Tired of high taxes and wars in far-away countries? Angry at bailouts for fat-cat bankers? A growing number of Americans are pushing their states to defy federal laws -- and some are advocating secession.
Both the state right's advocates and the secessionists agree on one thing: they want the federal government off their backs.
Advertisement"The US government has lost its moral authority," said Thomas Naylor, a retired economics professor who heads the Second Vermont Republic movement.
"Our government is operated and owned by Wall Street and corporate America," he told AFP.
"The empire is going down -- do you want to go down with the Titanic, or seek other options while they are still on the table?"
Secessionists and states rights advocates span political boundaries and predate President Barack Obama's election.
Experts, such as Jason Sorens at the University of Buffalo in New York, say their growth is being fueled by the recession, government growth, and the explosion in federal spending.
"There is more talk today about nullification (invalidating federal laws) and secession... than any time since 1865," said Kirkpatrick Sale, who heads the South Carolina-based Middlebury Institute, which studies separatism, secession, and self-determination.
There are active secessionist groups in at least 10 US states, including Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, Texas, and the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Sale said.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is running for re-election, raised eyebrows in April by suggesting at a conservative "Tea Party" rally that he favored seceding from the union.
Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1845, as was Vermont from 1777 to 1791. The United States declared its independence in 1776.
Texas last seceded in 1861, when it joined 10 other southern states to form the Confederate States of America. The Civil War soon broke out, and four years and 620,000 lives later, the union was restored.
"Secession is our only answer because our federal government is broken and cannot be repaired in the current political system," said Dave Mundy, a spokesman for the Texas Nationalist Movement.
How much support do the secessionists have in conservative Texas? J.R. Labbe, editorial director at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper, dismisses them as "a minority voice whose time has come because of one thing: technology."
"Digital cameras that can upload images and soundbites -- and 24/7 news channels that are always looking for the most bizarre clip they can find -- have given them a much broader audience than they, or Texas, deserve," she said.
Labbe also downplayed Perry's pro-independence remark as pandering to "a small but vocal mix" of free staters and anti-Washington activists.
The secessionists also have little support among states rights advocates, said Michael Boldin, founder of The Tenth Amendment Center, a California-based think tank.
"There are some mutual goals, but the end result are very different," Boldin told AFP.
In contrast to the secessionists, the push for increased state rights is having a real impact on federal law.
For example, 25 states have passed laws preventing the 2005 Real ID Act, which sets federal standards for identification cards, from being implemented.
Also, 13 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, in defiance of federal anti-drug regulations.
As tensions grow over health care reform, 15 states are pushing laws that would exempt them from federal health care regulations. The issue goes to Arizona voters in 2010.
Montana and Tennessee have even passed laws exempting weapons and ammunition produced in their states from federal regulations.
Could the secessionists strengthen and split from the country? Unlikely, said Lyn Spillman, a specialist on nationalism at Notre Dame university.
"Considered generally, secession movements -- which are quite common in American history -- are extremely unlikely to have significant political consequences," Spillman told AFP.
US political institutions "are already quite fragmented, and in many policy arenas power is quite dispersed, compared to other countries," she said.
US national identity also "emphasizes symbols like 'freedom' and 'diversity' and appeals to the founding moment of the Revolutionary War -- all symbols which can themselves encompass, and to some extent neutralize, dissent," she said.
Sale disagrees. A collapse of the dollar and anger over foreign wars, combined with calamitous climate change triggered by global warming, could push communities towards energy, water and food independence.
"A conjunction of events over the next few years might increase the talk about secession," said Sale.
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