TEXAS — Secessionist talk in Texas makes news about once a year, and each time it does, Daniel Miller, the president of the state’s loudest independence movement, is surprised by the media’s alarmist headlines.
“Folks kinda freak out when we pop up, and it's like... guys, we've been at this a long time,” said Miller, the head of the Texas Nationalist Movement. “We've been at this as an organization since 2005. We’re in it for the long haul.”
But this year’s calls for a “Texit,” a localized play on the term for Britain’s exit from the European Union, came with a bit more heft, thanks to some big state and national Republican figures weighing in on the idea on the heels of a presidential election that saw President Donald Trump refuse to concede to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
Renewed calls for Texas independence have “become sort of the tail end of the whip in the sense that Texans, by and large, have had a problem with the political establishment in Washington D.C.,” Miller said. “Things that have been bubbling under the surface and over time, people have given up on the federal side.”
Adding to this, Texas lawmakers have played significant roles in keeping alive Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the November 3 election.
The Supreme Court rejected a case brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in early December asking the court to overturn the election results in the four key battleground states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Allen West, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, was furious at the decision, issuing a statement suggesting that “perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.”
On November 7, when most major networks called the presidential election for Biden, U.S. Rep. Randy Webber, a Republican from outside of Houston, posted a secessionist meme on his social media accounts that said, “It’s getting about that time y’all.”
A few days later, Rush Limbaugh said on his conservative radio show that “I actually think that we’re trending toward secession.”
Then came an announcement from State House Rep. Kyle Biedermann, a Republican from Fredericksburg, that he intended to introduce the Texas Independence Referendum Act. The bill, should it pass, would allow Texans to vote for the state to “reassert its status as an independent nation,” Biedermann said in his statement.
“The federal government is out of control and doesn’t represent the values of Texans,” Biedermann’s statement said.
If the bill makes it to the floor of the State House in Austin, it would be the first time in U.S. history a state legislature has considered such legislation to hold a referendum on secession.
Biedermann’s bill announcement drew a lot of local Texas media attention as well as an invitation to appear on another conservative talk radio show hosted by Glenn Beck.
Miller said his group doesn’t support federal candidates, but the divisiveness in the country and the political “turmoil” have led people to the Texas Nationalist Movement after feeling increasingly disappointed by the federal government.
“Everyone predicted that when Trump got elected that the Texas National Movement would dry up and blow away. Instead, we grew,” Miller said.
The renewed calls for an independent Texas are a sign of the political times, said Casey Michel, a journalist and author who has written extensively about independence movements in states like Texas and California.
“As they continue to see Trump's window to the White House continue to close, their other outlets are going to continue to open, and Texas secessionism is the latest project,” Michel said.
Secessionism is still outside of the mainstream discourse, even though it seems as if it's becoming more common in the era of Trumpism, he said. The issue is only going to continue to brew as Texas, in particular, gets bluer and bluer, Michel said.
Texas voted for Trump in November with 5.6 percentage points over Biden, a smaller margin than the previous presidential election, when Trump carried the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“They have a completely outdated, backward idea of what Texas is... that it's all cowboy-hat wearing, God-fearing, belt-buckle oilmen when in reality, Texas has changed so much in the last 20 years alone. It's now a first-class economic powerhouse, and not just because of oil and gas.”
Texas’ population has diversified in the last decade, becoming 40% Hispanic as well as welcoming a growing population of South and East Asians.
“They refuse to recognize just how much the state has changed and blossomed,” Michel said. “Their secession project is just a complete fantasy.”
Biedermann’s bill is still being drafted, according to Miller, who said he received an email from the State House member’s office this week saying that the bill’s language had been looked over by the Texas Legislative Council. It’s now up to the representative to submit a final draft.
Biedermann did not return a request for comment before this article’s publication.
Once the bill is submitted, the question then will be if the bill ever makes it to the floor when the Texas Legislature starts its session on Jan. 12.
A video posted on the website of the Texas Nationalist Movement has the organization hopeful. The short clip dating back to 2016 shows Rep. Dade Phelan, a Republican from southeast Texas, addressing a question about whether he would submit his own bill on Texas secession. The question came after a lively floor debate Texas Republican Convention on whether to endorse the idea of seceding from the U.S.
Phelan’s answer was no, he wasn’t planning to submit such a bill, but if his constituents wanted to be heard on the matter, he would support their voices. What has the Texan Nationalist Movement hopeful is that Phelan is expected to be elected the Speaker of the House at the opening of the session.
Texas isn’t the only state with an independence movement either currently active or simmering in the background. Like the Texas Nationalist Movement, many of them drew inspiration from Britian's exiting of the European Union, which was voted on in 2016 and completed in December of this year, as well as the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, which ultimately showed voters wanting to remain in the United Kingdom.
Miller said his organization doesn’t reveal the lists of members and sponsors but said there are more than 380,000 at various levels of participation. From a 97-year-old woman with a Ph.D. in history who called this month to the 16-year-old “blowing up our phone wanting to do something,” the movement’s members are enthusiastic volunteers “willing to do anything they can” to spread build support for Texas independence, Miller said.
There are few independent polling numbers on the question of how many Texans support a Texit. In 2016, shortly after the Brexit vote, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed about 24% of Americans said they supported a state’s choice to break from the U.S., while 53% said they were against it.
By most economic and political analysts’ count, the chances of Texas seceding from the United States to become an independent nation again are slim. In fact, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t lay out a framework for a state to secede. In 1861, when the Confederate States tried, the country broke out into a civil war.
Still, internal polling numbers from The Texas Nationalist Movement show a steady increase in both enthusiasm across the state and in terms of the number of new members, Miller said. He declined to give exact figures but said in 2005, when the organization started, support for Texas independence was in the single digits.
“Everyone predicted that when Trump got elected that the Texas National Movement would dry up and blow away,” Miller said. Instead, we grew, in terms of the support numbers, internal numbers, and members. We have grown every year.”
If the referendum actually happens, Miller said he suspects we will see Texans “come out of the woodwork” across the state in support of independence.
Americans, too, would get behind Texas’ wishes, he said, adding that he was “sure there are folks in New York and California who would think it was great to see us leave.”