The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

‘Nullification’ Conference Attracts Far-Right Extremists

By Hatewatch Staff on October 24, 2011 - 4:56 pm, Posted in Antigovernment

On the eve of a Nullification Now! conference in Jacksonville, Fla., last week, the Tenth Amendment Center issued a warning: The Southern Poverty Law Center was sending someone to report that “those of us who want political decentralization as the Constitution requires [are] ‘dangerous.’” Then, when the conference began, every speaker repeated the warning. Someone from the SPLC was there, they said.

And you know what? We were.

We were there when Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes warned that the federal government was laying the groundwork to freely kill American citizens. We were there when John Bush, who runs the Foundation for a Free Society in Austin, Texas, stoked the audience’s already inflamed fears that a one-world government was coming in the form of a U.N. plan for sustainable growth. We were there when Doug Tjaden, director of the Sound Money Center, called for the nullification of the Federal Reserve. “Nullification of any federal law will only have long lasting effect if we take away the bankers’ ability to buy back our liberty,” he said with a thump of his fist on the podium.

Roughly 100 people attended the conference organized by the Los Angeles-based Tenth Amendment Center, a group focused on how to weaken the reach of the federal government through nullification. Their central idea—that each state has the constitutional right to invalidate and disregard virtually any federal law—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, and flies in the face of more than two centuries of jurisprudence.

Much of the conference seemed to be focused on distancing the movement from those members of the extreme right that tend to be the most attracted to the nullification concept.

That’s hard to do when the League of the South (LOS) has a table at the event, which it did. It was attended by Michael Tubbs, a former Green Beret demolitions expert who, in 1987, robbed two fellow soldiers of their M-16 rifles during a routine exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C., in the name of the Ku Klux Klan. Tubbs is president of the Florida chapter of the LOS, which envisions a second Southern secession and holds to a distinctly white supremacist ideology.

There were also representatives from groups advocating for the legalization of raw milk—to limit the government’s regulatory power to ensure food safety—and for the Oath Keepers, a group that peddles antigovernment “Patriot” paranoia about federal tyranny.

The force behind much of that paranoia is Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale-educated lawyer who founded Oath Keepers. Rhodes cautioned that the recent killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, U.S.-born Muslim cleric who had been designated by the U.S. government as a global terrorist, was merely a preview of what will eventually befall Americans citizens at home. Assassination? Kidnapping? Internment? All will be possible in the tyrannical future the far right fears is unavoidable. “I’m not being paranoid. I’m just connecting the dots,” Rhodes said. “It will be done at home. Mark my words.”

It’s not surprising that such a ragtag mix of extreme ideologies would find common ground under the banner of nullification. The idea is universally applicable to any idea that defines the federal government as evil—or any regulation that is disliked. And its appeal has grown explosively in recent years. 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—and in more extreme cases hung that authority on the approval of the county sheriff.

The highlight of the day was Thomas E. Woods Jr., the author of Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century. He argued that nullification was the principle tool of the northern abolitionists who combated slavery—a fact, he said, the progressive left conveniently dismisses.

Woods couldn’t avoid calling out the SPLC “agent provocateur” in the audience. To do so, he somewhat mockingly employed Godwin’s Law to dismiss any criticism of nullification. Godwin’s Law states, essentially, that as any discussion progresses, the odds increase that someone will eventually invoke Hitler. Woods warned that the SPLC and others would seek to marginalize nullification by creating negative associations.

Woods was once a member of the LOS and remains a senior fellow at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, a conservative think tank in Auburn, Ala., that views social justice as destructive. Who needs Hitler when paranoid antigovernment figures, hair-trigger Aryan militants and an academic extremist are there to glad-hand the audience?

  • Mr. Raven

    Yeah how dare those right wing extremists try to nullify Federal marijuana laws, and the Patriot Act?

    I notice those the pro Federal government power people here at the SPLC strenuously avoid the fact that nullification is based on the actions and writing of Thomas Jefferson.

    And least you think I am a right wing extremist in fact I am a left wing market anarchist. I will however take the nullfiers belief in return power to more the more decentralized and accountable states to SPLC’s uncritical embrace of centralizing power in the hands of the state capitalist imperialist nation state any day of the week. Oh and you can take your labeling of Earth First! and black block anarchists as hate groups as well and shove it!

  • Chris

    What fascinates me about the reaction to this is that no one acknowledges the presence of the LOS and the Oath Keepers. When you associate with hate groups, sorry Charlie, but you have to deal with that too. And let’s stop pretending that “WE WERE JUST DISCUSSING A LEGAL CONCEPT” is a rational response to this. It was a radical right-wing conspiracy theorist conference. Like it or not. Deal with it.

  • William Moore

    I’m not sure how a conference on nullification ends up on your “hate watch.” How is a legal process considered hate. Get a life.

  • Steve Palmer

    SPLC, I’m not clear on your position with regards to the personal freedom laws? Were the northern states justified in nullifying the federal fugitive slave acts or should they have complied with federal law by forcibly returning (accused) escaped slaves to their states of origin without any due process?

    Similarly, if someone had thought of it, would the states have been justified in nullifying the requirement to report to Japanese internment camps during WWII?

    How ’bout in the original, 1798, context of nullification. Should the states have resisted the Alien & Sedition acts or just buried their heads in the sand, helplessly, while their citizens went to jail for their political beliefs?

    Something tells me that if there’s an (R) winner in 2012 and a couple of new members on the Supreme Court, SPLC is going to be nullification’s best friend…

    And you’ll be right. After all, we find unconstitutional actions on both sides of the aisle. As Jefferson wrote, “where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy”

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Bill, I’m a real “commie” and from time to time my comments don’t appear due to moderation. Can you imagine how many comments they actually get vs. the number that can be displayed here?

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL Aron

    No, Bill.

    It’s called moderation. For example, if people were verbally attacking me in the comments, and saying nothing else, I would expect the moderators to prefer their comments from appearing.

    Once again, get a clue.

  • Citizen Bill

    NOT ALL OPINIONS ARE ABLE TO BE EXPRESSED HERE!!! Why would anyone expect anything different from a group of commies. You really don’t want the problem solved but the chaos to continue…

  • ModerateMike

    Mr. Encarcion,

    Your post was quite a pleasant surprise, but in observing the trend in state-level immigration laws, I would deem it likely that the states would attempt to nullify any federal legislation that provided any kind of amnesty (let alone open borders), even for the subset of undocumented immigrants that would be covered by the Dream Act. Do you disagree?

  • ModerateMike

    Mr. Snitker,

    If you believe that it is wrong to lump people into groups, then why did you declare everyone at SPLC to be racists and cowards?

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Correction to the above: …banning or restriction of abortion and gay marriage, as well as the preservation of segregation until the federal government got involved.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    You guys can speak about cases where nullification helped fight slavery, but in general, history shows that States rights tends to favor regressive laws, such as banning or restriction of abortion, gay marriage, and segregation.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “So sad when the SPLC doesn’t see they are still bound by the chains of National Debt and Government interference in their lives. You really don’t know what it’s like to be a free and responsible individual.”

    By all means, explain what it is then. I’m sure we can find all kinds of ways you benefit from government interference.

    “You can only think in terms of the collective, a sure sign that you are communist in nature”

    Humans are social animals. Had we not thought “collectively”, we would never have survived.

    .” Well, there’s no place for communism in the United States.”

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Many pioneer communities adopted a communist(little c) style of living, as it was the only way to survive.

    “Try reading the Constitution and studying the history of this great country.”

    You should do the same.

    ” You focus too much on group rights and miss entirely the rights of the individual.”

    The problem with individual rights is that they presuppose an equality that does not exist in capitalist society. The “individual” as we think of it is also not an objective thing, but rather a social construct. It may be a positive thing, but it’s not something we should attach romantic notions to.

    ” Still, you know how to spin a story with the best of the leftist, Marxists. You just have no idea that you forge your own chains. So many people died to free the slaves and yet you turn back to embrace your servitude and Master, the Almighty Government. Shame!”

    Yes, we’re all sheep and YOU know what’s REALLY going on! Oh I only wish I had your insight so I could enrich my life by constantly being afraid of everything.

  • Alexander Snitker

    You should really look at the Southern Poverty Law Center when you are looking for a hate group. You guys are the real racists. Nullify Now was attended by a group of people that looks at Americans as individuals and does not lump them into groups like you do. I challenge you to debate someone like Tom Woods about racism or hate.

    You would lose and you know it. That is why you did not announce yourself there. You people are cowards and exactly the reason this country is in the shape it is in. I personally don’t know how you sleep at night.

  • Audra

    Mr. Lenz is absolutely correct. All 14+ states who’ve used nullification to legalize medical cannabis within their states’ borders are clearly hateful, right wing extremists.

    Patients’ rights and affordable medical care should always remain secondary to the compassionate model of centralized, one-size-fits-all federal legislation, per the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

    Keep raiding those dispensaries, President Obama! They were voted for and supported by hateful, right wing extremists!

  • tonebone

    The Federal Government has surpassed, in every way, what the Founding Fathers and the people that fought along side them were fighting against.- A tyrannical group of greed-driven sociopaths, bent on draining every bit of life from its citizens and land.

    The constitution and Bill of Rights are now being touted by those oppressors as a terrorist manifesto. Along with the likes of Rachel Maddow et al.

    It makes me sad to know that my son will never live to see a truly free America, but rather a police-state, put in place by miscreants and lovingly watched by idiot ‘progressives’ that aren’t able to look deeper into life than even the skin on their own noses.

  • Gregory

    Bravo, SPLC. It looks like you hit a nerve. Half the conference attendees have posted already, adding a bit of comedy to my day.

  • Daniel Encarnacion

    I am an attendee to the conference, and while I can’t speak for the others who were there, yes I do support a complete open border policy with immigration not unlike the one we had in the 19th century (at least to European immigrants). An important cornerstone of freedom and liberty is the freedom to travel across borders.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AronL Aron

    Yes, Carolyn! Let’s start banning political parties! Because SoCiAlIsTs never did any good for anybody!

    Right?

    You folks need to get a grip.

    Aron

  • Ian

    Forgive the pedantry, but words like “national debt” and “government” are not proper nouns, no matter what David-Wynn:Miller says.

  • ModerateMike

    I see that a number of the conference attendees, and some who have commented here, have cited resistance to slavery as an example of how nullification can be an act of morality and compassion if it is used to protect the rights of individuals. I take it, then, that you vigorously oppose the breakup of families and the increased government interference in people’s lives that has resulted from federal and state-level immigration laws?

  • A Duffy

    It’s very unfortunate that you write “There were also representatives from groups advocating for the legalization of raw milk—to limit the government’s regulatory power to ensure food safety…” Advocating for the legalization of raw milk is not equivalent to advocating for limiting the government’s power to “ensure food safety”. Many people who believe raw milk regulations should be relaxed (such as myself) believe the government is not regulating milk correctly, not that they government shouldn’t be involved in food safety. There is enough research and information available on the web that I don’t need to make those arguments here. The point of my message is that by equating folks who want access to raw milk to anti-government groups and extremist, you have undercut the legitimacy of your whole blog post. There may have been people at the conference advocating for limiting the governments role in food safety and they may have been using raw milk as a case study, but it’s not fair to group those people with everyone who believes milk should be regulated different… which you do in the way you wrote this blog entry.

  • Andrew S.

    this guy spoke at my law school last year… as did a Center for Immigration Studies speaker and a speaker asserting that “the New Black Panther voter intimidation case proves that Obama is racist against white people.” .

    Woods did compare his critics to Hitler/Nazi’s.

  • Carolyn

    So sad when the SPLC doesn’t see they are still bound by the chains of National Debt and Government interference in their lives. You really don’t know what it’s like to be a free and responsible individual. You can only think in terms of the collective, a sure sign that you are communist in nature. Well, there’s no place for communism in the United States. Try reading the Constitution and studying the history of this great country. You focus too much on group rights and miss entirely the rights of the individual. Still, you know how to spin a story with the best of the leftist, Marxists. You just have no idea that you forge your own chains. So many people died to free the slaves and yet you turn back to embrace your servitude and Master, the Almighty Government. Shame!

  • Steven G. Poyzer

    Freedom of the press is not freedom to libel. One would hope you can substantiate every one of these allegations and accusations.

  • Paul

    One of the speakers talked about how nullification was used to free a fugitive slave in Wisconsin who had been taken into custody by federal marshals. Any reason you didn’t mention that?

  • Bernie LaForest

    You identify some positions as extreme but do not give your point of view, which I would suppose to be mainstream.
    It is historical fact that Wsconsin in fact nullified the fugitive slave act after the citizenry freed runaway slave Joshua Glover. Sherman Booth was charged in aiding Joshus’s escape and Wisconsin refused to prosecute in direct violation of the SCOTUS.

    It is also true that this administration in open testimony before congress has stated that the president is within his powers as chief executive to order the assassination of American citizens that are allegedly tied to terrorism. No due process or evidentiary hearings are necessary.

    Anwr Al-awlaki was the first to feel the humane touch of a predator launched hellfire missile. This despite the fact that a grand jury failed to return an indictment after being presented with the evidence that tied him toMajor Hassan, the Ft. Hood murderer. The Director of National Intelligence testified before a congressional hearing that there are dozens of people on the presidents “hit list”.

    Without due process, which I was confident your group understood, and evidentiary hearings of any kind being required; it would seem that there are a couple dozen American citizens in danger of a unilateral decision by the chief executive to take them out.

    A rather low threshold to meet, I would say.

  • CIA Jon

    how do you ever talk to these people?

  • MIke Maharrey

    Interesting that Ryan failed to mention the presentation I made on Joshua Glover and his trip along the underground railroad. Of course, that doesn’t really fit the template, now does it?

    If anybody cares to actually find out the truth about what we believe at the Tenth Amendment Center, or whether we actually hate anybody, I would encourage you to email me at michael.maharrey@tenthamendmentcenter.com. I will be more than happy to answer any questions and engage in a respectful exchange of ideas, something that Ryan was apparently unwilling to actually do during the event.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Maharrey
    National Communications Director
    TAC

  • James Tallis

    Hmm. Funny. I heard a guy spend nearly a half hour at that event talking about how nullification was used as a tool to resist slavery.

    Did you forget, or omit – THAT speech?

    And 100 people? That’s nearly absurd. I can post some links to pictures and people can count. It wasn’t huge, but anything under 200 is just idiotic to say.

  • Matthew Bright

    A gathering of cranks and haters, to be sure. Sometimes I wish they would secede.

    However, I would like to see raw milk available. Because you just can’t get decent cheese in the US, and that’s a shame.