Thomas Naylor, Controversial Vermont Secessionist, Dies

Thomas Naylor, the man who founded and long led a left-leaning Vermont secessionist movement but simultaneously allied himself closely with racist Southern secessionists, died after a stroke in December. He was 76.

In 2003, Naylor founded the Second Vermont Republic (SVR), a group that aimed to break Vermont away from the union to form an independent nation, as it had been from 1777 to 1791. He wrote the “Vermont Manifesto,” which said that America “has truly lost its way” and no longer was a sustainable nation.

At first, the Vermont movement gained steam, particularly after George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, which was loathed by many in Vermont, a state with a strong progressive tradition. Naylor worked closely with Kirkpatrick Sale, a longtime leftist writer who headed the secessionist Middlebury Institute, in pursuit of a small-is-beautiful vision of Vermont. They argued that secession would lead to sustainability, more ecological balance, and an end to wars like that in Iraq.

But in 2005 Naylor and Sale began to work openly with Southern extremists, especially the Alabama-based League of the South (LOS). The LOS opposes interracial marriage, seeks to re-establish the “dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people,” describes slavery as “God-ordained” and proposes to create a theocracy in which some classes of people will have different rights than others. LOS leader and former professor Michael Hill regularly describes egalitarianism as a left-wing “Jacobin” horror, and he has privately mocked his black students’ names.

Naylor furiously defended the LOS when he was criticized for SVR’s close association with the group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and others, saying it was “absolutely” not racist and calling the SPLC a “hate-mongering, witch-hunting, left-leaning” group. He cited no errors in the SPLC’s reports.

And he went further. Naylor appeared twice on “The Political Cesspool,” a Tennessee-based radio show that specializes in friendly interviews with former Klansmen, Holocaust deniers and other white supremacists. He became an “associated scholar” at the LOS’s Abbeville Institute. He called Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a longtime liberal, a “world-class prostitute.” He brought in as SVR advisory board members Lincoln-bashing professor Thomas DiLorenzo, a member of a racist Italian secessionist group, and other similar characters.

In 2008, Naylor seemed finally to bend to his critics, at least slightly, saying that the LOS needed to distance itself from racism and hatred. He said it should renounce racism, recruit black members, bring in black speakers, promote racial unity and dispense with promoting the Confederate battle flag. 

But that was about that.

Naylor, who was born in the Deep South to a segregationist father, didn’t speak much about the LOS’s racism after that, and comments posted after his obituary ran in the Vermont blog Off Message simply continued the argument that raged while he lived: Was Thomas Naylor a good man with a few odd views? Or was he a simple racist, even if dressed in progressives’ clothing?