The man plotting California’s secession quit and moved to Russia — here’s what’s next for the movement
A small group has vowed to take up the effort and says the movement will pick up steam amid growing discontent with the Trump administration
In April, the leader of a major California secessionist group in the US announced he was abandoning the movement and settling permanently in Russia.
The news was not that surprising. Louis Marinelli, the self-appointed leader of Yes California, set up a makeshift embassy (which he said would be used to promote the secessionist movement) in Moscow in December. Russia has a long-standing tradition of encouraging foreign fringe groups like California separatists in order to exploit tensions in the West.
Some pronounced the “Calexit” campaign dead in Marinelli’s absence.
But a small group of Californians has vowed to take up the effort. The California Freedom Coalition (CFC), formed earlier this year, is on a mission to establish California as an independent nation through legal and constitutional means. In the short term, it wants to raise awareness in communities across the state of why secession makes sense for Californians.
“I think after this election, a lot of Californians realised we just would like to go on their own. Deal with our own stuff. Develop our world, develop our lives and develop our environment the way we want to,” Timothy Vollmer, chief state gist of the CFC, told Business Insider.
Califonia helped give the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, handing Clinton four million more votes than Donald Trump. But it didn’t make a difference in the end. Vollmer said the US government has been architected in a way that puts California at a disadvantage.
“In some ways, the people who back the Electoral College ‘cause they say, ‘Otherwise, big states would dominate the national process,’ are correct. They’re right. If there was no Electoral College, then all the action would be in California, Texas, and New York,” Vollmer said.
“But the answer to that cannot be the stripping of California’s voting rights. We deserve to have a voting system — a national political system — in which we participate,” he added.
Vollmer, a former professor at University of California, Berkeley, and a community organiser for gay advocacy groups in San Francisco, attended a few meetings put together by Yes California organisers around the time of Trump’s inauguration. After learning of Marinelli’s ties to Russia, he said it “became apparent that the Russian element would bring [the campaign] down.”
He kept in touch with small, grassroots secessionist groups forming across the state. Eventually, he teamed up with a handful of other Calexit backers to create the CFC. As the group’s chief strategist, he’s tasked with overseeing logistics (the group in the process of registering as a non-profit) and community education.
The group — whose board includes a principal manager at Think Big Analytics, a mid-sized Silicon Valley data company, and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan — meets every week. It’s planning a march on Sacramento on May 19 to raise awareness of the cause.
Support for California’s secession began long before Trump took the White House and has been growing since. A much-publicised Reuters poll in January and a UC Berkeley IGS Poll in March suggested as many as one in three Californians want the state to become its own nation.
Vollmer is optimistic that those numbers will grow amid growing discontent with the Trump administration. He’s tired of waiting around to see what the president will do next and says working with the CFC makes him feel like a proactive member of society.
“To be against something is exhausting,” Vollmer said. “To be for something is exhilarating.”