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Europe has been roiled by Brexit. Already, there are rumblings of a French exit from the EU ("Frexit"). Far-right movements in the Netherlands and Germany have pushed for "Nexit" and "Dexit," for Deutschland, respectively.
Could the chaos-causing -exit suffix fad also be heading to the U.S.?
Well, sort of. Britain’s surprising decision to leave the European Union is breathing new life into secessionist movements in the United States, with some activist groups, individuals and lawmakers across the country calling for their own version of the so-called “Brexit.”
How legitimate these movements are is another story. After all, the situations on the two sides of the Atlantic are quite different. The U.K. is a sovereign nation that voted to leave the multinational European Union, a political and economic union of other sovereign member states. That's very different than one of America's 50 states declaring itself a new nation.
The secession calls are mostly in states that have had maverick histories or fringe movements that have previously called to cut ties from America. Think Texas, a sovereign country from 1836 to 1846, California, Alaska, New Hampshire and Hawaii. In fact, hashtags like #Texit, #Calexit, #Alaskexit, #NHexit have been flourishing on Twitter. Sure, many of those references are being used with a joking wink — but the renewed motivation is very real to some.
For many Texans, secession is a long-held dream. Just two months ago, at the Texas Republican Convention, state delegates had a tense floor debate around a motion to secede that had passed through a special committee. It failed, but represented how far the idea had come from the fringe. The latest secessionist calls have just stirred up more buzz. The Texas Nationalist Movement, a 12-year-old group that wants the Lone Star State to be politically, culturally and economically independent, is now calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to support a British-style vote there. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment.
Daniel Miller, president of TNM, said thousands of people have signed up to be volunteers for the group since the vote. “People are looking across the Atlantic and seeing it’s possible. It’s moved a lot of wind from the sails of our critics,” he said.
The Yes California Independence Campaign has praised Britain’s exit as a “shining example” of the right for self-determination. Louis Marinelli, who leads the group, said that since Brexit, 300 to 400 new members have signed a pledge of support on the group’s website. He hopes to amass a team to collect enough signatures for a ballot initiative for California secession by 2020. Marinelli said of the vote in Britain, “We now have an example of how it can be done legally and peacefully,” scoffing at critics who point to the Civil War as reason why it wouldn’t work.
New Hampshire is also interested in exploring other opportunities. According to the Concord Monitor, 13 members of a newly-formed New Hampshire group, “NHexit” gathered in Manchester over the weekend to urge the state to cut ties with the United States. “If Britain can do it, New Hampshire can do it,” the group’s website says.
Secession, however, borders on impossible, experts say. John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, described the latest calls “nonsensical, absolutely uninformed and at the end of the day dangerous,” noting most states depend on things like federal subsidies and security. Not to mention, he noted, that states are constitutionally barred from seceding under the 1869 Supreme Court case Texas v. White.
Still, Brexit offers motivation. Staten Island city councilman Joe Borelli called the British vote “inspiring” and wants Staten Island to begin having a conversation about potential secession from the five boroughs of New York City, citing divides on several issues including policing, the minimum wage and affordable housing. It’s not a new idea. In 1993, the majority — 65 percent — of Staten Island voters said they were in favor of an independent city charter, which was eventually blocked by the state Assembly.
Borelli called for new polling on the issue in Staten Island, nicknamed by some as the “Forgotten Borough.” Brexit, he said, has “led me and some other people to re-think about the values of self-governing.”