Co-Author: Frank L. Cocozzelli
Frank L. Cocozzelli writes a regular column on Roman Catholic conservatism at Talk2Action.org and is a contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. A former director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity, he is working on a book on American liberalism as well as documentary on Msgr. John A. Ryan’s quest for a living wage. See more of Frank’s writing here.
Behind the recent surge of nullification bills in state legislatures there is an ongoing battle for the soul of the GOP—and the future of the union itself. The nullification movement’s ideology is rooted in reverence for states’ rights and a theocratic and neo-Confederate interpretation of U.S. history. And Ron Paul, who is often portrayed as a libertarian, is the engine behind the movement.
Ron Paul speaking at a rally in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
“I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” —Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 19631
Nullification is once again a strategic weapon in the battle for states’ rights. Since 2010, state legislators have introduced nearly 200 bills—on eleven issues alone—challenging federal laws that they deem unconstitutional.2
Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.4
If there is a showdown, it may come in Kansas. In April 2013, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the Second Amendment Protection Act, which prohibits the enforcement of federal laws regulating guns produced and used within the state of Kansas.5 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has warned Brownback that the law is unconstitutional. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 37 other states.6 In September, the Missouri legislature narrowly failed to override the governor’s veto of a nullification bill that would have allowed for the arrest of federal agents attempting to enforce gun laws.7 At least nine states have announced that they will not issue military identification cards to same-sex spouses at 114 Army and Air National Guard facilities, refusing to comply with Department of Defense policy.8
Click here for the full profile on CSPOA
In addition to gun-control laws, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” has been a prime target of nullification activists. At least 20 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to nullify the ACA. In North Dakota, the bill became law. The original version of a bill introduced earlier this year in the South Carolina House would have made implementation of the ACA by state employees a crime punishable by a fine of up to a thousand dollars, two years imprisonment, or both.9 And the wave of challenges to federal law extends beyond the 50 state legislatures, spreading to county and local governments,10 including about 500 county sheriffs who have affirmed their commitment to “saying ‘no’ to Obama gun control.”11 [See related profile.]
But the movement’s significance cannot be measured by ordinances and proposed legislation alone. Though nullification bills have sometimes been dismissed as political theater,12 activists are organizing across the nation, and their work has real implications. They are mainstreaming interpretations of American history and law that delegitimize the regulatory role of the federal government—interpretations that have been central to the emergence of the Tea Party and to the recent Congressional battles over the federal budget.
Whatever its implications for electoral politics in the United States, though, the nullification movement is not limited to helping a particular party gain control of Congress or the presidency. Its goal is much more ambitious: to discredit and dismantle the federal government. Thus the movement’s rising popularity poses a dilemma for the Republican Party—and the nation more broadly. At stake are the definition and future of the union itself.
Warring Visions: Old Right vs. New Right
The resurgence of the nullification movement predates Barack Obama’s presidency and the emergence of the Tea Party. Indeed, the current tension is half a century in the making and has emerged from a struggle between the Old Right and the New Right, also known as “paleoconservatives” and “neoconservatives,” respectively.
In a collection of essays published in 1999, leading intellectuals of the Old Right described “paleoconservatism” as “a phrase that came into circulation during the 1980s, perhaps as a rejoinder to the rise of neoconservative influence on the American Right.”13 Identifying themselves as the true heirs of the Old Right’s ideology, these paleoconservatives included Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Allan Carlson, M.E. Bradford, Sam Francis, Thomas Fleming, and Murray Rothbard.
The struggle between these two camps—abbreviated as paleos and neocons—has often been bitter. Paleos accuse neocons of supporting open borders and being statists, globalists, and imperialists. Neocons, in turn, accuse paleos of being isolationist, racist, anti-Semitic, and inclined toward conspiratorial thinking.
Paleos embrace the charge of isolationism and identify as cultural conservatives, or traditionalists. As a paleo once described their principles, they “share the Founding Fathers’ distrust of standing armies, look to the original American foreign policy of isolationism as a guide to any post-Cold War era, and see the welfare state as a moral and Constitutional monstrosity.”14
Even paleos with libertarian leanings are usually antichoice, opposed to LGBTQ rights, and hostile to what they call “multiculturalism”—used interchangeably with the terms “Cultural Marxism” and “political correctness”—which they believe is a stealth effort to level society. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation produced a booklet in 2004 providing an account of the conspiracy that the organization claimed had infiltrated American society. This Marxist conspiracy was supposedly organized by a group of intellectuals—members of the Frankfurt School—who fled Nazi Germany and were exiles in the United States in the 1930s.15
In their media, paleos often recount with bitterness the pivotal events that resulted in decades of their marginalization by neoconservatives. One such event was William F. Buckley’s 1962 “excommunication” of the John Birch Society—a bastion of the Old Right—from the conservative movement.16 Another flashpoint was the firing of neoconservative Richard John Neuhaus in 1989 by the paleoconservative Rockford Institute. The firing followed Neuhaus’s accusations against Thomas Fleming—editor of the institute’s magazine—of “nativism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia”and “a penchant for authoritarian politics.”17 The Rockford Institute subsequently lost about $700,000 in funding from conservative foundations.
Despite such setbacks, paleos were far from idle during these decades. In 1992, a paleo alliance came together to support Patrick Buchanan’s GOP primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush’s bid for re-election. Buchanan’s supporters included Llewellyn “Lew” Rockwell Jr., founder of the paleoconservative Ludwig von Mises Institute; and anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard, the organization’s most prominent economist.18
In their Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Rothbard and Rockwell described Buchanan’s candidacy as “an unprecedented opportunity to forge a powerful paleo coalition, to create a new libertarian-conservative, Old Right movement that can grow, can become extraordinarily influential, and that can even take over the presidency within a short period of time.” The article included a reassurance that Ron Paul, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, had declined to run and was supporting Buchanan.19
The late Rothbard, who described himself as a member of the Old Right faction since 1946, was a Jewish New Yorker who supported Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party in 1948. Bemoaning the neoconservatives’ success in establishing themselves as the only right-wing alternative to the Left, Rothbard called for a resurgence of the Old Right to “repeal the twentieth century.” In the 1960s, Rothbard temporarily formed an alliance with the antiwar New Left, including Students for a Democratic Society.20 He later molded a paleo alliance limited to what he considered “good” libertarians. As described in a 1990 issue of the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, this would mean purging undesirable elements from the Libertarian Party, including “hippies, druggies, antinomians, and militantly anti-Christian atheists.”21
As their hopes for capturing the White House faded with Buchanan’s failed presidential bids in 1992 and 1996, paleos focused on building a movement opposed to both liberal and neoconservative “statists.” In 1995, inspired by the dissolution of the Soviet Union several years earlier, the Ludwig von Mises Institute hosted a conference on the legality and viability of secession. It was held in Charleston, SC. Following the conference, the Mises Institute published Secession, State, and Liberty, a collection of the proceedings that featured several of the institute’s scholars.22
A prominent paleoconservative had noted in 1987 that the waning of neoconservativism might in fact “bring forward a much harder and more radical right, with serious political prospects.” His quote was reprinted in a 2012 article in the American Conservative, co-founded by Patrick Buchanan.23 With the mainstreaming of nullification and secessionist rhetoric in recent years—and a well-organized movement to promote them—those words now seem prophetic.
The Ron Paul Revolution and “One Nation Indivisible”
Ron Paul’s retirement from Congress in 2012 did not end his political activism. The former U.S. Representative from Texas is developing a paleoconservative movement around his allies and the nonprofits that he has founded since 1976.24 The Ron Paul Revolution, as his supporters call it, provides the vital connective tissue for a small but growing network of organizations devoted to the cause of nullification.
Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.
Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26
He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.
Paul, who has been called the “father of the Tea Party,”27 has long been rooted in the paleoconservative Right, a world inhabited by a substantial number of neo-Confederates and theocrats. Though largely ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media, these connections are freely talked about in certain circles. For example, during Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, the former editor of Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate publication, endorsed Paul on his personal blog. He described Paul as being an honorary member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for at least 12 years, writing that he “has given countless speeches in front of Confederate flags for Southern Heritage groups and has never faltered from his defense of Dixie.”28 When Paul was initially confronted with the racist, reactionary, and conspiracy-filled commentary of newsletters published by his own organization in the 1980s and 1990s, he staunchly defended them—before changing course during the 2008 election and claiming that he had no knowledge of their content.29
The 1995 Mises Institute conference on secession included a session led by Paul, in which he applauded the willingness of Mises’s leadership to talk openly about secession, as opposed to those who were a “bit more shy” and talked in terms of the Tenth Amendment.30 In 2012, Paul confirmed his position on secession “as a deeply American principle” on his House of Representatives website.31 In a YouTube video posted in 2009 by one of his nonprofits, Campaign for Liberty, he blamed the notion of an “indivisible” nation on “avowed socialist” Francis Bellamy, author of the Pledge of Allegiance.32
The nonprofits and projects that comprise the Ron Paul Revolution are a vehicle for advancing the paleoconservative agenda, rebranded as libertarian, with young people as a special focus of the movement. Paul’s emphasis on liberty, along with his antiwar stance and opposition to federal marijuana laws, have obscured his ties to theocrats and neo-Confederates and have endeared him to a generation of young libertarians (and even some people on the Left). As Paul’s collaborator Lew Rockwell has written, “The young are increasingly with us. The neocons are yesterday’s men.”33
Youth appeal: libertarians and the Old Right join forces
The Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) is a prime example of nullification’s crossover appeal—that is, the energy the movement generates by casting itself as libertarian rather than paleoconservative in origins.
The TAC was founded in 2007 by Michael Boldin, a Californian whose libertarianism is rooted, he says, in objections to the Iraq War and to federal excesses in the “psychotic war on drugs.”34 The TAC is a source for model legislation, and it tracks the progress of nullification bills across the country. Its concerns span the political spectrum and include NSA spying, the Second Amendment, marijuana and hemp laws, the military’s use of drones, Obamacare, and environmental regulations, among other things.Its website offers a “Nullification Organizer’s Toolkit” with resources for activists. 35 Since the TAC is not registered as a nonprofit, little information is available about its finances, but it appears to function primarily as an internet-based organization with affiliates in most states.36
Click here for the full profile on the John Birch Society (JBS)
The TAC has promoted state nullification through its ongoing Nullify Now! tour of cities across the United States, starting in Ft. Worth, TX, in September 2010. The John Birch Society advertised the launch and has provided speakers.37 [See related profile for more about the John Birch Society’s role in the tour.] The most recent event was held in Raleigh, NC, in October 2013, and was co-sponsored by the League of the South, an Alabama-based organization founded in 1994 and dedicated to promoting states’ rights and Southern secession. In 1995, the League of the South published a “New Dixie Manifesto” in the Washington Post, calling for Southern states to take control of their own governments and oppose “the government’s campaign against our Christian traditions.”38
A previous Atlanta TAC event was sponsored by Ray McBerry, a candidate for governor of Georgia in 2010. McBerry is a former head of the Georgia League of the South and provides public relations for the Georgia Sons of the Confederacy. He was the top funder—at $250,000—of the Revolution political action committee that supported Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012.39
An important Tenth Amendment Center ally in nullification advocacy—Young Americans for Liberty (YAL)—was formed from the estimated 26,000 students who participated in Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.40 YAL recently announced the creation of its 500th campus chapter (at Cornell University) and claims to have 125,000 student activists. Its mission is to “cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates, and direction of our government.”41
Founded on the belief that “government is the negation of liberty,” YAL holds a national, invitation-only summit each year featuring Ron Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The 2013 event included a Senate Roundtable with Rand Paul, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Training partners for the YAL chapters include Ron Paul’s nonprofit Campaign for Liberty, along with Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. The latter two organizations were formed from the split of Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded in 1984 by Charles and David Koch. Ron Paul was its first chairman.42
YAL’s director of outreach is Jack Hunter, who was dismissed from Rand Paul’s Senate staff in July 2013 after his neo-Confederate beliefs—particularly his speaking persona as the Rebel flag-masked “Southern Avenger”—became a public controversy.43 Hunter, who has worked as Ron Paul’s official blogger and co-authored a book with Rand Paul, is a regular speaker on the Nullify Now! tour.44
The lead speaker of the Nullify Now! tour, Thomas E. Woods, isa partner in another Ron Paul venture. Woods, who has degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, is one of the producers of the Ron Paul Curriculum, a homeschooling program introduced in 2013. In a 1997 essay, Woods described the “War Between the States” as the South’s “struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself.” His author biography noted that he was “a founding member of the League of the South.”45
Woods wrote Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century—described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the “Bible of the movement”46—and he is the star of the film Nullification: The Rightful Remedy, which is being shown on the Nullify Now! tour. Since the 1990s, Woods has been a regular speaker at neo-Confederate events, and he was one of the contributors to the “American Secession Project,” which aims to “place the concept of secession in the mainstream of political thought.”47 His work has reached a general audience through his New York Times bestsellers—including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown—and regular appearances in conservative media.
A convert to Catholicism, Woods is also recognized for his books attacking the post-Vatican II church and promoting laissez-faire economics to Catholics.48 While headlining the Nullify Now! tour, he has shared the stage with state legislators across the country49 and has been referenced by legislators introducing nullification bills.50 In Idaho, GOP legislators distributed Woods’s book on nullification to their Democratic colleagues and to the governor.51
God, guns, and a Civil War theology
A consistent theme of the states’ rights and nullification movement is the sacralization of the Old South’s “lost cause.” In this interpretation of what is called the “War of Northern Aggression,” Abraham Lincoln is the great villain of American history—sometimes portrayed as a Marxist—whose intent was to establish an imperialistic federal government. Racism in America is described as a product of Reconstruction, rather than of slavery, which is defined as a benign and biblical institution.52 This interpretation has broad appeal beyond the South and across the religious spectrum, and its adherents include a surprising number of traditionalist Catholics.53
Photo taken in South Carolina by author Rachel Tabachnick in 2013
In an article in the Canadian Review of American Studies, Euan Hague and Edward Sebesta describe the interpretation as a “Civil War theology” that casts the Civil War as battle over the “future of American religiosity fought between devout Confederate and heretical Union states.”54 The article tracks this narrative from the Southern Presbyterian church of the Confederate era to its post-World War II revival by “Southern Agrarian” writers and, later, the late Christian Reconstructionist Rousas J. Rushdoony. It made its way into neo-Confederate magazines like Southern Partisan and religious publications like Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Report, and since then into popular books and media.
The sacralized “lost cause” of the South is often undergirded by Christian Reconstructionism—that is, the belief that the United States and other nations must be reconstructed and governed according to biblical law.55 Reconstructionism merges theocracy with laissez-faire capitalism, or “biblical economics,” to arrive at a vision of government that promotes biblically aligned law at the local level and a radically limited federal government. 56
This narrative has been a part of some Christian homeschooling and private-school curricula for decades. A Christian Reconstructionist text published in 1989 and still used today provides this summary of the events following the “War Between the States”:
After the war an ungodly Republican element gained control of the Congress. They wanted to centralize power and shape the nation according to their philosophy. In order to do this, they had to remove the force of Calvinism in America, which was centered in the South at this time, and rid the South, which was opposed to centralization, of its political power. They used their post-war control of Congress to reconstruct the South, pass the Fourteenth Amendment, and in many ways accomplish their goals.57
Rushdoony—the father of Christian Reconstructionism and a pioneer of the modern homeschooling movement—advocated localism and a “Protestant feudal restoration” as a “libertarian” alternative to central government.58 His work is in keeping with a long tradition of using religion to fight the New Deal specifically and the federal government’s regulatory power more broadly.59 As early as 1978, the newsletter of Rushdoony’s disciple and son-in-law, Gary North, had introduced nullification as a biblical way to fight the centralized “totalitarian State.”60
Christian Reconstructionism has also played a significant role in the ideology of the civilian militia movement. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America since 1976, was the “chief theoretician of the militia movement” of the 1990s.61 More recently, he has helped expand this potential source of armed resistance to the federal government to include elected county sheriffs across the nation. [See profile.]
In one of the early Christian Reconstructionist publications, Pratt contributed an essay titled “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” in which he claims that the Supreme Court has “taken the authority to find rights that never existed and taken away rights bestowed by God and set forth in the Constitution drawn up two hundred years ago.62 Militias are necessary, according to Pratt, because, “anti-Christian governments such as we have in the United States cannot be counted on to keep the peace.”63
Pratt’s book Safeguarding Liberty opens with the story of the Lincoln County, MT, militia being deputized by Sheriff Ray Nixon as a defense against the federal government.64 His 1990 book Armed People Victorious extols the virtue of armed citizen militias and uses the examples of Guatemala and the Philippines as a model for the United States.65 He has also traveled to Ireland to call for the Protestant population to arm itself and has promoted unregulated gun access in South Africa.
Pratt made news in 1996, when he was ousted as co-chair of Patrick Buchanan’s presidential campaign after being exposed for his role at White supremacist gatherings.66 More recently, Pratt spoke at the Southern Heritage Conference and was a sponsor (along with Ron Paul, the Chalcedon Foundation, and the Texas League of the South) of the Southern Historical Conference. Both are Christian Reconstructionist, neo-Confederate events.67
Pratt appeared in the political documentary Molon Labe: How the Second Amendment Guarantees America’s Freedom, which premiered in October 2013. The film, which also features Ron Paul and Patrick Buchanan, is about the “duty” of citizens to keep and bear arms as part of their militia responsibilities. According to the producer, “We the people will never regain the power of the purse or the power of the sword until and unless we re-establish the 50 Militias in each and every one of our 50 states.”68 The film is part of a series starring Paul and Buchanan. Other films include one about the possibility of a third party winning the presidency. Another is titled Cultural Marxism.
The Movement’s Think Tanks
The work of developing the intellectual underpinnings of the nullification movement—and reviving neo-Confederate ideology—is taking place at two influential think tanks, the Abbeville Institute and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The former’s work is largely behind the scenes; the latter is intensely popular among fans of Ron Paul.
The Mises Institute has a multi-million dollar budget and claims 350-plus faculty and donors in 80 countries.69 Based in Auburn, AL, it touts its website as the “most trafficked institutional economics site in the world.”70 Mises was founded in 1982 by Lew Rockwell Jr., former Congressional chief of staff for Ron Paul and creator of the popular LewRockwell.com blog. He credits several people with helping to found the think tank, including Ron Paul. Rockwell has served on the national board of advisors for the Southern Heritage Society and describes himself as the only “copperhead” on the board.71
The Abbeville Institute is named for the birthplace of John C. Calhoun, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina known for his role in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and as an outspoken supporter of slavery and secession. The institute has a post office box in McClellan, SC, and an annual budget of less than $200,000 dollars, but it hosts an influential annual scholars’ conference and summer program.
Abbeville was founded in 2003 by an Emory University philosophy professor, Donald Livingston, who also founded and led the League of the South’s educational arm.72 Abbeville claims to have about a hundred affiliated scholars, though only about three dozen are listed publicly on its website. Most of the scholars are college and university faculty, and many have also been affiliated with the League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.73 Time described Abbeville’s group of scholars as the “Lincoln loathers,” and a Chronicle of Higher Education article summed up their online lectures: “Abraham Lincoln is not the Great Emancipator; he is Dishonest Abe, a president hellbent on creating a big central government, even if that meant waging war.”74
In 2009, the Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference focused on the superior religiosity of the South. It was held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. According to the conference summary, “Northerners became progressively liberal and secular, the political doctrine of human rights replacing the Gospel in importance and in doing so lost influence; whereas Southerners and their section remained orthodox and flourished in Christian and humanitarian influence.” 75
In 2010, the Abbeville Institute hosted “State Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order.” It featured speakers affiliated with Abbeville and Mises, including Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and leaders from the Second Vermont Republic and the Middlebury Institute.76 FEE is the “grandaddy of all libertarian organizations,” with a founding board of directors that included the creator of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch.77 Before going to FEE, Reed was president for 20 years of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, one of the first and largest of the state free-market think tanks. Reed has been described as having “nurtured so many state policy groups that he has been called the movement’s Johnny Appleseed.”78
The 2010 Abbeville event was promoted by the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center.79 Speakers focused on the “peaceful secession” of states from the Soviet Union as a model. “Nullification and secession were understood by the Founders as remedies to unconstitutional acts of the central government,” according to an ad for the event. “Yet over a century of nationalist indoctrination and policy has largely hidden this inheritance from public scrutiny. The aim of the conference is to recover an understanding of that part of the American tradition and to explore its intimations for today.”80
Mises and Abbeville have several scholars in common, including Livingston, Woods, and Thomas DiLorenzo, all of whom have been affiliated with the League of the South and are regulars on the neo-Confederate speaking circuit. Livingston and DiLorenzo are both listed as faculty for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ education arm.81
Their books and media have gone mainstream, and they make regular appearances in a variety of media venues, including Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. DiLorenzo’s 2003 book The Real Lincoln became one of the top-selling selections of the Conservative Book Club.82 These scholars are also called on to testify as “experts” before legislative bodies. Livingston, for example, was invited by South Carolina Rep. Bill Chumley to testify before the state legislature in February 2013 in support of nullifying the Affordable Care Act.83
The Conservative Schism and the GOP’s Dilemma
The nullification movement, cloaked in the language of liberty, poses a serious challenge to conservatives and the Republican Party. The New Right infrastructure developed over the last several decades has an ongoing agenda of shifting power from the federal government to the states, but it has generally avoided promoting nullification. In 2012, The Heritage Foundation published a forceful denunciation of nullification, titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.”84 (This was prior to Jim DeMint’s arrival as head of Heritage. DeMint, a Tea Party leader and former Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina, is now deviating from previous positions held by the conservative foundation.85 The new Heritage Action, formed in 2010, took a leading role in promoting the 2013 government shutdown and, as a senator, DeMint called for governors to refuse to implement the ACA.)86 In 2013, the libertarian Cato Institute also began warning about the limits of nullification.87 It recently expressed concern about the rise of “Confederate-defenders” gaining traction in libertarianism,88 and posted a video that warned viewers not to be seduced by neo-Confederate ideology.89
In particular, the GOP’s hopes to expand its coalition and attract more minorities are threatened by the radicalism of the Ron Paul Revolution. For example, Paul has signed a proclamation calling for an end to public education, 90 and his book The School Revolution, published in 2013, also calls for the abolition of public schools. He stresses home-schooling as an essential part of his vision—and has a Christian Reconstructionist, Gary North, serving as the director of the new Ron Paul Curriculum for homeschoolers. A Mises scholar and former Congressional staffer from Paul’s first term in the House, North has written that he is “trying to lay the biblical foundations of an alternative society to humanism’s present social order.”91
An example of Paul’s ability to use his libertarian brand to promote reactionary ideas and organizations—and cause headaches for the Republican Party—was the Rally for the Republic, his GOP counter-convention, held in Minneapolis in 2008. As the Republican National Convention took place across the river, an estimated 10,000 people gathered to cheer their hero and a roster of speakers, including one special, secret guest. The rally’s emcee, Tucker Carlson, was surprised by the special guest’s identity—John McManus, longtime president of the JBS—and declined to introduce him. Carlson was “apparently scandalized at the prospect of introducing someone from the JBS,” according to a JBS account of the event. McManus nonetheless took the stage and closed his well-received speech by saying, “If you like Ron Paul, you’ll love the John Birch Society.”92 A few weeks after his 2008 Rally for the Republic, Paul gave the keynote speech at JBS’s 50th anniversary.93
Paul and the nullification movement pose challenges for progressives, too, who face the temptation of using state nullification as a way to counter the federal government on multiple issues, including privacy violations, marijuana laws, and the military’s use of drones. Whatever the short-term gains it might yield, collaboration with paleoconservatives could strengthen the position of “tenthers” (a term used by many nullification advocates to describe themselves, referring to their reverence for the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) who would use their interpretation of states’ rights to restrict civil liberties.
Partly because of its broad appeal, the nullification movement continues to escalate, and its base is expanding. Right-wing radicalism is hardly a new phenomenon in American society, but its modern manifestation is unprecedented since the era of resistance to school integration. Those threatening to resist federal law and regulation are no longer just patriot militias in camouflage, training in isolation in the woods. They are elected county sheriffs, politicians, and state legislators, declaring that their resistance to the federal government is grounded in their interpretation of the Constitution and U.S. history. Understanding the ideology behind their work is crucial to navigating the challenges that lie ahead.
This article will be featured in the upcoming issue of The Public Eye magazine.
2 These issues are the Affordable Care Act, food regulation, government-issued identification cards, gun control, marijuana laws, the Federal Reserve, the use of the National Guard, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Transportation Security Administration, and “war on terror” concerns such as privacy violations and the use of drones by the U.S. government. See the Tenth Amendment Center’s “Action Center Home,” http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com; and the National Conference on State Legislatures, “State Legislation and Actions Challenging Certain Health Reforms,” www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-laws-and-actions-challenging-ppaca.aspx.
3 Samuel Hutchinson Beer, To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 313.
7 Leslie Bentz and George Howell, “Missouri lawmakers fail to override governor’s gun bill veto,” CNN, Sept. 12, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/09/11/us/missouri-gun-laws-challenge, and David Neiwert, “Missouri Gun-Law ‘Nullification’ Bill Had Roots in ’90s ‘Patriot’ Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Sept. 18, 2013, http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/09/18/missouri-gun-law-nullification-bill-had-roots-in-90s-patriot-movement.
11 “Growing List Of Sheriffs, Associations and Police Chiefs Saying ‘No’ to Obama Gun Control,” Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, July 31, 2013, http://cspoa.org/sheriffs-gun-rights.
13 The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right, ed. Joseph Scotchie (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999), 1.
14 Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 5.
16 William F. Buckley Jr.,” Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me,” Commentary, Mar. 1, 2008, www.commentarymagazine.com/article/goldwater-the-john-birch-society-and-me; and Murray N. Rothbard, “A Strategy for the Right,” LewRockwell.com, Jan. 1992, http://archive.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/ir/Ch1.html.
18 The Mises Institute is the hub of the “Austrian School” of economics.
19 Murray N. Rothbard and Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., “For President: Pat Buchanan,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Jan. 1992, 1.
21 Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 7.
22 David Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1998). Contributors also included Donald Livingston, Clyde Wilson, Hans-Hermanne Hoppe, and Thomas DiLorenzo, https://mises.org/store/Secession-State-and-Liberty-P88.aspx.
24 In 1976 Paul founded the nonprofit Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, which publishes “Ron Paul’s Freedom Report.” A recently established project of that foundation is the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Two nonprofits—Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty—emerged from Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.
25 Ranking based on common space scores explained in Keith T. Poole, “Recovering a Basic Space From a Set of Issue Scales,” American Journal of Political Science (July 1998), 954-993. The 2004 ranking showed Ron Paul as the most conservative of the 3,320 legislators tracked since 1937. “Is John Kerry A Liberal?” Voteview.com, Oct. 13, 2004, http://voteview.com/is_john_kerry_a_liberal.htm.
27 Paul has taken credit for initiating the Tea Party and was labeled “father of the Tea Party” in a book by that title in 2011. The author, Jason Rink, was also the producer and director of the movie Nullification: The Rightful Remedy.
44 Hunter is the co-author, with Rand Paul, of The Tea Party Goes to Washington, and he wrote the “Paulitical Ticker” blog for Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign. He introduced Thomas Woods when he spoke about nullification at CPAC in 2011, at a session sponsored by Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty. Tom Woods, “Tom Woods on Rollback, CPAC 2011,” YouTube, Feb. 11, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcAX0oX9ANU.
47 Woods is author of Secessionist No. 10, titled “Secede!” http://archive.lewrockwell.com/orig/woods3.html. He has been featured at numerous neo-Confederate events hosted by League of the South and the Southern Historical Conference, the latter hosted by the Texas League of the South members in conjunction with the Bonnie Blue Ball. Woods and Ron Paul spoke at the premiere event in 2003.
48 These include The Church and the Market (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005), which won the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Award.
51 Scott Logan, “Nullification sails through House committee,” KBOI TV, Jan. 26, 2011, http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/114683304.html; Ian Millhiser, “Idaho Lawmakers Cite Founder Of Neo-Confederate Hate Group To Justify Plan To Nullify Health Reform,” ThinkProgress, Jan. 21, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/01/21/140123/tom-woods-idaho.
52 See for example the pamphlet Southern Slavery: As it Was (Canon Press, 1996) by Christian Reconstructionists Steven Wilkins and Douglas Wilson. Wilkins is also a former board member of League of the South and the founder of the Southern Heritage Society.
53 Many major leaders are Catholic, including Thomas Woods, Lew Rockwell, Thomas DiLorenzo, and League of the South co-founder Thomas Fleming. See Frank Cocozzelli, “Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right,” Talk to Action, May 1, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/5/1/163858/0598; and Frederick Clarkson, “A Talk to Action Anthology on Nullification and Secession”, Talk to Action, Sept. 12, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/7/9/03849/39753.
54 Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American History (2002), www.theocracywatch.org/civil_war_canadian_review.htm. See also Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, and Edward H. Sebesta, eds., Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).
56 See, for example, the story of Micah Hurd, a 24-year-old Texan who recently left the National Guard to join a local militia: Bud Kennedy, “In Texas, if at first you can’t secede, try — joining a militia?,” Star-Telegram, Sept. 7, 2013, www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/07/5142554/in-texas-if-at-first-you-cant.html.
57 Mark A. Beliles and Stephen K. McDowell, America’s Providential History (The Providence Foundation, 1989), 243.
58 Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Ross House Books, 2002). Originally published in 1965.
59 See Michael McVicar, “Reconstructing America: Religion, American Conservatism, and the Political Theology of Rousas John Rushdoony” (Ph.D. diss.,The Ohio State University, 2010), and Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009).
60 Tom Rose, “How to Reclaim the American Dream Via Constitutional and Christian Reconstruction,” Biblical Economics Today (Apr./May 1978), A-8, A-9.
61 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1997), 103.
62 Lawrence Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance” in Gary North, ed. Christianity and Civilization: The Theology of Christian Resistance. No. 2., (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 436.
63 Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” 442.
64 Larry Pratt, ed., Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution & Citizen Militias (Franklin TN: Legacy Communications, 1995), p. ix.
65 Larry Pratt, Armed People Victorious, (Springfield, VA: Gun Owners Foundation, 1990). Reconstructionists promoted their ideology in Guatemala following the 1982 coup of Efraín Rios Montt, who was supported by many in the U.S. Christian Right. Rios Montt was tried and found guilty for genocide in 2013, but the guilty verdict was overturned in May 2013. “The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez,” Open Society Justice Initiative, www.riosmontt-trial.org.
66 Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, 21.
72 According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Livingston left the League of the South because of its increasingly overt racism. Livingston insists that there is nothing racist about the scholarship of his institute.
76 The Second Vermont Republic and Middlebury Institute, founded by Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale, represent the “left” wing of the secession movement. However, both embraced much of the neo-Confederate ideology of their secessionist partners.
77 Gary North in Gary Galles, ed., Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read (Baltimore: Laissez Faire Books, 2013).
79 FEE is the senior organization of this group, founded in 1946 with funding from J. Howard Pew and others, to roll back the reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. FEE became a vehicle for the sacralization of unfettered free market ideology while opposing the minimum wage, labor regulations, and Social Security. Ludwig von Mises was on the staff and wrote for its publication, Freeman. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Reconstructionist Gary North became a regular contributor to Freeman, providing a theological foundation to the publication’s Christian libertarian philosophy. North compiled some of his Freeman contributions into his 1973 volume, An Introduction to Christian Economics. There has been significant overlap between FEE and the JBS, as there has been with the JBS, Reconstructionism, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
91 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), ix. For a description of the book and a link to the full text in pdf format, see www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/21f2_47e.htm.
92 “John McManus Rocks the Rally for the Republic,” John Birch Society, Sept. 2, 2008, www.jbs.org/presidents-corner/john-mcmanus-rocks-the-rally-for-the-republic. Paul has a long history with the John Birch Society. He was featured in a JBS movie in 1998 supporting his American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which he introduced in 1997 and reintroduced in 2009, calling for the United States to end participation in the United Nations. The movie included John McManus and schismatic traditionalist Catholic leaders, known for their narratives about the New World Order plot of “Judeo-Masonic” conspirators. See “Ron Paul to Keynote Catholic Traditionalist Summit with NeoFascist and Overtly Anti-Semitic Speakers,” Talk To Action, Aug. 23, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/8/23/144536/636. On Sept. 11, 2013, Paul keynoted a conference led by these same schismatic Catholics. McManus was also on the program.