Secessionists or racists?

Concerns raised over Vermont links to neo-Confederates

Pictured above: Thomas Naylor of Charlotte, a co-founder of the Second Vermont Republic

Editor’s Note: This version has been corrected to clarify that the Free State Movement has not faced charges of racism or xenophobia. An earlier version left an incorrect impression.

If you’ve heard about the idea of Vermont secession then you probably heard it from the Second Vermont Republic (SVR).

The organization is led by a small group of individuals committed to returning Vermont to its original status as an independent republic like it was from 1777 to 1791. In other words, they hope to secede from the United States.

Secessionists

While SVR is by no means a large political movement, it seems to be gaining momentum and garnering publicity. They’ve been spotlighted in the Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Montreal Gazette, and many others. The Vermont Commons, a sister publication, was a Utne Reader finalist for “Best New Title, 2005.” In 2006, the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont even conducted a poll that found that 8 per cent of all eligible voters in Vermont support the idea of secession.

However, while the idea is gaining mainstream attention, perhaps as a quaint oddity, some Vermonters, led by a group of bloggers, are calling into question the integrity of some members on SVR’s advisory board and their connection to racist groups in the South.

Recently, John Odum of Montpelier, who launched the popular Vermont political blog, Green Mountain Daily, received an e-mail from an anonymous blogger called Thomas Rowley, the name of one of the original Green Mountain Boys who fought for Vermont’s independence. Rowley’s blog, vermontsecession.blogspot.com, has been tracking the workings of SVR and according to Odum, the real Rowley has a long history of monitoring hate groups. He/she asked Odum if anyone has ever investigated SVR and Vermont Commons based on what the individual claimed were ties to neo-confederate organizations such as the League of the South (LOS).

Rowley’s probe began after SVR co-chairman Rob Williams of Waitsfield was a guest on Vermont Public Radio’s Switchboard and presented a revisionist account of Pres. Abraham Lincoln.

Many secessionists believe Lincoln was not interested in freeing slaves in the South but was bent on imperialist powers.

Rowley told Odum the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — an organization known for tracking hate groups — said this belief of Lincoln is “part and parcel” of the neo-Confederate movement, which the SPLC says “includes a number of organizations that generally share goals such as preserving Confederate monuments, honoring the Confederate battle flag, and/or lauding what is judged to be ‘Southern’ culture,” according to its website.

And, SPLC staff say any connection to the League of the South should raise alarms.

“No matter what the league says, it has been opposed to inter-racial marriage. It’s intellectuals — in official league writings — have defended segregation as a policy to protect the integrity of both black and white people and their leader has called for a hierarchical society in which different classes will have different legal rights. In other words, they are calling for a feudal society modeled very much on a theocracy,” said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “This is a group that has harbored large numbers of racists of all kinds and in our view it’s obviously a white supremacist group.”

SVR co-founder Thomas Naylor of Charlotte claims his organization has no direct link to LOS, and more importantly SVR is in no way racist.

They “charge that because the SVR’s website has a link to the LOS that therefore we must in bed with them, failing to take into consideration that through our sister organization the Middlebury Institute we have links to all 35 of the secessionists groups and we’re in bed with none of them, in particular the LOS. We have no relation with the LOS and all of the secessionist groups ideologically are all over the place,” said Naylor in a recent radio interview with Steve West, on WKVT-AM in Brattleboro.

And, according to a recent statement released by the Middlebury Institute, a think-tank dedicated to the study of secessionism, the League of the South’s directors have renounced its racist past — on June 21, 2005.

“The problem is Abraham Lincoln did such a number on the American people 150 years ago that most Vermonters when they think of secession, they think of slavery and racism and if you’re a Southern secessionist by definition you have to be racist,” said Naylor. “Writing off the LOS because it’s a Southern secessionist group is based on a position of total ignorance. The only common ground between us and the LOS is unconditional antagonism and hostility toward the American empire.” best proxy sites 2018

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