Why It’s Time to Take Secessionist Talk SeriouslyRoundup
tags: polarization, secession
Richard Kreitner is a writer on politics and history who contributes to The Nation, The Baffler, and Raritan, among other publications. His most recent book is Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union (2020).
After what even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell called, with surprising accuracy, a “failed insurrection” at the United States Capitol, the far-right fringe of the Republican Party is feeling both emboldened and disillusioned. In numerous videos from the day, members of the mob can be heard expressing astonishment that their march made it as far as the hallowed halls of the national legislature. Then a palpable disappointment took over when President Trump, instead of joining them as he had promised, put out a video asking them to withdraw and go home. A subsequent video finally conceding the election to Joe Biden and promising an orderly transition of power hardly quieted the MAGA hordes. Then the FBI officially put the country on notice that armed assaults were being planned on all fifty state capitol buildings and the now-fortressed federal one in Washington, D.C., leading up to the day of Biden’s inauguration.
What will his frustrated followers turn to next? One possibility is disorganized, disaggregated political violence—bombings, kidnappings, assassinations—effectively amounting to a new civil war, though a low-grade conflict more like the Troubles in the United Kingdom in the last decades of the twentieth century than the pitched battles fought between this country’s North and South from 1861 to 1865. The numerous explosive devices, Molotov cocktails, and other weapons found around the nation’s capital on January 6 could foreshadow the kind of mayhem that will define American political life for decades to come.
Yet there is another, related possible future for the far right and for US politics more generally: secession. Already, many right-wing commentators associated with Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and other pro-Trump outlets are using what remains of their social media platforms to call for the departure of Republican-leaning states from the Union. “You can’t change a corrupt institution by relying on corrupt officials to call out their own corruption,” Lauren Chen, a BlazeTV host, tweeted. “Secession is the answer.” If they can’t control the country and the government, nobody can. The Confederate flags the insurgents carried through the Capitol weren’t about the past, but the future.
The groundwork for this awkward transition from hard-core Trumpian nationalism to burn-it-down separatism has, in fact, been laid over several months. In December, shortly after the Supreme Court refused to hear a suit brought by Texas seeking to invalidate the 2020 election results, Allen West, a former congressman and chair of the Texas Republican Party, suggested that “law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” Far from immediately disavowing such an incendiary call, the state party’s official Twitter account promoted the statement. On Parler, the social media app favored by the far right (until Amazon Web Services effectively shut it down), users insisted the time had come for “succession” (sic).
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