The unabated sectarian violence in Iraq has rekindled suggestions that the country should be partitioned into autonomous regions along its principal religious (Sunni/Shiite) and ethnic (Kurd/Arab) factions. In areas where no sizeable majority exists, the groups are expected to live in peace, somehow.

While policymakers continue to weigh the merits of partition for Iraq, closer to home, incipient secessionist activities are forging across diverse ideological lines. Although in many respects U.S. secessionists are far from achieving their political objectives, the possibility of violence in support of such goals — terrorism, in essence — merits close and continuous scrutiny of this foreboding phenomenon.

The Culprits

U.S.-based secessionists include a broad range of interests. Indeed, disparate themes and groups — pro-white groups (neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan), neo-Confederates, Christian Identity movement, segments within other ethnic/racial constituencies (Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans/Alaskans/Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans), radical militias, Sovereign Citizen movement and states’ rights advocates — have intimated secessionist ramblings of various degrees.

Further elucidation of the justifications for secession in U.S.-based groups is instructive. These separatists may be characterized along one (or more) of the following: race, ethnicity, religion, culture, states’ rights, economics and redressing historical grievances (lost territory, victimization). Generally, secession is manifested through several methodologies: de facto (population shifts within territories; growing Mexican population in the United States lends itself for greater exploitation by those advocating creation of Aztlan, a separate Hispanic country in the southwest); de jure (legal steps such as the Congress and Hawaiian legislature considering allowing Native Hawaiians additional autonomy and legal benefits); plebiscite (voters in prospectively-seceding territory approving departure); or violence.

The impact of secession in the United States would depend on multiple factors: the manner of secession, size of seceded territory, underlying justifications for the secession, and response by non-seceding individuals and government. Depending on the foregoing, the secession could have significant political, socio-economic, monetary, tax, legal, national security, military and foreign policy implications. Secession inevitably involves various problems such as valuing and dividing state and private assets, governance issues, boundary conflicts, access to natural resources and defense. Other difficulties may include opposition by the sovereign and the majority of the populace of secession.

What Does This Mean For the U.S.?

How can we gauge whether a secessionist movement is a strategic threat to theUnited States? The indicators to observe are manifold:
  • The goals of the group
  • The breadth of the group’s support and its projection
  • Whether violence (or its advocacy) is a component of thegroup’s manifesto
  • The quality of the leadership of the group and its capacityto recruit others
  • The sources of funding and levels thereof
  • The group’s adeptness with recruiting new members and supporters
  • The group’s media and propaganda savvy
  • The group’s complicity, if any, with foreign powers and/orinterests
Secession is not a new phenomenon. It has occurred worldwide and throughout history.Secessionist and separation ideologies have led to the creation (and termination)of states, triggered civil and regional wars and engendered (more recently) otherpolitical violence from Northern Ireland and the Basque region to Kashmir andKurdistan.

Closer to home, the inception of the United States is due to its secession — ultimatelyby force — from Great Britain. Subsequently, the United States (and its territories)has dealt with distinct manifestations of secessionism. Secessionism was avertedat times through political machinations including: the 1814 Hartford Convention,the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Yet, by 1861, the formationof the Confederate States of America was among the last developments precedingthe Civil War. That war ravaged the young democracy, scars from which are stillshown today.

In sum, it is prudent for the Bush Administration and Congress to undertake acloser examination of secessionist threats in the United States. As such, weshould be mindful of such groups gaining further support for their causes, andpossibly seeking to implement their secessionist strains. Concurrently, we mustdemonstrate to U.S. secessionists that their grievances can be addressed withinexisting national borders, and that secession is unnecessary. Let us strive sofor our sake and future generations. After all, the United States should standfor cohesion and not disintegration.