Possibly coming to a city near you: A citizens’ seminar on how to weaken the “united” in United States by canceling federal laws that states don’t like.
The traveling conference, called “Nullify Now!” pushes nullification, the notion that a state has the right to invalidate and disregard any federal law. The concept relies on a spurious interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves to the states and the people any power not explicitly given to the federal government. Nullifiers ignore a long history of Supreme Court rulings defining federal authority.
Nullification is nothing new. Battles over states’ abilities to reject federal government initiatives go back to the founding of the country. During the 1950s, Southerners revived the idea as a way to reject the federal government’s efforts at desegregation.
Today’s nullifiers seem to decry just about everything the federal government does.
With the help of this growing antigovernment movement, nullification has gained traction lately. State lawmakers have introduced, but not passed, numerous bills to nullify federal initiatives like gun regulations and the new health care reform act. Some have sought to deny the authority of federal agents to act in state jurisdictions. Arizona’s senate even passed a bill earlier this year that would create a legislative committee to “recommend, propose and call for a vote by simple majority to nullify in its entirety a specific federal law or regulation that is outside the scope of the powers delegated by the People to the federal government in the United States Constitution.”
The Nullify Now! road show stopped in Austin, Texas, on April 16. The lead national sponsor is a group called the Foundation for a Free Society. Executive Director Jason Rink, in a video on the group’s website, describes the federal government as the primary threat to liberty. He compares the present-day nullification movement with the American colonists who overthrew British rule in 1776 – thus equating the federal government with that of King George III.
“What happened that the protector of the liberties of man has turned and begun to hack away at the roots and branches of the tree of liberty?” Rink says. “Government itself has become the enemy of liberty over time.”
The other driving force behind the movement is the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), a clearinghouse of nullification efforts founded and headed by Michael Boldin. The next conference is planned for May 28 in Los Angeles, though Boldin said in Austin he needed donations to make that happen.
Nullification Now’s conferences are headlined by prominent figures in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, which has been growing fast in the last two years. Patriots generally define themselves as opposed to the “New World Order,” engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing about the government, or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines. The Austin conference featured several prominent Patriot group leaders, including the CEO of the John Birch Society, which once argued that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist, and the head of Oath Keepers, a relatively new group that encourages police officers and soldiers to disobey orders they think may be unconstitutional.
Here are some highlights from the conference’s speakers:
- Steve Baysinger, Texas coordinator of the Tenth Amendment Center, told the audience: “Texas sovereignty is under attack.” He implored them to “engage the enemies of the Republic.”
- Catherine Bleish, founder and former executive director of the Liberty Restoration Project, railed against so-called “fusion centers” – terrorism response centers developed after the 9/11 attacks that are meant to help the FBI, CIA and other federal law enforcement services sift through domestic intelligence. For many nullification extremists, fear of terrorism has been eclipsed by fear of an overreaching government. The Department of Homeland Security, Bleish exclaimed, “needs to be nullified.” (Bleish was profiled by the SPLC in 2010 as a leader in the revitalized Patriot movement).
- Daniel Miller, president of the Texas National Movement, generated thunderous applause when he told the audience: “We are secessionists. The fire of the federal government seeks to consume you!” He was previously with the Republic of Texas, listed for years by the SPLC as an anti-government militia group. In his book Line in the Sand, Miller wrote, “The Federal Government is the stereotypical bully in every sense of the word. It bullies those it considers its own people. If they step out of line it uses threats, picks us off one at a time to make examples to the rest that they had better not stand up or else.” Interestingly, Miller thinks nullification isn’t a radical-enough strategy. Secession, he writes, “Is a total solution for a big problem.”
- Republican Texas state Rep. David Simpson, who has introduced legislation making airport security pat-downs and body scanners illegal, stated that America has a runaway government and that “we’ve settled for it and we’ve gone to sleep.”
- Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, told the group that a “citizens’ posse” formed as a militia “is necessary to secure a free state.” Oath Keepers is made up mostly of active-duty and retired law enforcement and military personnel who have pledged to disobey any order they believe conflicts with the Constitution, as a means of counteracting government repression and tyranny.
- Jack Blood, an Austin-based talk show host, said of Oath Keepers, “If we get cops and military on our side, we’ll make a lot of people nervous.”
- Art Thompson, chief executive officer of the ultra-right-wing John Birch Society, blessed this movement as the only nullification effort that “didn’t have a hidden agenda.” He also said, “Most Southerners were not pro-slavery.” The John Birch Society denounced the civil rights movement in the 1960s as a communist creation and believes a cabal of bankers and internationalists is plotting to absorb the United States into a global “New World Order” under the United Nations.
- Debra Medina, a pro-nullification candidate for Texas governor in 2010, endorsed a proposed Texas law “making it a crime for any official, agent, or employee of the United States, or an employee of any corporation, to enforce any part of the [federal] health care act in Texas, and imposes fines of up to $5,000 and/or five years in prison for anyone convicted of doing so.” If the feds try to enforce the health care bill in Texas, Medina promised, “We’ll lock you up!” During her 2010 campaign, she said of secession, “We are aware that stepping off into secession may in fact be a bloody war. … We understand that the tree of liberty is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”
- Thomas E. Woods, a former member of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South and the author of Nullification: How to Resist Tyranny in the 21st Century, asserted that the states created the federal government and that “the people are sovereign.” He supports an end to the Federal Reserve System. “It is beneath the dignity of a free people to keep on believing this stuff,” he said.