Last week’s vote supporting the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union (Brexit) is expected to have many transcending effects for Europe and beyond, such as weakening the European Union and other multi-national political, economic, and security institutions. Too, Great Britain’s supporting greater autonomy may be replicated in the United States. For example, the call for the secession of Texas (Texit), California, Vermont, and other states might garner broader support than previously witnessed.
Support for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican president nominee, suggests that segments of the U.S. population embrace an anti-establishment, disenchanted chord, although, not necessarily, secessionism. It was reported that after the Brexit vote, Trump discouraged secessionism in the United States.
Historically, U.S.-based secessionists were enamored with a broad range of issues. Presently, disparate themes and groups have intimated secessionist ramblings of various degrees. The means advocated to obtain such results include violent and non-violent means. Today’s separatists here may be characterized along one (or more) of the following: race, ethnicity, religion, culture, states’ rights, economics, and redressing historical grievances (e.g., lost territory as well as real or perceived 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 considered allowing Native Hawaiians additional autonomy and legal benefits); plebiscite (voters in prospectively-seceding territory approving departure); or violence. The Texit movement, as some others, seems to support secession arising from a plebiscite.
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.
How can we gauge the respective secessionist movements in the United States? The indicators to observe are broad, including:
• The goals of the group
• The breadth of the group’s support and its projection
• Whether violence (or its advocacy) is a component of the group’s manifesto
• The quality of the leadership of the group and its capacity to 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/or interests
The success of the Brexit movement, coupled with growing secessionist sentiments in Europe (e.g., Catalan from Spain, and Scotland from the U.K.) and beyond (e.g., Kurdish nationalism in the Middle East), merits careful attention. Likewise, the extent and manifestations of secessionism in the United States should be observed cautiously as the consequences of disintegration of national borders or shifting political-economic-security alliances can be profound.
Dean C. Alexander is director/professor of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University.