There are rumors of rebellion rumbling in Oklahoma these days. Oklahoma Tea Party leader J.W. Berry has begun the process of organizing an armed citizen militia to defend Oklahoma against the U.S. federal government.
You may wonder what a citizen militia would need to defend Oklahoma against the federal government for. Congressional candidate RJ Harris has a few examples of the need:
RJ Harris is running for Congress as a libertarian Republican, challenging incumbent Republican Tom Cole in this summer’s congressional primary. As a congressional candidate, Harris runs a fine line of balance between loyalty to the United States and loyalty to what he describes as Oklahoma sovereignty. Explaining his motivation to challenge Cole, Harris cites his shift from a purely national identity to the belief that the state of Oklahoma needs to reassert its own sovereignty.
“As a soldier, I pledged my life to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That very oath, as a young Sergeant in the Army, is what prompted me to read the Constitution for the first time. Since then I have learned that our government is up to a great many things that it should not be and as your Congressman, I pledge my life, liberty, and sacred honor to do all that I can to restore the rule of law, the liberty of all, and the Sovereignty of Oklahoma.”
Moving from a pledge to defend the Constitution of the United States to a pledge to restore the sovereignty of Oklahoma – what does that mean? Secession from the Union?
Not quite, although it’s a move in that direction. Harris doesn’t want to abandon the idea of the United States of America, and elsewhere on his campaign web site reasserts his dedication to the nation:
“As a Congressperson from Oklahoma’s 4th District, I pledge to do all that I can do defend the liberty of the individual and the sovereignty of our Nation, State, and Tribes.”
What Harris is promoting is the old agenda of states rights – the idea that the national government has taken too much power away from the states, which should be allowed to run their own affairs under the retention of their individual sovereignty while remaining under the umbrella of a radically weakened federal government.
The political philosophy of states rights isn’t the dominant paradigm in the United States. Although no one argues that state governments don’t have any powers, the idea that the federal government was intended to be a limp, barely present coordinator for robust nation states hasn’t been institutionally accepted since the rejection of the Articles of Confederation…
…except by the Confederate States of America. The Civil War took place because of Southern states’ desire to continue the practice of slavery. Southern states found political justification for ongoing slavery in the doctrine of states rights, which they pushed to such an extreme extent that actual secession was the result.
So, although RJ Harris and his ilk are not directly promoting the secession of Oklahoma from the United States of America, they are pushing Oklahoma down a path that has in the past led to secession. By arguing for an expansion of state power of the sort that Oklahoma has never actually seen, given that it was not in existence as a state until 1907, the Oklahoma libertarians and other Tea Party activists there are recreating something like the national division that led to the Civil War.