Editors’ Note: Originally published March 28, 2021, we have now reposted this article in light of the continuing revelations from the investigation of the January 6th insurrection and big lie plot to corrupt the electoral processes in several states. Separatism is a close, blood relative of the replacement conspiracy theory.
Up to the presidential election in 2016, this democratic nation appeared capable of sustaining what has often been sharp, energetic political divides. Increasingly, however, that division, those divides, have morphed into separatism not unlike that of the secession of states in the Civil War era.
In Virginia, a number of counties have adopted resolutions declaring themselves a First or Second amendment sanctuary, asserting a refusal to accept or abide by rules, regulations, or laws established as measures to protect the safety of the citizenry. Few today, except some die-hard separatists, maintain that the secessions of the 1860s were unrelated to preserving slavery and the economic lifestyle it underwrote.
Neat and comfortable divisions that were once easily accommodated are no longer the rule.
Some historians trace the affinity of fellow citizens to espouse separatist views to a sense of nostalgia for the frontier spirit that motivated westward expansion, “40 acres and a mule” evocations. Those feelings belong to a country that was populated by a few million newcomers as the borders from east to west were unlimited by a colonialist policy muscularly called Manifest Destiny. Only Native Americans stood in the way of the hordes of immigrants building fences on prairies and notching railway lines across virgin territory. Now, the United States is a nation of 325 million with massive urban centers, actually megalopolises stretching across state boundaries.
Neat and comfortable divisions that were once easily accommodated are no longer the rule. Our economic prosperity and political energies are intimately interconnected, national, international, and global. The internet and social media are parallel dimensions to our economy and political spheres.
Our foods are not produced locally by neighbors; nor do our roads and highways terminate at state or even national borders. Sports and celebrity idols have presences across internal borders and oceans. Yet, some of our citizens stubbornly adhere to notions that they can be separate and need not accept any pressures or reasons to abide by values that, by definition, are for the common good. Give me liberty or death shout the First Amendment sanctuarists. The right to bear arms is absolute and not subject to any regulation or law.
In typical separatist defiance and self-serving description, the 60-year-old Arkansan was quoted in The Washington Post, boasting: “I am white. There is no denying that. I am a nationalist. I put my nation first. So that makes me a white nationalist.’ He added that people who are not nationalists should “get the f— out of our nation.”
The Capitol insurrectionist who was pictured sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office declared on his social media that he is “not afraid to go out [of this world] the same way” he entered it – bathed in blood. In typical separatist defiance and self-serving description, the 60-year-old Arkansan was quoted in The Washington Post, boasting:
“I am white. There is no denying that. I am a nationalist. I put my nation first. So that makes me a white nationalist.’ He added that people who are not nationalists should “get the f— out of our nation.”
“Our nation” the faux gladiator cries, comforted only in his own words and immune to the history that preceded him and is yet to come. The insolence is breathtaking and agonizingly ignorant.
There is no mistaking this sentiment for a mere political difference of opinion; it is clearly a call for separation, if not of the speaker, then for the exclusion of others. What is the prospect for conducting a meaningful discussion with a separatist? Likely, very little. Can the country provide or afford 40 acres to accommodate separatists? Can separatists, in fact, cohabit within a community or polity with others who do not share their views? Who needs to be separated from whom?
From a macro point of view, can the nation sustain or accommodate the actions of separation experienced at the US Capitol on January 6? The separation poses polar options apparently not susceptible to resolution by reason or even by physical distancing. The extremist duality has, of course, been made worse by political leaders preying upon separatist views for political ends and personal ambitions. The arguments of members of Congress against the 2020 election results from states where they are not residents is symptomatic of this political extremism.
At least one lesson from the Civil War is that no one, except the most radical, wish to undergo that trauma once again. At the same time, elections as political resolutions also appear to be unsatisfying and insufficient to appease separatist objectives. If afforded liberty not to wear masks, will separatists be agreeable to forgo medical treatment should the coronavirus infect them? Not likely. Will they pay for being community spreaders and contribute to medical costs for those they infect? No. Are the Second Amendment advocates resolved to purchase gun liability insurance to protect others in a community? Again, no.
The exercise of absolutist rights or privileges to the extreme is one accommodation that the First Amendment protects. Shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not tolerated. It might be acceptable in a theater in a bounded jurisdiction where all of the community believe such a shout is protected. The courtesy of women and children first need not be acknowledged – every stampeder to the exit doors is equal. Bystanders or children wounded by careless use of firearms is also tolerable and no reparations are necessary.
Ought non-separatist counties in Virginia post signs on roads entering separatist jurisdictions to warn their residents of the conditions in a neighboring county? Ought separatist counties be encouraged (not required) to post similar warnings to those exiting their jurisdictions that non-separatist conditions exist beyond the boundary? In the same way that the DC invader in Pelosi’s office proudly boasted of his commitment to his ideals, the equitable behavior of community jurisdictions is welcome.
As a commonwealth, Virginia may have a superior duty to encourage the political segregation of its citizens in order that every cohort of separatist beliefs can prosper and mature in the comfort of their beliefs. Pay a bounty to citizens who will move to such jurisdictions; declare all state laws as nonapplicable and offer the residents a tabula rasa to originate any rules or laws they desire. No taxation; representation would not be included. Separatists would not be residents of the state. National citizenship is optional, thereby diminishing necessity to protest or storm capitols.
Of course, the true issue here is the status and responsibility of all non-separatists, most especially when separatist behavior turns into terrorism or even lesser threatening conduct. The separatists state they are prepared to surrender life and limb for their beliefs…. Is nonviolent cohabitation or even coexistence possible? The insurrection at our national capitol tests the resolution of both populations.
Of course, the true issue here is the status and responsibility of all non-separatists, most especially when separatist behavior turns into terrorism or even lesser threatening conduct. To where may non-separatists repair to achieve domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare? The separatists state they are prepared to surrender life and limb for their beliefs. The Civil War and its aftermath consumed some 625,000 lives in a conflict over the separatist demand to practice slavery. Are non-separatists in contemporary America in a similar predicament? Is nonviolent cohabitation or even coexistence possible? The insurrection at our national capitol tests the resolution of both populations.
Ah, separatism, thy name is Confederate States of America. Among us but not of us. Not ever.