State of Jefferson

Dispatches from the State of Jefferson

My family and I have a long-standing tradition of taking one summer road trip a year, and last week we took the opportunity to travel up to the good old State of Jefferson — because seriously, what’s better family fun than discussing political sovereignty and learning about new ways to kick off our government overlords? The only better way would have been a beach trip to Hawaii, but maybe next year.

Jokes aside, the primary reason we took the trip was to see the beautiful scenery of northern California, and we only visited one county — the largest one, Siskiyou — included in the proposed 51st state. I didn’t attend any official State of Jefferson meetings or converse with any of the movement’s leaders; in fact I mostly just talked to average people we happened to stumble across. Nevertheless, the trip provided me with some experiences I’ll never forget, cemented an unshakeable allegiance in my heart to the people of Siskiyou county, and taught me more about what’s at stake for supporters of the State of Jefferson movement than anything else possibly could have.

Let me start off by saying something blunt about the initial disappointments of the trip. Sorry, J. Arthur Bloom, but if you were to take the pulse of the Jefferson movement by a visit to Yreka alone, you’d come away thinking it was deader than dead. Yreka was the first stop on our destination, chosen because it seemed to be the historic focal point of statehood-related activities. After all, this is the place where it all started, when a group of gallant young men decided to hold up Highway 99 declaring that they would “secede each Thursday until further notice.” It is also where Judge John C. Childs was inaugurated (with bears and all) as interim governor of Jefferson in 1941. One would think this would be the place with the greatest passion and fervor of all.

Of the locals I talked to here, I got the feeling that most of them thought of the statehood movement as akin to something like a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign; a novel piece of regional heritage which can be fun to celebrate—certainly something you can sell shirts over—but an idea which is, at bottom, more of a dream of outsiders than an impending reality. And to my surprise, as I walked the town, I found nothing much more serious than stores selling ‘official merchandise.’ Yreka’s museum, which was otherwise very extensive, housed not a single exhibit on the famous story of 1941; even the courthouse where Childs once walked was empty. The annual Siskiyou Golden Fair, which just happened to be going on at the time, was the only place that proved fruitful in my search for secessionist enthusiasm. It was here that I found a Tea Party booth proudly flying the double crosses and offering a raffle for a houseboat vacation (which are apparently the new militia movement).

The thing about Tea Parties, as many have pointed out, is that they’re different wherever you go. And this one certainly wasn’t of the Jenny Beth Martin flavor. As I picked up a Jefferson Backroads magazine sitting on the table, the man at the booth seemed more anxious to hand me another, much more radical, pamphlet; a pamphlet created by Anthony Intiso, a man who’s put on his big boy pants and left the sandbox by proposing a completely independent Republic of Jefferson, instead of merely a new state. Intiso used to think that statehood would be fine, until he recognized what should be glaringly obvious: becoming a new state under an unconstitutional federal system “puts you right back where you started. You may think you’ve gained some freedom—and you may have to a certain extent,certain extent on a state–California — basis, but not from the federal government, because you can’t be a state in that system without adhering to their rules.”

This is a legitimate criticism and we’ll get back to it later, but in the meantime leftists and distributists should know, in case the Tea Party label scares them, that there’s something for everyone here. Intiso’s group, for example, is strongly anti-corporate, and he seems to have even bought into a wacky conspiracy theory which holds that the entity we call the state is literally just a giant private corporation. A little rough around the edges, but hey, he’s got character. Purple up his prose a bit and it sounds like it’s straight out of Tate and Agar’s classic Who Owns America? I’ll take him! (more…)