, robust response to Oroville’s defiance. (The White House, to which U.S. military leaders have previously referred Motherboard when asked about potential war plans, did not respond to a request for comment.) In one plausible scenario, weakness in the face of threats to the territorial integrity of the U.S. could lead to a domino effect, with more and more jurisdictions refusing to acknowledge the authority of provincial and federal government and claiming constitutional republic status.

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Image courtesy Constitutional Republic City of Oroville

According to the documents Motherboard obtained, Thomson and his faction have provided not only encouragement but material aid to such separatist elements.

“Hello Mayor Reynolds,” one correspondent wrote to regime leader Chuck Reynolds. “I currently live in the state of Wyoming. I read a recent article in the Mercury news about Oroville declaring itself a Constitutional Republic. This is something I would like to see happen at the County level where I live. I forwarded the article to my County Commissioner and he seemed receptive but had concerns about possibly putting state or Federal funding in jeopardy. Could you possibly forward me a copy of the resolution and let me know what steps were taken to draft and pass this resolution so I can pass it on to him. Any information or assistance would be greatly appreciated.”

Oroville city attorney Scott Huber replied promptly with a copy of the resolution with which the City Council declared itself a republic, saying Reynolds had asked him to pass it along. In another case, Thomson responded to a fellow radical directly, with concrete advice.

“I am reaching out from San Marcos, TX,” wrote his correspondent. “We have a very engaged liberty community here and would like guidance to apply in San Marcos what you are doing in Oroville, declaring it a Constitutional Republic. Please, let us know first steps. Thank you so much for your leadership, courage, and care!”

“It’s pretty simple,” wrote Thomson. ”Just have your city or county council declare the same. You’re welcome to copy our declaration and edit for your area.”

Thomson is keen to spread his message that ”The traditional American culture and way of life is being challenged and radically changed by politicians who have forgotten that, as a republic, the power belongs to the people,” as he wrote to one reporter from the foreign KRCR News Channel 7 outlet. He may find, though, that the most powerful resistance he faces comes not from the U.S. military machine or war-weary citizens, but from his own government.

The documents which Motherboard obtained came after a request under the terms of the California Public Records Act, a provincial transparency law. At no point in correspondence with Motherboard did either the city clerk or the city attorney—both members of the regime—cite Oroville’s status as a constitutional republic city as a reason why the law did not apply to them, and in fact they carried out their obligations under the law promptly.

What this compliance means for the future of the region is unclear; as the drums of war pound, though, it is another reason to hope that a fragile peace may hold, and that the worst may yet not come to pass.