Sunday, October 19, 2014

Malawians Debate Hiving Off North of Already-Tiny Country to Form “Nyika Republic”


The number of African countries which do not have an active separatist movement has shrunk by one more, as the Republic of Malawi, a remarkably slender sliver of land wedged between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in southern Africa, is having its unity challenged by a separatist movement in its Northern Region.


In May of this year, the Progressive Democratic Party (P.D.P.) was voted in to replace the People’s Party (P.P.), whose charismatic president, Joyce Banda, a champion of women’s rights, was more popular internationally than at home.  (Only Africa’s second female president ever, she was also a champion of gay rights.)  The new president, Peter Mutharika, a Yale-educated lawyer and diplomat and brother of a former president, has angered P.P. supporters by stuffing 80% of his cabinet with fellow residents of Malawi’s Southern Region.  Banda had been vice-president under Mutharika’s brother, Bingu wa Mutharika, until she succeeded him upon his death in 2012.  Though also a southerner, Banda’s constituency was a big tent and she worked hard not to show preference for one region over another.  Her succession to the post was assailed since she had become a critic of the first President Mutharika’s policies.

Joyce Banda
The governer of Malawi’s Northern Province, the Rev. Christopher Nzomera Ngwira, has now proposed breaking the northern region off as a separate “Nyika Republic.”  Ngwira (shown on the left in the photo at the top of this article) is from the P.P., which Banda had founded.  The Malawi Congress Party, which is now the main opposition party, is calling instead for a federal system in which each of the three administrative regions will have considerably enhanced powers—a position to which the current President Mutharika’s party has in recent weeks had to pay serious attention.

Map showing hotbeds of separatist sentiment in Malawi’s north
The president of the Peoples Transportation Party (PETRA) and Lucius Banda (no relation to Joyce), a traditional African musician and former political prisoner who now leads the United Democratic Front’s parliamentary delegation, have both called for a referendum to decide the matter.


Federalism is a controversial topic in Malawi.  Under British rule, Malawi, then known as Nyasaland, was part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, a vast macro-colony sprawling across southern Africa’s interior whose touted “federalism” was a cruel joke that belied the injustices of apartheid.  Thus, Malawi’s first president and hero of the independence movement, Hastings Kamuzu Banda (once again, no relation), a U.S.-educated physician, in 1964 organized the fledgling Republic of Malawi as a strong unitary state.  Thus the country’s three administrative regions are blandly named the Northern, Southern, and Central regions.  Banda was a member of the Chewa ethnic group which forms 90% of the population of Central Region; Chewas are the largest ethnic group in Malawi, about a third of its total population.  (Fun fact: when Banda was at the University of Chicago in the 1920s and ’30s, he studied history but also got to know prominent anthropologists like Edward Sapir and collaborated with the legendary folklorist Stith Thompson on recording Chewa traditions.  When I studied anthropology at the University of Chicago in the 1990s, a huge number of ethnological works on Africa in the university library bore book-plates announcing their donation by “President for Life” Hastings Banda.  Therefore I owe him something of an intellectual debt, though the wealth that paid for those books was pillaged from the Malawian people under his party dictatorship.  Dr. Banda’s regime was cosy with apartheid-era South Africa and murdered perhaps as many as 18,000 political opponents.)

Hastings Kamuzu Banda and the Prince of Wales during a state visit in 1972
Malawian politics have been tumultuous since Hastings Banda’s removal in 1994 ushered in a belated crash course in multi-party democracy on the part of the Malawian people.  There seems to be an emerging, and also long-overdue, consensus that politics should be less centralized.  Whether this can be done before Northern Region secessionists became frustrated enough to push for separation more aggressively remains to be seen.  We will keep readers posted.

The Malawian flag introduced by the first President Mutharika in 2010.
It replaced an earlier version showing only the top half of the sun;
some had pinted out that that one could be interpreted as a setting sun just as well as a rising one.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is nearly ready for the printer and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by February 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


Two heads-of-state-for-life inspect Malawian troops in 1972.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What Is and Isn’t at Stake in Scotland: Cameron’s Warnings vs. What Would Actually Happen after a “Yes” Vote


In his last-ditch efforts to prevent Scotland from voting “yes” on independence tomorrow (September 18th), the United Kingdom’s prime minister, David Cameron, has shifted away from the tones of condescension which have in the past proved to make Scots bristle and become even more determinedly separatist.  Instead, he has veered from maudlin nostalgia—saying he would be “heartbroken” if the U.K. were sundered, as though the hurt feewings of the leader of the Conservative Party ever entered into the considerations of nationalistic Scots—to, mostly, dire warnings.  But those warnings at best misleading, and at worst disingenuous.


“If you don’t like me,” Cameron said yesterday, addressing himself to Scottish nationalists who are overwhelmingly way to the left of him, and of England, “I won’t be here forever.  If you don’t like this government, it won’t last forever.  But if you leave the U.K., that will be forever.”  He added, “It is my duty to be clear about the likely consequences of a yes vote.  Independence would not be a trial separation.  It would be a painful divorce.”


But like all divorces, it would be a process.  When a husband and wife, sitting around the kitchen table, decide to call it splits, then half the furniture in the house doesn’t magically vanish, and their savings account does not magically subdivide.  What begins is a months- or years-long process of paperwork, negotiation, and implementation—and post-nuptial arrangements that it is for the two of them to agree upon.  So it will be with Scotland and the U.K. starting tomorrow if Scots vote “yes”—which, polls indicate, they are about as likely to do as not.  The Union Jacks would be lowered and the St. Andrew’s saltires raised, but that’s about all that would change on September 19th.  Possibly, that’s all that would change for months.  A process of negotiation would begin.  And any number of things could be negotiated—negotiated by Scots, not decided for them.


In particular, Cameron has warned about the consequences of being suddenly left outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), outside the European Union (E.U.), and without the British pound.  We can take each of these in turn.

Europe’s NATO member states and when they joined
Scotland sits atop the British archipelago surrounded by the North Sea, across the water from NATO states like Norway and Iceland.  A Scottish exit from NATO would have pretty much no effect on its own security, the rump U.K.’s, or anyone else’s.  No one thinks that the Republic of Ireland is especially vulnerable to foreign invasion because it is not in NATO, or that Ireland’s non-membership makes the U.K. more vulnerable.  The main effect of a Scotland outside NATO would be that young Scottish men and women will not die for nothing in the next quagmire in Afghanistan or Iraq the way they have in the past.  And besides, most Scots would like to stay in NATO, but without keeping Trident nuclear submarines in their waters.  The nukes’ relocation would have to be negotiated and then implemented, but that is not an obstacle to anything; arms are moved around all the time, and this also needn’t happen immediately.  To negotiate staying in, that’s up to NATO, and if other members wanted an independent Scotland to stay in NATO—and why wouldn’t they?—then a simple vote could mean a smooth transition, with the benefit to Scots of a guaranteed Scottish voice in the war room.  Everyone wants more or less the same thing here, and NATO’s membership rules are nowhere near as complicated as the E.U.’s, which is the real bogeyman Cameron has been threatening with Scots with ...


Despite the promises by Alex Salmond, Scotland’s separatist First Minister (chief executive), that Scotland could stay in the E.U. and Cameron’s threats that it couldn’t, no one is 100% sure what would happen.  Processes for E.U. accession are complex and time-consuming, and no one is even certain if this would be a case of accession.  It might be one of succession.  But there has never been a federal member-state dissolved within the E.U. before; there are no provisions for it.  When the Soviet Union vanished in 1991, its fifteen constituent republics swiftly gained United Nations seats as soon as they were internationally recognized—not just the Baltic States, whose annexation the U.N. had never recognized anyway, or Ukraine and Belarus, who had token U.N. seats already, but all of them.  When Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic in 1994, two new U.N. member states blipped into existence as Czechoslavakia blipped out; no one had to apply.  Now, the U.N. is not the E.U., and things wouldn’t go quite that smoothly with the E.U., but they might go nearly as smoothly once the details had been agreed upon.  First, legal experts would have to sort out the legal implications of thousands of pages of rules which do not address the issue directly, and, second, there would have to be a search for consensus within the E.U. as to whether Scotland should be allowed to stay in.  (See an article from this blog discussing the accession-vs.-succession issue in more detail.)

The European Union
In fact, Scotland could conceivably use the argument that if an independent Scotland had to reapply for E.U. membership, so would the other new, unprecedented state coming into existence simultaneously: the Sort of United Kingdom of England and Bits of Ireland Plus Wales or Something of the Sort.  The U.K. came into existence in the first place as the equal merger of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland.  So why shouldn’t international organizations be required to treat the two resulting pieces of that sundered union equally?  A strong case could be made.


Setting that aside, in the case Scotland had to reapply for membership, would the rump U.K. and the rest of the E.U. accept it?  The “no” camp makes it sound now as though that is far from guaranteed.  But once independence were a reality, would it be in Cameron’s interest, or anyone’s, to ensure Scotland’s exile from the E.U. just to make some point, or to punish Scots?  No; trade barriers between Scotland and England would hurt the English too, if not quite as much as it would the Scots.  The U.K. public and the U.K. political establishment would be unanimous in wanting Scotland to stay in the E.U.  Negotiating stubbornly and vindictively with Edinburgh would not be in any U.K. prime minister’s interest, on this or any other issue.


What about the rest of the E.U.?  The biggest sticking point might be the government of Spain, which has repeatedly indicated that it would veto the membership application of an independent Scotland—possibly in some kind of a pact with the U.K. government, in exchange for a U.K. veto of an application by a potentially independent Catalonia in the future.  But an E.U. vote on Scottish membership would not happen until well after Catalonia’s November 2014 referendum on independence, and may not even happen the next year or the one after that—by which time Scotland would probably still be in the E.U. while it negotiated the mechanics of its separation from the U.K.  Soon enough we will know better how the Catalan secession movement is to play out, and the situation of Catalonia is very different.  For one thing, the Spanish government has forbidden Catalonia to hold its referendum in November, and Catalonia seems set to defy Madrid and hold it anyway.  Not only will it not be a binding referendum, but it will be an “illegal” one.  Even if the Scottish case created a precedent for succession to membership, rather than accession, of secessionist states within the E.U., it would certainly be a precedent that included the consent of the parent state among its firm requirements.  Spain, if it decided to remain bloody-minded and undemocratic in its approach to Catalan national aspirations, would have nothing to fear from Scottish membership in the E.U. and could accomplish nothing by blocking it.  It knows this already, and its threat of a mutual-veto pact is a posture intended to frighten Catalans and to frighten Scots from “encouraging” them.  And the same goes for other E.U. member states with separatist regions—Italy with Padania, Germany with Bavaria, etc.  (Belgium is a special case; its dissolution is inevitable, and no one will let Brussels itself fall outside the E.U.)


Plus: will the U.K. even stay in the E.U.?  Cameron never brings this up on his trips to Edinburgh, but the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) has already pressured the Conservative Party into promising a referendum on E.U. membership if it is reelected.  Even with left-leaning, pro-Brussels Scotland in the U.K., no one can be 100% sure how such a vote would go, and the far more right-wing and Euroskeptic country a Scotland-less U.K. would become would be if anything more inclined to leave the E.U.  It would be reasonable for a Scot to feel that leaving the U.K., far from being a guaranteed exile from the E.U., would be the best way to ensure keeping E.U. membership.  After all, if Scotland voted “no” and then the U.K. voted to leave the E.U., Scots would be utterly powerless to prevent it.  Utterly.  See, that’s where it sometimes helps to be—what is that word again?—independent.


These arguments about staying in the E.U. also, if you will pardon the term, scotch the “no” camp’s warnings of how poor a country Scotland would be if independent.  Scots are warned that all that North Sea oil and natural gas will eventually run out.  What the unionists are not mentioning is that, if Scotland stays in the U.K., then it is the U.K.’s oil and natural gas that will run out—and no one seems horrifically worried about the effects of that.  Nor is Norway, which has a comparable share of the same resource-rich North Sea, debating whether or not it should ask to become a colony of Denmark again as a hedge against the oil running out.  In sum, things like non-renewable resources running out is one reason it makes sense to stay in a trade union like the E.U.—or, like Norway, to have a special trading pact with one.  Independent or not, everyone will want Scotland’s economy to remain embedded in Europe’s and the world’s and to be diverse and not non-resource-extraction-dependent—and it will be. (See an article from this blog discussing different aspects of Scotland’s oil question.)


But what about the pound?  Cameron and the “no” camp have stated repeatedly that Scotland may not keep the pound.  In point of fact, it may not be for the U.K. to say.  Pound notes are minted by the Bank of England and by the Bank of Scotland, both of them institutions which date to well before the merger of the two kingdoms as the U.K. more than 300 years ago.  The political and legal process that would follow a “yes” vote tomorrow may well determine that Scotland has as much a right to keep printing them as England does.  And even if it doesn’t, then the U.K. could, with one vote in Parliament, extend to Scotland that privilege, and—as is the case with trade barriers mentioned above vis-à-vis the E.U.—everyone would benefit from Scotland and the rest of the U.K. having a shared currency and thus everyone could and would work together to ensure it.  And even if a rump-U.K. government were politically pressured to shoot itself and its people in the foot (feet?) economically by denying Scotland the right to use the pound, nothing could stop them.  Ecuador, after all, uses the United States dollar as its currency.  It need not ask the U.S. for permission to do so, and Washington need not grant it.  If a country has the coins and notes, it can use them.  Furthermore, at the end of the inevitable long transition period a “yes” vote would set in motion, Scots might decide—no one else could decide this for them, only Scots—to join the Euro Zone or to establish their own currency, pegged to another currency to whatever extent they might like.  There is ample time to do this.  Cameron’s warnings on currency are not so much tilting the arguments in one direction; they are lies.


In sum, independence can mean a lot of different things, none of which has been fully specified.  For example, three states—the Isle of Man and the two Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey—are not part of the U.K. but are instead Crown Dependencies.  Queen Elizabeth II is their sovereign, just as she is of far-flung, fully independent states like Jamaica and Papua New Guinea, but the three are 100% self-governing save for the areas of currency and defense.  (Newfoundland once held this status as well.)  Man and the Channel Islands are actually more independent of the U.K., in some ways, than any two E.U. member states are from each other.  In fact, the three island nations lie outside the E.U., but only because they—like Denmark’s Greenland and the Faroe Islands and some other European overseas possessions—chose to when the U.K. joined in 1973.  They could as well have chosen to be in it—perhaps with special exemptions from rules, such as those Finland’s self-governing Åland territory negotiated for itself when its parent country joined—and it would have been their decision, not London’s.  (As it happens, they like being offshore tax havens.)  In legal terms, Man and the Channel Islands are three independent states in free association with the U.K., exactly the same status held by Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia, which are states in free association with their former colonial master, the U.S., and which have their own U.N. seats—as Man and the Channel Islands could too if they ever decided to bother with it.  (The same goes for New Zealand’s two “free association” states, the Cook Islands and Niue.)  If London and Edinburgh decided that it was the best solution, Scotland could become a Crown Dependency, though for psychological reasons Scots might opt for more accurate terminology, like “Independent Commonwealth Realm in Free Association.”  Or it could choose a slightly greater or lesser degree of independence in any number of ways—for example, with a currency deal or without, with a defense pact or customs union of any sort the two states wished to negotiate, etc. etc.

The flag of the Isle of Man
Cameron promises Scots that if they vote “no” tomorrow, they are still on track to receive more devolution and more rights and concessions in the months and years to come which will come close to independence already.  Quite so.  But the converse is also true: a “yes” vote will mean as many of the trappings and benefits of union as Scotland and the U.K. agree are in order, and when it comes to those details Scots and (other?) Britons will find after a “yes” vote that they mostly want the same things.  The difference will be that after a “no” vote those decisions would be made top-down from London while after a “yes” vote they would be negotiated between equals.  Tomorrow, Scots will decide which sounds better.



[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  (That is shorter than the previous working title.)  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is nearly ready for the printer and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by February 2015.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Special Announcement


Readers of the Springtime of Nations blog know that the next few weeks are a crucial time for our topic, that of ethnonationalism and new-state movements.  A referendum in Scotland the day after tomorrow challenges the seventy-year-old political order in Europe and may sunder the United Kingdom—the progenitor, by some measures, of the modern nation-state (or nations-state, if you will).  Meanwhile, an anti-nationalist caliphate with global ambitions called Islamic State has established itself in the heart of the Middle East, threatening to draw world powers into a gigantic, unending conflict.  And Western hegemony is being challenged from another direction as well, as the fate of a cease-fire in Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Eastern forces will determine whether Russia’s ambition to rebuild the territory of the Soviet Union and restore itself as a superpower to rival the United States will be curbed or energized.


Meanwhile, the articles in this blog have slowed to a trickle of late.  Partly this is because (or at least I tell myself this) the kind of news readers used to have to read this blog to find are now the world headlines, day after day.  (And long-time readers will recall that Springtime of Nations knew that ISIS / Islamic State, Scottish devolution, and the patchy demographics of the Soviet successor states were crises-in-the-making long before the mainstream media acknowledged it.)


But the main reason is my forthcoming book—Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas—which is right now in the final stages of production.  Galleys have been corrected, and the final composition of the pages is nearly done.  The book, which will be published by Auslander and Fox, is over 500 pages long and contains over 35 maps and over 500 flags—flag images, rather—and if there is a more complete guide to separatist movements in print anywhere, to see nothing of one packaged so accessibly and usefully, then I don’t know about it, and I’ve looked.


Once Let’s Split! is out of my hands, which I trust will be in the next month or so, I will return to blogging more regularly, and I will also take time out to offer some general observations on the Scottish referendum before long as well.


Meanwhile, please “like” and “follow” the Let’s Split! page on Facebook, where I regularly post news, observations, and other entertaining and informative links on separatist and ethnonationalist movements—some of which will eventually be developed into articles for this blog.


Both this blog and the Let’s Split! Facebook page are places where readers will find updates on the publication of the book, now scheduled to hit the shelves—knock on wood—in time to stuff the stockings of the regional activist, tinfoil-hat-wearing “sovereign citizen,” separatist rebel, Zapatist subcomandante, president-in-exile, sois-disant micronational “emperor,” or just plain old vexillophile, map-freak, news junk, or foreign-policy wonk on your holiday list.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Previously All-Talk White-Supremacist “League of the South” Now Forming Paramilitary Unit

Photo from the S.P.L.C.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C.), an Alabama-based non-profit organization which monitors hate groups, announced this week that it has learned that the League of the South is forming a paramilitary unit to be called “the Indomitables.”


The League of the South, whose name is inspired by Italy’s similarly right-wing, anti-immigrant, separatist Northern League (Lega Nord), is the most prominent organization in the United States working toward the secession of the Southern states as what it in particular would call Confederation of Southern States (C.S.S.).  (The original secessionist South, during the Civil War, was officially the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.).  The League wants the C.S.S. to be the eleven core C.S.A. states, without Texas and with Kentucky and Oklahoma added.  Texas, of course, has its own separatist movement.)  Though it claims to be mainly interested in “preserving Southern culture,” its rhetoric is shot through with intolerant, often white-supremacist, ideas, and its membership overlaps heavily with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and various neo-Nazi parties.  For a while, the League sponsored registered state political parties, primarily in Georgia and the Carolinas, called the Southern Party (S.P.).


Michael Hill, president of the League, has described the group’s aims this way: “We are for the survival, well-being, and independence of the Southern people.  And when we say ‘the Southern people,’ we mean white Southerners.  We are an ethno-nationalist movement and we want a free and independent South for our people, as our homeland.  That’s pretty much what we are fighting for.”

Michael Hill, president of the League of the South
Information on a novel paramilitary turn for what had until now been mainly a group that makes lots of noise comes from leaked internal documents and anonymous sources within the group, according to the S.P.L.C. article on the subject.  One of the internal documents outlining the plans is by President Hill himself, who writes, “We desire that our women and children be warm and snug while the world outside rages.  And as our due for that we must face the world.”


“The Indomitables were conceptualized at the LOS national meeting earlier this year,” according to the S.P.L.C. article by Ryan Lenz, “and appear to be coming online quickly, with Floyd Eric Meadows, 43, of Rome, Ga., who also goes by Eric Thorvaldsson online, in charge of ‘training,’ according to sources within the group and internal documents.”  The article also releases confidentially acquired images from Thorvaldsson’s Facebook presence, which is full of pagan iconography and white-supremacist “dogwhistle” references like “‘earning’ his red bootlaces––awarded in skinhead culture for drawing blood for ‘the movement.’”

The Indomitables’ head trainer, Floyd Meadows, posted this on Facebook
recently using his pseudonym.
Hill responded to the S.P.L.C. revelations by stating defiantly, on his blog, “Even if we are––and you really have no idea on earth if we are or not––setting up a Southern militia or some other form of paramilitary organization, we are doing nothing that free men have not done for centuries.  Deal with it and stop your whining.”

Nazi-style insignia used in confidential
League of the South documents leaked to S.P.L.C.
“The primary targets,” Hill went on, “will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.”


The League has been in the news lately because one of its members, Michael Anthony Peroutka, is running for a council seat in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  Peroutka, who ran for U.S. president on the Constitution Party ticket in 2004, says he deplores racism in all forms but refuses to distance himself from the League.  His own Republican Party, however, has distanced itself from him from the beginning of his county council candidacy.

Michael Peroutka, posing with a fellow secessionist, whose former job he once applied for.
Not long ago, Hill told an interviewer, regarding the upcoming September 18th referendum on independence in Scotland, “We think it’s a great thing that the Scottish people actually get to go to the polls and decide their future with a vote.  That’s something that I hope that we can do one day.”  But, unlike the League, the Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) is not backing up its political efforts with an armed terrorist squadron.  Despite constant references to the South’s unique “Anglo-Celtic” culture, the League of the South is starting to sound less like Scotland’s separatists and more like those in northern Nigeria or southeastern Ukraine.

Due to the “Anglo-Celtic” connection, St. Andrew’s crosses and similar insignia recur in League of the South heraldry.
See an article from this blog for more detail on Confederate–Russian–Ukrainian-Scottish separatist vexillological affinities.
Thanks to Jan Pierce for first alerting me to this story.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

“Emperor” of Black-Nationalist “Washitaw Nation” Claims Individual Sovereignty in New Jersey Gun Case


A man claiming to be the newly crowned emperor of a Black-nationalist group called the Washitaw Nation argued before a judge in Trenton, New Jersey, on September 9th that a defendant in a gun-possession case was immune from prosecution because he was a “sovereign citizen.”

Flag of the self-proclaimed Washitaw Nation
The “emperor,” known as El Bey, presents himself as monarch of what is also known by its longer name, the Official Empire Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah.  The group draws inspiration from the Islamic- and Masonic-tinged “Moorish Temple” strain of Black-nationalist activism which dates to northern urban African-American communities in the 1910s and ’20s and from the purported ancestry of its founder, Verdiacee Hampton-Goston, with Louisiana’s Ouachita Indian tribe.  “Empress” Hampton-Goston, who died earlier this year (as reported at the time in this blog), subscribed to the “Paleo-Negroid” hypothesis, which holds, against all evidence, that the Americas were peopled by ancient Africans who are responsible for the monumental architecture of the Midwestern mound-building cultures and others.  She claimed to be Empress of the entire territory of the Louisiana Purchase, though she really only governed a few scraps of land in Oklahoma.  Actual Ouachitas, who are mostly enrolled with the Caddo Nation, do not seem to want much to do with the Moorish “Washitaws.”  (See that original article on this blog for a full discussion of the Washitaw movement.)

The late empress, Verdiacee Hampton-Goston
El Bey, a 42-year-old who appeared in court in full Plains Indian regalia, including a headdress, is, according to the Trentonian newspaper, “best known in Trenton for once asserting his status as a so-called ‘sovereign’ nation allowed to keep a horse in the back yard of his row house in the Wilbur section” (two horses, actually, named Princess and Pop, and it was actually only half of a duplex.)  And El Bey told the paper that “he and allies will ride their horses through Trenton next week to make a political point.  He said he has legal papers exempting him from U.S. and local law.”  At other times, El Bey has claimed to be prince of the Abannaki Aboriginal Nation, named for an unrelated tribal group in New England but in this case another incarnation of a Moorish Science style fringe group (as identified by the Alabama-based hate-group-monitoring organization the Southern Poverty Law Center).

“Emperor” El Bey of the “Washitaw Nation.”
(Contents of peace pipe unknown, but one wonders.)
The first Moorish Science Temple was founded in New Jersey in 1913 by Noble Drew Ali, who mixed Islam, Masonry, ancient Egyptian traditions, and crackpot anthropology to assert that, because the real Indians were “paleo-Negroids” from Africa, the descendants of African-American slaves were somehow the true owners of the North American continent.

A map of the ancient world from a Moorish Science website.
(Trenton, New Jersey, not shown.)
El Bey is a well-known eccentric in Trenton.  Also known as Crown Prince Emperor El Bey Bigbay Bagby, but apparently born as William McRae, he tried in February to assert authority over a defunct Powhatan Renape Nation reservation in southern New Jersey, earning him from the Philadelphia Inquirer the nickname “Prince Alarming.”  (An actual Powhatan leader, Obie Batchelor, has said of El Bey, “We don’t know where he came from.  We don’t know anything about him.  He just popped up out of the woodwork.  You can’t just pop up and claim yourself chief.”)  McRae has also tried to convince the singer Kanye West to join his tribe, and in 2009 he expressed his crush on the lovely young director of the Trenton Free Public Library by arriving at her workplace on horseback to beseech her to gallop away with him and become his bride.  The library director, Kimberly Matthews, called the police instead.

Kimberly Matthews, the librarian who could have been an empress.
Ah, the road not taken.
What is not clear is whether the followers of the original, late “empress” acknowledge El Bey—or anyone—as her successor, or what role the defendant in the Trenton gun case, one Abdul Aziz, plays in the organization.  But El Bey’s invocation of the “sovereign citizen” movement shows affinities with Empress Verdiacee’s Oklahoma branch of the movement, which used that libertarian concept as a crude legal tool—betraying more ideological affinities with radical right-wing anarchists, Tea Party activists, and all-white militias than with the more collectivist, community-based strains of mainstream Black Islam and Black Nationalism.

Emperor El Bey, with Princess and Pop.  If nothing else, they are on his side.
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Boko Haram, Inspired by Rise of ISIS, Declares Caliphate in Captured Nigerian Towns


Almost certainly inspired by the success of the Islamic State (I.S., also known as ISIS or ISIL) in capturing and holding a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria and declaring it the kernel of an eventual global caliphate, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has shifted from hit-and-run mass killings and is now concentrating on holding territory and declaring an Islamic state.  This is a game-changer for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and most combustively ethnically diverse country, and ushers in a new phase of what is clearly now a full-on sectarian civil war.

Boko Haram’s dune-buggy battalion
In a nearly hour-long video made available on August 24th (see image at the top of this article), Boko Haram’s apparent leader, Abubakar Shekau, speaking both Arabic and Hausa, declared that the recently captured town of Gwoza was now “made ... part of the Islamic caliphate.”  Last month, in a similar communiqué, Shekau had openly supported the I.S., whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had declared himself “caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere.”  But the new video did not explicitly call Gwoza part of a caliphate based in Mesopotamia.

Towns in Nigeria recently captured by Boko Haram are shown in red.
An unknown portion of rural areas between them is controlled by Boko Haram as well.
In addition to Gwoza, which is in the southern part of Borno State, in Nigeria’s predominantly-Muslim northern half, Boko Haram is also believed to hold territory elsewhere in Borno including the large town of Damboa; parts of Yobe State that include Buni Yadi; and, most recently captured, in the Madagali district of Adamawa State.  But getting accurate information is difficult; there had long been areas so consistently terrorized by Boko Haram that the Nigerian military had no effective presence there.

Abubakar Shekau
The 52-minute video also shows footage of the capture of a Nigerian military base, the seizure of a tank, and the mass execution of what appear to be about twenty civilians.

Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan: helpless
The following day, Boko Haram recaptured Gamboru–Ngala, a village cluster in Borno on the border with Cameroon—reportedly sending the local Nigerian military fleeing into Cameroon without even trying to put up a resistance—and within the past 24 hours (on August 27th), according to reports, the group was closing in on Gulak, the Madagali district capital, in the far north of Adamawa.  They are gradually building a cohesive territory, and the Nigerian state seems to lack either the resources or the political will to stop them.


Setting up an Islamic state has been tried before.  The Taliban called Afghanistan the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan during the years it ruled there, a name still used in pockets of territory it controls.  The Islamic Emirate of Somalia and the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, in Pakistan, are names designating areas of those countries controlled by, respectively, al-Shabaab and various al-Qaeda and Taliban groups.  An “Emirate of Waqar,” declared by al-Qaeda in a town in Yemen, was recaptured by the Yemeni government in 2012.  The terrorist group Caucasus Emirate claims a state consisting of the Muslim areas in and near Russia’s North Caucasus mountains, but it does not administer any territory.


Closer to Nigeria, the al-Qaeda-linked groups Ansar al-Dine and MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) controlled the northern two-thirds of Mali as an Islamic Republic of Azawad for about a year ending in early 2013 (see map above), when it was ousted by troops from France, Chad, and other countries.  It still controls small territories, and, although it piggy-backed its agenda onto the back of a separatist uprising by the Tuareg minority, its avowed aim was to turn all of Mali into an Islamic state.  Turning all of Nigeria into an Islamic emirate had been Boko Haram’s aim as well, and it had seemed absurd, since the country, which is about evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, is nearly entirely Christian in its southern half.  But the new territorial claims are more pragmatic and are clearly inspired by I.S., which began by capturing towns in the west and north of Syria, expanded into Fallujah, Iraq, earlier this year, and has recently spread its territory northward up against the autonomous Kurdistan Region.  I.S. never aimed to take all of Syria or Iraq; they are just taking as much as they can and running it like a state, and that seems to be Boko Haram’s plan as well.


Already a coalition and an international consensus is building to stop I.S. in its tracks, with even deadly enemies like the United States and Iran finding common cause on the issue.  Syria and Iraq, of course, are a vitally strategic area, both geopolitically and economically.  This is less true of the arid north of Nigeria.  So who will stop Boko Haram?

Worst-case scenario?
[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]


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