Anger over Iraq and Bush prompts calls for secession from the US for Vermont

Along the Appalachian Trail, the 2000-mile ribbon of wilderness stretching from Vermont to Tennessee, the leaves are putting on their annual display of dazzling yellows, gold and vermilion.

And like the autumn leaves politics turns quicker in Vermont than elsewhere in the US.

The self-styled Green Mountain state has always had a doggedly independent streak. It opposed slavery long before other states. Vermont people are fiercely proud of the way they run their affairs through "town hall meetings" at which everything from school budgets to planning applications are thrashed out in public.

In 2004, Vermont elected its first socialist congressman Bernie Sanders, it almost sent the maverick Democrat Howard Dean to the White House, and was the first state to approve same-sex civil unions. Montpelier is the only state capital in the US to have no McDonald's restaurant and Vermont has kept Wal-Mart superstores out of its cities far longer than any other state. Vermont has some of the toughest environmental laws in the country. In a landmark case, it recently won the right to set tougher pollution standards on car makers than federal law demands.

And in the stores of its cities, T-shirts bearing the slogan "US out of Vt!" are big sellers. Because Vermont is now home to a growing movement agitating for outright secession from the United States. In Vermont's rural air, there has always been a whiff of rebellion. One of Vermont's founding fathers, Ethan Allen, was an early American revolutionary and guerrilla leader who fought with his Green Mountain Boys for Vermont's independence in the American Revolutionary War and for the establishment of the Vermont Republic which lasted from 1777 to 1791.

The modern independence movement campaigns with a mixture of whimsy and brass-neck maintaining that the United States has lost its moral authority. They argue that the "US empire" is unsustainable and have tapped into a growing well of anger over the war in Iraq, fears for the global environment and anger at the administration of George Bush.

In 2005, activists held their first convention in the golden-domed statehouse in the state capitol Montpelier where passionate arguments were made for Vermont to quit the union. The gathering, sponsored by a group called the Second Vermont Republic, was the first statewide convention on secession in the US since 1861, when North Carolina voted to leave.

Founder Thomas Naylor set out the case for independence in a Green Mountain Manifesto published in 2003 and subtitled Why and How Tiny Vermont Might Help Save America From Itself by Seceding from the Union. Naylor, 70, a retired professor, was a management consultant to Russia during the breakup of the Soviet Union from where he derived some of his inspiration on the future break up of the United States. Much of the rest of America sees Vermonters as closet Canadians. Naylor sees Vermont as a state of small towns, small farms, local government, grassroots democracy and green activism – not unlike a Switzerland of North America.

Naylor and his followers proudly claim the support of 8 per cent of the population of Vermont for the separatist path. They want fellow citizens to vote on the matter at a Town Meeting Day next March, a ballot which they say could eventually persuade the state Legislature to declare independence.

This week, however, the eccentric left-wing scholars and retired busy-bodies behind the campaign took a more controversial step which is puzzling some of its die-hard supporters. They travelled the 2,000 miles to the other end of the Appalachian Trail to sit down with an equally academically-minded group from the south also pushing for secession from the United States. Unlike the delegates of the Second Vermont Republic, the League of the South wraps itself in the flag of the Confederacy and has been widely denounced as a racist hate group.

Organised by a the left-wing Middlebury Institute of New York, the secessionists from opposite ends of the political spectrum have been meeting for two days in a Chattanooga hotel discussing how they might break away from the United States of America by peaceful means. The League of the South proudly displays a Confederate Battle Flag on its banner and campaigns for a breakaway 'anglo-celtic' state.

It has, however, been branded a hate group by the authoritative Southern Poverty Law Centre which monitors such groups. Mark Potok, said the League of the South "has been on the centre's list close to a decade".

"What is remarkable and really astounding about this situation is we see people and institutions who are supposedly on the progressive left rubbing shoulders with bona fide white supremacists," said Mr Potok.

Many Americans may not realise it but there are, in fact, several secessionist movements afoot across the country. There are groups in Alaska and Hawaii still bitter over their annexation half a century ago, as well as secessionist groups in Texas, California and even New York City.

Separatist groups with diverse causes share the view that the US government has grown too big and too powerful. They want to restore America's lost liberty by strict obedience to the Constitution, and maintain that the federal government long ago overstepped its constitutional powers, leaving secession as a valid and legal recourse.

Since the Civil War, most Americans have taken their lead from Abraham Lincoln who viewed secession as a tyrannical threat to the principle of democracy and an unlawful act of rebellion by the slave-holding Confederate States.

The Vermont secessionists argue that secession is a continuing theme from America's formative years and that far from saving the Union, Lincoln was a racist warmonger intent on strengthening federal authority. This is what makes this week's marriage of convenience between them and the League of the South so puzzling for outsiders.

Unfortunately for the secessionists, they face a hurdle in a Supreme Court decision which as far back as 1868 barred the road to disunion. The case of Texas vs White, issued a judicial coup de grâce to secession. Despite Texas having been an independent republic before joining the union in 1845, the Supreme Court ruled that it had no right to secede. "The Constitution in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States."

Michael Hill, the Alabama-based president of the League of the South, says that if allowed to go their own way, New Englanders "probably would allow abortion and have gun control" while Southerners "would probably crack down on illegal immigration harder than it is being now".

Naylor said the friendly relationship between Vermont and the League of the South doesn't mean they share all the same beliefs. He said the League shares his group's opposition to the federal government and the need to pursue secession.

"It doesn't matter if our next president is Condoleezza [Rice] or Hillary [Clinton], it is going to be grim," Mr Naylor said.

Chattanooga's meeting of secessionists was organised by the Middlebury Institute's founder, a well-known left-wing author and agitator Kirkpatrick Sale. Mr Sale said he wanted to show that "the folks up north" regard the southern secessionists as "legitimate colleagues".

''It bothers me that people have wrongly declared them to be racists," he said.

Self-consciously copying the Liga Norte in Italy, the League of the South is dominated by academics. From its founding in 1995 it has concerned itself with questions of Southern culture, and threatened to push for secession, at least rhetorically, as a final resort if what were seen as the rights and dignity of the South were not respected.

Within four years of its creation the League had grown from 40 to 4,000 and it has now reached an estimated 10,000 members. The movement's academic veneer, coupled with its insistence that it was not racist despite its keen interest in matters like the Confederate battle flag, helped draw in thousands who might otherwise have stayed away.

Over the years the movement has grown more racist, claiming society is composed of a God-given hierarchy of groups that should not have the same rights and privileges as one another. Mr Hill now decries racial intermarriage under any circumstances and says that people other than white Christians will be allowed to live in his breakaway South only if they bow to "the cultural dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people and their institutions". Where the goal of secession was once largely rhetorical, it is now a seriously stated aim of his movement.

Back in Vermont, whether the state's residents will approve the latest antics of the Second Vermont Republic in getting into bed with Southern secessionists is in some doubt. Mr Potok, who is from Vermont, says: "What we are seeing is the far left and far right of American politics coming together. Most people in Vermont will shake their heads in disgust."

There is some doubt that the secessionist movement will ever be taken seriously by Americans.

"What insanity it is to reopen this issue," says Pauline Maier, professor of American history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Secession is not possible today without violence," she told the online magazine Salon.com. "To assume something different is mad. It's to follow the example of the Southern secessionists who thought that they could just leave the union peacefully – and, nuttier still, get a part of the unsettled territory as a parting gift. It's almost as crazy as the idea that once you topple a dictator, democracy happens, much as weeds appear on a ploughed field. Isn't it time that Americans began learning something from history? Or must we again bleed ourselves into wisdom?"

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Life and Style
The spring/summer 2015 Louis Vuitton show for Paris Fashion Week
fashion
Voices
voices
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
News
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
Extras
indybestKeep extra warm this year with our 10 best bedspreads
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad