Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Dismantling the Union

Image: Ingo Fast

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It’s been a year since the infamous Republic of Texas standoff, during which a band of secessionist revolutionaries holed up in a trailer for a weeklong confrontation with state authorities. But the Texas fiasco hasn’t discouraged the true believers—not only have Republic of Texas refugees refused to let the dream die, but a handful of other groups in the U.S. are angling for separation from the union.

Following last year’s defeat, David Johnson, the former head of the Republic of Texas, founded a new movement—Texas: A Righteous Nation Under God. It’s almost certainly the first nation with a subtitle, and Johnson claims more than 144,000 members/citizens. He promises that secession will be up for a vote in Texas by September 1999. Meanwhile, Johnson is busy popularizing his biblically inspired Texas National Constitution (which calls for executive, judicial, legislative, and religious branches), and attempting to establish diplomatic relations with Mexico and Israel. Why Israel? “They’re a very integral part of the Scriptures in the end times,” says Johnson.

THE LEAGUE OF THE SOUTH League of the South president Michael Hill, a professor of history at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., says his 7,000-person organization, which advocates independence for 14 Southern states, will see at least seven members run for state or local office in the South in November. He is circumspect about immediate results: “Is [secession] what we’re going to do tomorrow? No, because we don’t have the support yet.” But freedom marches on: “The Southern states are in this union against their will and have been for 130 years,” Hill says. “They were brought back into this union at the point of a bloody bayonet.”

One hundred years after the U.S. helped overthrow Hawaii’s government in 1893, Congress issued an apology to Hawaiian natives. This admission, combined with a 1996 state-sponsored plebiscite in which natives voted for a constitutional convention to propose a native government, has helped build momentum for Kanaka Maoli, the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. While some Hawaiians are seeking reservation status and hope to begin a United Nations process of “decolonization,” more radical activists are calling for immediate secession and the return of the islands to their pristine wild state. The latter presents a small problem: Natives make up just 12 percent of Hawaii’s population. What would happen to the rest of the citizens in the nation of Hawaii? “They would have to decide whether they want to live our way, or live their way,” says Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, a leader in the movement. “If they want to live their way, then they go where they live their way. But not in our home.”

The Alaskan Independence Party was founded in 1986 when Joe Vogler, an Alaskan miner and longtime secession advocate, received enough votes as a third-party gubernatorial candidate to register the grassroots secessionist party he had started. In 1990, AIP candidate Jack Coghill was elected lieutenant governor. The party supports a states’ rights, libertarian agenda and is pushing for a state referendum on sovereignty. There are currently 17,344 voters in Alaska registered as AIP members, and an AIP candidate has already declared his candidacy for the next gubernatorial election.

In April 1982, a border patrol roadblock and drug checkpoint in Florida City, Fla., stalled traffic for 19 miles along U.S. Highway 1—the only road connecting the mainland to the Florida Keys. In response, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow rechristened Key West as the free and independent Conch Republic, promptly declared war on the U.S., surrendered, and then appealed for $1 billion in foreign aid money to rebuild his nation. The Republic, now made up of all the Florida Keys, celebrates its anniversary every year in a “public and notorious manner”—rum-fueled festivities include a street fair, a sailing race, and a bar crawl.

In 1991, as part of a celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of joining the union, Vermont sponsored a series of town hall debates to consider, oddly enough, whether it should secede. Frank Bryan, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, gallantly took up the cause and won six of the seven debates. “I got a whole lot of letters from all around the country,” Bryan says, “most of them from guys who were kind of scary.” Since then, Bryan has co-authored a novelette in which Vermont secedes from the union. He is currently working on a book unrelated to secession, but once it’s finished, he may return to the stump. “If it meant it would destroy the union, I wouldn’t do it,” he says. “But we’re not California or New York. You guys could live without us.”

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