Although its name evokes an evangelical church or a parish hall, the Center for Life is actually a natural health clinic tucked behind a Dollar General on San Antonio’s North Side. Still, despite its secular setting, the building’s conference room doubled as a revival tent on July 18, when the Texas Nationalist Movement’s Take Texas Back tour stopped by.
Shirtsleeves rolled up, TNM president Daniel Miller paced in front of a large banner depicting the Alamo as he reminded his fifteen listeners why Texas should secede from the United States. “Texans are sick and tired of being governed by bureaucrats we didn’t elect, forcing policies on us that we don’t want,” he proclaimed to supportive murmurs of that’s right and mm-hmm. “There is no solution for Texas other than independence.” At least two people answered back, “Amen.”
The Take Texas Back tour, a month-long effort to spread the gospel of Texas independence, has visited nearly two dozen cities across the state. At each stop, from a Comfort Suites in Midland to the Beijing China Buffet in Palestine, TNM has trained petitioners to collect the 75,000 signatures necessary to get a referendum on secession added to the 2016 state Republican primary ballot. The referendum would ask Governor Greg Abbott to call a special legislative session to discuss including another version of the referendum on next year’s general election ballot. Because Texas doesn’t have voter-led ballot initiatives, Miller explained, this roundabout process is the only way the people can get the chance to vote on independence, a concept supported by 36 percent of Texan respondents in a 2014 Reuters poll. The ballot-box approach is notably calmer than the tactics of an earlier secessionist movement, the Republic of Texas, which took two Fort Davis residents hostage in 1997, leading to a week-long standoff with state troopers.
The Texas Nationalist Movement, which was formed in 2004, claims more than 200,000 members (some of whom signed up for free on the group’s website). Twenty thousand of them have joined since June 1, though Miller said the tour was planned long before the early-summer Supreme Court decisions that galvanized some new members.
The court’s decision on same-sex marriage, along with the recent backlash against the Confederate flag, motivated 38-year-old Brandon Burkhart, of San Antonio, to attend the July 18 meeting. “That goes against the beliefs of Christians, Catholics, and others, and you can’t tread on someone else’s rights,” Burkhart said. “There’s only one thing that stands above Texas in my book, and that’s God—and I think they go hand in hand. Texas has always blazed a trail for everyone else in rights and freedoms.” For 63-year-old Guy Franceschini, of Devine, the appeal of Texas leaving the union is opting out of “a communist agenda that’s being dictated from D.C.”
Miller, who runs an online Texas music radio station when he’s not agitating for independence, is patient with questions. Newcomers often wonder how Texas will form a military, establish a currency, and negotiate the status of resources like Fort Hood and Big Bend National Park. But it won’t be a violent process, he said, pointing to Scotland, which last year voted down a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. No one had expected British troops to intervene if that had passed. And what will become of the Texans who were content being Americans? “Independence is no panacea,” Miller acknowledged. “Never will one hundred percent of the people be satisfied with one hundred percent of the decisions. But at least they will be our policies, they will be our decisions, they will be expressions of our political will.”
Asked what he’d miss most about being an American, Miller barely paused. “I really can’t think of a thing.”