It is critical to the preservation of the American democracy that we face the fact that we remain under constant attack by Russian interference, and also that we understand exactly how that interference works. A prime example can be found in the Texas secessionist movement.
The secessionist movement has been going strong since the 1990s and has always embraced aspects of fascism. The face of the modern movement is the Texas Nationalist Movement founded by Daniel Miller, which grew out of the old Republic of Texas ran by Richard McLaren. A close look at the group’s activities shows that they are willingly allied with Russian attempts to break American democracy through disinformation and the promotion of violent fringe beliefs.
Kristoffer Harrison at The Bulwark put together an exhaustive look at the ways the TNM is tied to Russia. The most damning connection is that in 2015 TNM attended a gathering of global extremists organized by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Rodina party. Attendees included delegates from the fascist United Kingdom National Front Party, failed French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, prominent American white ethnostate advocate Jared Taylor and finally, Nate Smith, TNM’s executive director.
Smith used his time at the conference to promote the idea of Texas secession, and the Russian troll farms immediately started promoting the idea widely. Russian bots sent out hundreds of tweets calling for “Free Texas.”
“For Russians, this was delicious payback. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago, many Russians have come to blame the United States for their plight; a seething resentment over U.S. culpability in the loss of Russian national power is one of the reasons Vladimir Putin is so popular,” Casey Michel, author of American Kelptocracy, wrote in Politico in 2015 following the conference. “It has only worsened since the United States has led an international effort to isolate and sanction Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and incursions into eastern Ukraine. Thus…there has been a sudden, bizarro uptick of Russian interest in and around the American Southwest, most notably Texas, where secessionist sentiment never seems to entirely die out.”
Russia remains interested in Texas secession because it is inherently destabilizing. Once the dominion of kooks and fringe cranks, it now has prominent Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz, who joked to Texas A&M students this year that the state could leave the union if things become “hopeless.” Once a sitting senator is mulling the idea, it has become thoroughly mainstream.
That process is partially driven by Russian cyberattacks which target conservatives on social media and seek to radicalize them. The recent release of the Facebook Papers shows exactly how easy the radicalization process can happen through such apps, and the results are an increase in violent political activity such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to overturn the election of President Joe Biden.
Secessionists in Texas are driven by fascist ideas, and those ideas are being fed back to them by a dedicated campaign of social media disinformation and propaganda blessed by the Kremlin. Turning the Lone Star State into a bloody battleground instead of a functioning part of the democracy would serve Russia well, and so far they are succeeding admirably.