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Inside the movement for Texas independence

During the current polarized political climate in both the United States and Texas, the question of stay or leave is weighing heavy on the minds of those Texans who are troubled by the direction of the Union.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — After winning its independence from Mexico in 1836, the Republic of Texas lasted for 10 years and had its own government, presidents, currency and even an embassy in London. Now 176 years after becoming the 28th state to join the union, and 151 years after being readmitted after the Civil War, a movement in the state argues it should leave the union once and for all to chart its own path.

Following years of political change in Mexico, Anglo immigrants from the United States went to war with the Mexican government to become an independent nation. These early Texans were fighting over the Mexican government’s decision to outlaw slavery and restrict immigration from the United States. After months of bloody confrontations, the Texan forces won independence from Mexico in 1836. From the beginning, the independent Texans sought to be annexed by the United States. 

Professor of history at the University of Texas and chief historian at the Texas State Historical Association, Walter L. Buenger said that what prevented Texas from becoming a U.S. state after the war was slavery. 

“In the summer of 1836, Texas political leaders made overtures to join the United States. Those were turned down by the United States because it was in the middle of a presidential election year and both leading political candidates did not want to get embroiled in a controversy over admitting another slave state. It was slavery that kept Texas out of the United States,” said Buenger in an interview.

Born out of necessity, the new Republic of Texas worked to survive as a nation but by all accounts failed due to its inability to protect its people, pay its debts and promote its economy. 

Reflecting on the history of Texas, many who call the state home see a colorful story and rich history, whereas others see a familiar image of a tyrannical government that is no longer worth being part of.

Founded in 2005, the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM) has been at the forefront of working toward Texas independence. The TNM advocates and mobilizes the effort to leave the union, to bring a "Texit" vote before the people. 

Reminiscent of Brexit, the movement that led the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, "Texit" is birthed out of the ardent, religious-like, affinity some Texans have for their state, their disdain towards the federal government and a historical framework of Texas history and global independence movements. 

The TNM’s website describes “TEXIT [as the] means that Texans determine our own laws and not 2.5 million unelected bureaucrats in Washington. It means that we get a government that begins and ends at the borders of Texas.”

President of the TNM, Daniel Miller, is one of the founders of the group and has been working for Texas independence for over 20 years. He said that the current success of the movement has been in recent years linked to Texans ire for Washington D.C.

“When we started the TNM, support for independence was polling in single digits, but we have always polled higher than the approval rating of the U.S. Congress,” said Miller.

Critics of the Texas independence movement have long noted that seceding from the United States is illegal and would fail as it did before in the 1800s. Miller’s response is that independence is more so a state of mind than a state of being and Texas’ success as a country is unknown until it has the chance to truly become a self-governing nation. 

Going back to previous independent movements, the inclination to separate from the union has been one shared by conservative idealogues in the state. Miller said that the movement itself is non-partisan, but acknowledges that the movement appeals to Republicans more than Democrats or independents. “People will argue that more people in the Republican Party gravitate to this issue and you cannot deny that, that’s just the way that it breaks here, but let’s also understand here that the Republican Party controls every statewide office,” said Miller.

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Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, speaks before the Fredericksburg Tea Party on Sept. 9, 2021. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News Service)

It was at an event in Fredericksburg, hosted by the Fredericksburg Tea Party, where Miller spoke about why independence is needed now more than ever. Miller argues that over the past 20 years, the federal government has further infringed on the rights of Texans.  

“The perpetuity of the Union depends on the right of local self-government, unimpaired to all the States,” said Miller quoting the Texas Constitution. “That means the moment our right to local self-government has been trampled on, the Union is done.” 

In the 1990s, a group known as the Republic of Texas was formed and included members of the movement today. The group argued that Texas was never legally admitted to the United States and therefore still exists as an independent nation. The group splintered into three factions working for independence.

In 1997 Richard McLaren, a leader of one such faction, kidnapped a couple and led a stand-off between his group and the Texas Department of Public safety in a West Texas region known as the Davis Mountains. McLaren argued that Texas had been illegally annexed by the United States and demanded the state be relinquished from the federal government. The stand-off ended with the hostages being released and McLaren peacefully surrendering. 

Daniel Miller sees the incident with the Republic of Texas as the point in which the independence movement fragmented. In 2002, Miller and others sympathetic to the idea of independence “put Humpty-dumpty back together” and made progress for the movement. A lasting impact the Republic of Texas had on the Texas Nationalist Movement was a commitment to non-violence. Miller believes the only way for his movement to succeed is to follow in the footsteps of independence movements around the world that utilized non-violent means to achieve their goal.  

The TNM scored a win by having legislation they helped create filed during that would have initiated an independence referendum election. House Bill 1359, filed by state Representative Kyle Biedermann, a Republican from Fredericksburg, never made it out of committee but sparked strong reactions among members of the House of Representatives. Representative Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano, took to Twitter to lambast HB 1359 saying, “This is a ridiculously outrageous waste of time and is not a serious legislative proposal. It’s a joke and should be treated as such.”

Biedermann said in an interview that filing the bill was “the right thing to do” and a step in the right direction to begin having an honest debate over independence.  

In June, after HB 1359 died in the Legislature, the TNM launched a petition campaign to put a Texas independence resolution before voters on the 2022 primary ballot. If enough signatures are collected, voters will be asked the question: “Should the State of Texas reassert its status as an independent nation?” If Texans vote yes, the resolution would be non-binding, but as Miller described, “it is an opportunity for the people of Texas to express their political will in a legitimate polling effort.”

Miller is confident that the petition campaign will succeed and Texans will be able to make their voice heard on independence, and that the vote will go his way. Aside from Texas voters getting their say, the TNM and discussion over independence has impacted the Republican gubernatorial race.

On Nov. 7, the TNM will be hosting a virtual town hall with the three men seeking to unseat Greg Abbott as governor of Texas. Former state Senator Don Huffines, conservative media personality Chad Prather and former chair of the Texas GOP, Lt. Col. Allen West have all agreed to participate in the town hall, further pushing this discussion into the mainstream among Republicans in the state.

The TNM is more organized than any independence group to come before it. Across the state, district directors advocate for independence in their communities, while Miller and petition signature gatherers travel the state spreading their message of opportunity in a land severed from the United States. As the 2022 elections approach, Daniel Miller has begun flirting with the idea of running for state-wide office.

Follow Kirk McDaniel on Twitter

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