October 10, 2013
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There’s nothing more American than seceding. At least, that’s what every secessionist movement would have you believe. Enchanted by the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence, scores of small movements have found it necessary to dissolve political bonds with their state and federal legislatures, though none has successfully done so since the creation of West Virginia in 1863.
The hundreds of secessionist movements throughout U.S. history—over 200 in California alone—have mostly grown from the same root: a small, culturally homogenous, and usually conservative rural population that feels ignored, if not outright antagonized, by its big city legislature. This grievance sharpened in recent years as the ideological split over issues like gay marriage and especially gun control became geographically acute, and as vague anti-urban tendencies were focused by theories like Agenda 21, which see city planning policies as masks for fascistic attempts to confiscate resources and currencies.
The modern secessionist movements are very much of a piece with this history, with some crucial updates: their founders have morphed from hard-scrabble eccentrics to successful businessmen, and the printed declarations of separation have become Facebook pages and (woefully underfollowed) Twitter accounts. Below are five current secessionist movements currently kicking up dust in the overlooked section of their states.
1. The 51st State Movement (Colorado). In a sign of the new secessionist movements, the 51st State non-profit is run by businessmen: President Thomas L. Gilley, CEO of a dry beans distributor (“our beans speak for themselves”) and Treasurer Jeffrey Hare, CEO for an IT security firm. The men boast of their Colorado and farmer roots, a twin legacy they see threatened by the encroaching liberalism of the rest of the state.
“People think this is a radical idea,” Hare told the New York Times. “It’s really not. What we’re attempting to do is restore liberty.”
The eleven rural counties of the 51st State have depopulated over the past two decades, and though unemployment is low thanks to healthy oil and agriculture markets, the counties receive few resources from Denver. The movement was fired up when Colorado considered a slew of gun control measures following the Aurora shootings last year. (Not surprisingly, they cheered last month’s recall of two state legislators over the issue.)
Save for the intro from the Declaration of Independence, their website is matter-of-fact and utilitarian: there’s little anti-government invective, but plenty on how to get involved, and on the steps for legal separation: a ballot measure, then ratification by the state legislature and amendment of the state constitution, and then by Congress.
Currently, the 51st Movement remains something of a shot in the dark. The group’s hopeful hashtag—#51stStateInitiative— has exactly two mentions on Twitter. Hardly shocking for a rural movement, but not fortuitous for one that eventually demands recognition, either.
But that’s not to say they’re not having an impact. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper has recently shown signs of being chastened by the backlash from more conservative elements of his state. “There are enough people that feel their views and their opinions aren’t being considered that I think that’s a serious problem,” he said, showing that secessionist movements might, ironically, be better at affecting change within their legislators than at splitting from them.
2. Texas Nationalist Movement (Texas). Ignore Rick Perry’s infamous 2009 secessionist comment, which was taken out of context from a longer answer to the Associated Press dismissing secessionism.
Do not ignore the Republic of Texas, a choleric organization that briefly flourished in the 1990s. The Republic was founded by Richard Lance McLaren, who declared Texas illegally seized by the U.S. government and demanded independence and eventually reparations to the tune of $93 trillion; he filed so many suits that the country clerk supposedly gave his cases their own cabinet. Incensed by the Branch Dividian conflagration in Waco, but also riven by internal disputes, the Republic ended with McLaren holding two hostages in stand-off with Texas authorities. He’s currently in prison until 2041.