Bud Kennedy

Separatists’ idea of a free Texas doesn’t sound very free

John Jarnecke, president of the Republic of Texas, at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas on March 4.
John Jarnecke, president of the Republic of Texas, at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas on March 4. New York Times

The president of the Republic of Texas has been awfully busy lately.

“Twenty, 25 interviews a week — it’s hard to get any work done,” said John Jarnecke, 72, a Fredericksburg building contractor and president of a separatist group that claims that Texas and the U.S. didn’t legally join in 1845.

For 15 years, a handful of mostly older hobbyists have met regularly, elected each other to offices and passed laws, playing legislature and pretending to be the true Texas Congress.

Look: If Texas did secede from the United States, this bunch is not who we’d put in charge.

But since Feb. 14, when deputies and federal marshals raided a meeting as part of a fake-document investigation, the Republic separatists have found a new generation of followers.

“I talked to an Italian newspaper this morning, and, oh, yes, there was Russia Today,” President Jarnecke said by phone Friday after his workday at a construction site.

You’re famous, I said.

“Or infamous,” he said with a laugh.

Almost 20 years ago, a spur separatist group got attention for an armed standoff in the Davis Mountains. Since then, Jarnecke’s separatists had lingered in online obscurity until Kerr County deputies began investigating a common-law Republic of Texas court “summons” sent to a district judge over a foreclosure case. No charges have been filed.

But since the raid, more than 250,000 readers have visited the separatists’ website.

Now, according to Jarnecke, his group is in talks with Denton County-based Freedom Texas, a Tea Party affiliate, over whether to blend efforts toward independence and eviction of the U.S. government.

They are two of several separatist groups with divergent visions for Texas, including whether a reborn republic would be a theocracy and “Christian nation.”

“Our motto is ‘One Nation Under One God,’” Jarnecke said.

“If you’re Muslim, or whatever, then you’re not going to agree with us. The border’s that way.”

Freedom of religion would be redefined. Legal residents would be free to stay, but public officers would have to “take an oath to almighty God,” he said.

“I’m going to estimate 20 percent of the people will want to leave,” he said.

“We’re not going to have welfare and handouts and all these giveaway deals.”

Jarnecke said Republic “senator” Robert D. Wilson, an Arlington mechanical engineer interviewed on a segment of The Daily Show, is involved in talks with Freedom Texas, which hosts monthly separatist meetings in Cleburne and Decatur.

(The Wise County Messenger announces the secession meetings like any sewing circle or civic club, saying only that the group “educates people” about Texas’ “eventual” independence.)

Jarnecke cautioned against joining any separatist group that asks for membership fees or money.

“We don’t charge anybody to be part of the Republic of Texas,” he said.

As president, he calls for calm.

“Secession is not necessary,” he said.

Only lots of imagination.

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