Secession is a seasonal discussion in Texas, something that comes and goes in the discourse around the state as the weather turns, like whether to fire Jason Garrett or the origins of the breakfast taco. Over the years, its advocates have even approached the mainstream.
At the 2016 Texas Republican Convention, the party held a floor debate on whether to endorse the idea. (They decided to stick with the Union, at least for now.) Some 95,000 folks signed an online petition to the White House in 2012—taking the least action possible that still qualifies as “action.” Rick Perry, when he began his Tea Party transformation back in 2009, flirted with secession in public statements. Back in 1975, this very magazine even found the question worth exploring in a cover package that asked “Is Texas Too Big for Its Britches?” And, of course, there’s always ol’ Mirabeau Lamar, who advocated for leaving the Union shortly after the state entered it, after the Compromise of 1850.
As the above makes clear, secession is compelling to poke at, like messing with a loose tooth. And, post-Brexit—when something that previously seemed improbable and unthinkable became reality—the topic took on some renewed urgency. Global secessionist groups, including the Texas Nationalist Movement, the subject of a story in the December issue of The Atlantic, began holding summits in Eastern Europe.
That Atlantic story, which was published online Thursday under the headline “Why 300,000 Texans Want to Secede,” looks at all of this from a lens that suggests that Daniel Miller, the TNM’s leader, is at the fore of a new era of secession organizing. “Converting Texas pride into action will require only a nudge,” the story summarizes Miller’s thinking, and it publishes his membership claims without challenge. The group, which claims some 300,000 members, demands a referendum on secession and, after what Miller predicts will be an ‘inevitable’ vote to leave, the declaration of an independent Republic of Texas.”
“Members” is a dubious word for to describing those counted here. Miller told Texas Monthly that “That number consists of Texas voters who have either signed up on our website or in person,” and his website says there are 382,000 of them and counting. “All in-person signups come from direct interactions with voters by our volunteers through traditional block walking, outreach events, etc.” The organization’s website also has a separate call to action, urging people to “become a member,” with annual dues starting at $18.36 a year (the date of the Texas Revolution, naturally). When I asked Miller to clarify how many of the 382,000 people he has on his mailing list are dues-paying members, he did not respond; a private Facebook group for “members in good standing” of the Texas Nationalist Movement has 197 members.
Regardless of the actual dues-paying membership of the organization, it’s probably safe to say that there are a few hundred thousand Texans who do respond to the idea of becoming an independent state with “Actually, that’d be kind of cool”—we are a proudly independent people, after all, and anything that affirms our independence makes some number of us say, “Hell yeah, Texas.” But we’re also a state of 29.1 million people—so even if there are 382,000 Texans who are intrigued by the idea, that represents just over one percent of the state, or a little less than the population of Arlington.
The question the Atlantic‘s story hopes to answer is whether you can grow from however many active secessionists there are in the state—whether it’s a few hundred dues-paying members or a few hundred thousand secession-curious folks whose inboxes receive the occasional newsletter—to a mass movement by introducing the idea in a way that makes it palatable and mainstream. It worked for Brexit, after all.
But there’s also very little new in Miller’s call to action—secession is such well-trod territory that most everything anybody would want to say about it has already been said.
Every schoolchild knows that (a) Texas was once an independent nation, (b) we’ve long swelled with Texas pride (“which encompasses everything from brisket to football to Willie Nelson,” as The Atlantic accurately notes), and (c) thus far, we’ve never been particularly interested in secession as anything more than that little loose tooth we play with occasionally. It’s not impossible to imagine things like the 2016 floor debate going differently at a future GOP convention—we do live in unpredictable times!—but for now, you can fill a few stadiums with people who like to fantasize about the idea of secession, but that still leaves a whopping 98.7 percent of the state full of people who are happy where they are.