To Secede or Not To Secede: Texas Nationalist Movement and Two New Hampshire State Representatives Want To Take That Question to Voters

‘Some of the critics might like to say that we’re being anti-American,’ a New Hampshire secession activist says. ‘I just like to remind them all that the Declaration of Independence was indeed a secessionist document.’

AP Photo/Eric Gay
A large Texas flag hangs from the State Capitol at Austin. AP Photo/Eric Gay

It was snowing when I drove my family one hour to a Best Western hotel on the outskirts of Manchester, New Hampshire, in March for the Free State Project’s annual pro-liberty conference, Liberty Forum. The schedule was packed with talks on homeschooling, cryptocurrency, fighting “Covid tyranny,” zoning reform, and secession.

The economist Jeffrey Tucker held court at a table in the main hall, donning a floor-length black cape over his three-piece suit. A Free Talk Live radio host, Ian Freeman, who is now serving an eight-year prison sentence for Bitcoin money laundering, was manning a table for the New Hampshire pro-secession political action committee, New Hampshire Independence PAC.

I was here to learn about secession. It was a weekend, and I had no babysitter, so I dropped my 2- and 5-year-old sons off at a volunteer-run playroom next to one of the conference rooms. Then I took my seat.

“Seceding from the union is the only way out of this rogue federal government,” a Republican New Hampshire state representative, Matthew Santonastaso, told a mostly full ballroom at the secession panel. “Not only is this the solution, but this is how it’s going to go down. Eventually the states will break up. It’s gonna happen.”

Mr. Santonastaso was one of 13 state representatives out of a 400-person chamber who’d voted in March 2022 to add a constitutional amendment to the New Hampshire ballot asking voters if they want to “peaceably declare independence” from the United States. No Democrats voted for the bill, and several Republicans said the legislation bordered on treason.

Yet the bill’s trouncing isn’t deterring the New Hampshire secession movement. Mr. Santonastaso and another state representative, Jason Gerhard, are sponsoring two secession-related bills that will be introduced in the state legislature early next year.

One bill calls for the establishment of a committee to study “the economic, legal, and sociological aspects of New Hampshire exerting its sovereign state rights.” The other is a constitutional amendment to be added to the 2024 ballot asking voters if New Hampshire should “peaceably declare independence from the United States” when the national debt reaches $40 trillion. It is currently at $34 trillion.

“It’s a trigger that I think can get a lot of people to rally behind,” the chairman of the New Hampshire Independence PAC, Matt Sabourin dit Choinière, tells the Sun.  

While state secession may sound radical to the average American — and indeed it is — prognostications of an impending civil war and calls for “national divorce” are becoming more common. Trust in government is at all-time lows. Nearly 80 percent of Americans think the country is “heading in the wrong direction,” according to an Associated Press-NORC poll — a figure that transcends partisan lines. A majority of Democrats and Republicans think political divisions will only increase in the coming years.

More than 40 percent of Americans think a civil war is likely within the next decade, according to a 2022 YouGov poll. After Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene called for a “national divorce” in February, an Axios-Ipsos poll found that 20 percent of Americans would support splitting the country into separate Republican- and Democratic-leaning polities — a “national divorce.” A trailer just dropped for a new Alex Garland film that imagines a multi-state secession scenario that turns violent, “Civil War,” starring Kirsten Dunst.

Yet New Hampshire’s moderate Republican governor, Chris Sununu, dismisses the movement, telling the Sun the idea of secession is “just another form of crazy.” He says: “No one takes any of that kind of stuff seriously at all.”

New Hampshire, though, is not the only state contemplating a break from Washington, D.C. The Texas Nationalist Movement — Texit for short — scored a big win this month, getting more than the required 97,709 signatures to force the state’s Republican Party to put a nonbinding secession question on the primary ballot in March. Texit’s president, Daniel Miller, dropped off 139,000 signed petitions to party headquarters last Monday.

The Texit movement is 20 years old and has a surprisingly large base of support. Mr. Miller says if the Texas Nationalist Movement were a political party it would be third largest in the state. He says Republican Party insiders are fighting the secession referendum because, historically, when secession is on a ballot it produces high turnout, which could compromise their jobs. Some Republicans likely also fear that putting such a radical proposition to voters would scare off independents, even though the party added support for a secession referendum to its platform last year.

Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, did not return the Sun’s request for comment.

“This will be the most scrutinized petition that the Republican Party of Texas has ever gotten,” Mr. Miller tells the Sun. “This has always been a war between the political establishment, who thinks they know better than the people, and the people who just want to be heard.”

The Texas Nationalist Movement posted to X that Republican Party insiders are trying to obtain petition signatories’ information to doxx them. “There will likely be some legal wrangling,” Mr. Miller says. “We’re ready for it.”

The secession referendum is nonbinding and a win would be largely symbolic. Mr. Miller says it’s “essentially an advisory referendum” meant to showcase support for Texas becoming an independent nation. He says he is “very confident” the primary measure will pass if put to the voters in March, and that its passage would “destroy the narrative from those opposed to even having a vote on it that this is a minimal or fringe issue.”

In support of his claims, Mr. Miller points to a 2022 Survey USA poll that found that 60 percent of Texans — and 73 percent of registered Texas Republicans — support the state seceding and forming a new country “along with other conservative states.” He also points to a 2021 Bright Line Watch-YouGov survey that found that 66 percent of southern Republicans support seceding and forming a new country of southern states. Only 20 percent of southern Democrats supported such a move.

Mr. Miller claims the movement transcends party lines, though Republicans run the state, so an independent Texas would be conservative by default. Mr. Miller’s X account has a pinned post saying, “Washington liberals are gaslighting Americans that the economy is just fine.” To achieve the movement’s ultimate goal of Texas independence, though, would require passage by voters in a general election. 

Mr. Miller cautions that the referendum is part of a longer effort — that Texit is “a process” — and that details on national defense, social security, trade, and disentangling from Washington can be worked out later. He cites the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote-first, negotiate-later model.

“People said Brexit was crazy 10 years before it happened,” the chairwoman of the board of New Hampshire’s Free State Project, Carla Gericke, tells the Sun. “One man’s crazy is another man’s radical is another man’s great plan. It’s just a matter of time.”

Ms. Gericke supports New Hampshire secession, though she clarifies that the Free State Project, a 20-year-old movement to get liberty lovers to move to the state to influence politics and policy to move in a more libertarian direction, does not take a position on the issue. Still, much of the support for New Hampshire secession comes from Free Staters and libertarians in the state. A May 2023 University of New Hampshire poll, commissioned by New Hampshire Independence PAC,  found that 56 percent of libertarians and 31 percent of Republicans support bringing the question of secession to voters.

“I think it’s important to know these bills don’t decide anything — all they do is they say let’s put the decision in the hands of everyday Granite Staters,” Ms. Gericke says. “We have to decide as Granite Staters if we want to stay shackled to the yoke of a failing ship.”

Yet only 16 percent of Granite Staters surveyed overall said they would support actually seceding from the United States — not enough for such a measure to pass but surprisingly high nonetheless. A 2022 Survey USA poll found that 52 percent of Granite State Republicans strongly or somewhat agree that they would “prefer New Hampshire to govern itself as an independent country.” Whether these Republicans would vote for such a measure when it’s more than a theoretical possibility remains to be seen.

“In a giant metroplex like the United States, for the higher-performing polities like New Hampshire, it’s natural for those groups to want to secede,” Mr. Sabourin dit Choinière says. 

Messrs. Santonastaso and Gerhard don’t expect their secession bills to pass in the New Hampshire house this session, but they say the debate is still worth having. Mr. Gerhard wants to highlight the national debt, what he calls “debt slavery.” Mr. Sabourin dit Choinière says the plan is to introduce secession measures every two years to normalize the conversation and widen the Overton window of acceptable debate around solutions to a “rogue federal government.”

“If you said in 1988 that the Soviet Union was going to disappear — I mean completely be gone in 1992 — you would be crazy,” Mr. Santonastaso tells the Sun. “Extreme is that we pay 40 percent of our income to the federal government that does nothing but threaten us.”

“Post-Covid, even people that weren’t into the whole ‘conspiracy theory’ line of thinking have started re-evaluating everything, including our relationship with D.C. and what it represents,” Mr. Gerhard tells the Sun.

Covid was a watershed moment for Americans. Many who never paid attention to politics, or knew what the 10th Amendment was, suddenly realized that what state you live in matters. As schools resumed in-person learning early in red states such as Florida, they stayed remote in blue states such as California. State public health policy affected citizens’ lives, livelihoods, and families. More than 200,000 Americans moved to Florida, and nearly that same number went to Texas, while California, Illinois, and New York lost population. I was one of these Americans who left New York, because remote work suddenly made that possible.

The Dobbs decision, which devolved responsibility for abortion legislation to statehouses, and highly polarizing issues like transgender medical care, gun rights, and school choice — not to mention taxes — all serve to highlight the stark differences between states. 

Geographically, Americans are already sorting themselves along partisan lines, even at the county level. The number of so-called super landslide counties, in which either the Republican or Democrat earned more than 80 percent of the vote in a presidential election, jumped to 22 percent in 2020 from less than 10 percent in 2012.

Yet to the secessionists, increasing federalism is not enough. They say the federal government and bureaucracy wield too much power, from mandating so-called sobriety kill switches in cars to enforcing gun laws, the drug war, and education policy. “The federalism ship has sailed,” a Free Stater and author who’s written about New Hampshire secession, Alu Axelman, tells the Sun.

While NHExit and Texit are largely fueled by the right, the 2024 election could force the left to start advocating for limiting federal overreach and more states’ rights. When Bright Line Watch-YouGov asked Americans in June 2021 whether they would like to secede from the union to form smaller countries based on geographic regions, support for secession in the Democrat-run Pacific region that includes California, Oregon, and Washington was highest — 47 percent — among Democrats. The same was true in the blue northeast region. If Mr. Trump wins, instead of moving to Canada, the left could use abortion rights, culture war issues, and environmental regulations as rallying cries.

As I walked out of the Best Western lobby into the snow with my two sons holding my hands, I wondered: When they grow up, will they be Americans or citizens of a Granite Republic? As fantastical — even “crazy,” to use the words of Governor Sununu — as the idea of an independent New Hampshire might sound, secession advocates stress that in the arc of history, borders are not static.

“Some of the critics might like to say that we’re being anti-American,” Mr. Sabourin dit Choinière says. “I just like to remind them all that the Declaration of Independence was indeed a secessionist document.”

The New York Sun

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