Less than a week after Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, a group of New Hampshire residents has decided it, too, wants out – of the United States.
“NHexit,” named after the Brexit, or “Britain Exit” campaign, is a new movement that now exists to represent those hoping New Hampshire will someday part ways with the Union and create its own republic.
At their first-ever event on Sunday night, 13 demonstrators gathered with signs displaying phrases like, “Get DC out of NH” and “New Hampshire Independence Now” in front of Manchester’s Norris Cotton Federal Building, a structure that NHexit founder and organizer Dave Ridley said he “would like to see turned into a shopping mall.”
Ridley, 50, of Bedford, who has worked with the Free State Project in the past, said he aims to use the momentum from Britain’s break with the EU to draw attention to issues he sees in the United States federal government, like high taxes and lack of privacy, and maybe even find a legislator willing to propose a resolution for New Hampshire’s secession.
“It would be political suicide, but somebody out there has got to have the courage,” he said.
Ridley believes that the U.S. government has been corrupted to the point where New Hampshire and the country’s values no longer align. The best move for the state, he says, is getting out.
Demonstrator Steven Zeiler of Portsmouth said his interest in the concept of New Hampshire independence has been growing throughout the last several months.
“I’m mainly into the idea of personal independence – people taking responsibility for their communities and their own lives. And New Hampshire independence would be one way of achieving that for people,” he said.
Bob Neighbours, who wore a shirt that said “taxes are theft” to the demonstration, is originally from Washington, but he moved to Nashua last week because he views New Hampshire as one of the most free states in the U.S., but it’s not quite free enough, he said. Neighbours said he thinks secession is inevitable – not only for the United States, but for all unions. He believes after one state succeeds, a domino effect will ensue, and other states and will follow.
“We see how the internet has decentralized a lot of the existing power structures,” he said. “Information is more accessible and people are growing more and more intolerant of the government.”
Ridley said NHexit is allied with the pre-existing Foundation for New Hampshire Independence, a 501(c)(3)nonprofit founded in 2012 after President Obama was elected to a second term in office.
The foundation works from an office in Manchester, with the mission of educating New Hampshire residents about the benefits of the state’s independence. It proposes that the Republic of New Hampshire would thrive as an independent state under its strong, diversified economy and a geographical location ideally suited to international trade, citing New Hampshire’s border with Canada and 18 miles of coastline. It has more than 1,000 likes on Facebook.
The foundation is limited, though, Ridley said, by its 501(c)(3) status. It can’t lobby for legislative change, for example, which is what he wants to do.
Therefore, by creating the NHexit movement, “I’m trying to fill a niche that they can’t fill,” Ridley said.
The foundation supports independence under the authority of New Hampshire’s present Constitution, established in 1784.
Ridley said he agrees with the majority of the Foundation for New Hampshire Independence’s principles, including the idea of preserving the New Hampshire Constitution. Although he says the state’s Constitution isn’t perfect, he describes it as the “least bad government on the planet.”
“But we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of that, because we are overruled in many cases, while being arrested by Washington,” he said.
The legality of secession from the United States has been contested almost from the time of the country’s conception. The Declaration of Independence allows for citizens to “alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” if necessary, but the meaning of that statement has been controversial throughout American history.
The most famous example of the various attempts at secession was in the mid-1800s, when 11 states in the South attempted to leave the Union, prompting the Civil War. Following the war, in 1869, the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal for states to secede from the United States.
But that doesn’t mean states haven’t tried. A 2014 Reuters poll showed 23.9 percent of Americans would support their state peacefully seceding from the union if necessary, while 53.3 percent opposed the idea.
Texas, in particular, has been infamous for its secession attempts in recent years. In 2012, a group of independence activists created a petition on the White House’s “We the People” site, which garnered 125,000 signatures. Since the Brexit vote, nationalists in Texas have advocated their own “Texit” campaign, according to CBS News.
As for NHexit, Ridley’s primary goal for the coming months is to have a state legislator submit a simple, strongly worded independence bill, and continue to promote his movement.
(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3305 or email@example.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)