The Republic of Texas
The latest ultraright rumbling comes from remote West Texas, where a militia-allied group has proclaimed itself the lawful government of the independent Republic of Texas. ROT members have declared war on both the federal government and the state of Texas, which they view as illegitimate "occupiers" of their nation. An armed ROT faction made headlines on April 27 by kidnapping two people and holding them on the grounds of the ROT "embassy," an attached trailer and shed outside the town of Ft. Davis (population 1,200). Police surrounded the compound and avoided violence by exchanging a jailed ROT member for the hostages.
The ROT is the brainchild of Richard McLaren, 43, a Missouri-born automobile-manual author and insurance salesman. McLaren, a vociferous opponent of all taxation, declared in 1995 his unique finding that the United States has never legally annexed Texas. He says that the state, which won its independence from Mexico in 1836, joined the union illegally in 1845. Under McLaren's reading of international law, a treaty must be struck between sovereign nations prior to annexation. No such Texas/U.S. treaty was passed, nor does it appear that any such treaty could have passed in 1845. Treaties require a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate, and a bare majority of senators approved the state's admission into the union.
McLaren maintains that because Texas was illegally annexed, Texans are not U.S. citizens, have no obligation to obey federal laws, and are owed war reparations by the federal government. In December 1995, he and 50 other radical anti-tax activists, mainly from West Texas, declared their intention to re-establish the usurped authority of the ROT.
Historians dismiss McLaren's argument: 1) His citation of the international law of annexation is vague. 2) If his international-law objection is valid, why didn't anti-slavery senators who opposed admission of another slaveholding state raise it at the time? 3) A majority of Texans voted in favor of annexation in an 1845 plebiscite. 4) And even if the 1845 annexation was illegal, the argument is moot: Texas and the other secessionist states rejoined the union after their defeat in the Civil War.
According to the liberal watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of armed militias has grown since the Oklahoma City bombing two years ago, and now exceeds 380. ROT members employ rhetoric similar to that of the militias, condemning taxation and lax protection of property rights.
And they employ similar tactics. Like the Freemen, the Montana militia group that held federal authorities at bay for 81 days, the ROT has filed scores of liens on property owned by their foes, a tactic members call "paper warfare." A blizzard of liens has fallen on state property, which the ROT considers illegally confiscated. Other bogus liens have been filed across the state on private property targeted at random. By clogging state courts and tying up real-estate sales, the ROT says it hopes to garner political attention. Like their soul mates in Montana, ROT members have also issued $3 million worth of bad checks, purchasing weapons, computers, and provisions.
As ROT ambassador, McLaren issues passports. He also campaigns for United Nations recognition of his "republic," believing that the United States scuttled U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's campaign for a second term last year because he was sympathetic to the ROT.
Internal dissension has reduced the group's numbers in recent months. From the start, the sect purged members, including its founding president, who failed to toe a militant line. In March, the ROT split into two factions--the smaller one, led by McLaren, advocated an alignment with militias and plotted a violent strategy to remove the federal government from Texas, the other eschewed violence and dissociated itself from McLaren. On its Web site, the nonviolent faction says McLaren has "gone completely off the deep end."
McLaren's confrontation with law enforcement has been months in the making. After a judge ordered him to cease filing bogus liens, he continued and was found in contempt of court. Wanted on charges of burglary, McLaren holed up in Ft. Davis, where armed guards kept round-the-clock watch. Because McLaren's neighbors spotted armed men arriving in trucks with Idaho license plates, it is believed that some of the 12 men and women currently residing in the "embassy" may belong to other rightist groups.
The standoff was sparked April 27 when police arrested two ROT members--one because he refused to display license plates on his vehicle. McLaren's followers retaliated by taking as hostages two neighbors who had long clamored for the leader's arrest. After the hostage exchange, talks continued but have been unsuccessful, while McLaren's rhetoric has grown increasingly apocalyptic.
Franklin Foer is editor at large of the New Republic. He is the author of How Soccer Explains the World.