VERMONT - Corners of the Vermont blogosphere have been abuzz the past couple of weeks with charges of racism involving the state's tiny but growing secessionist insurgency. The tempest in this electronic teapot began brewing when an anonymous blogger (vermontsecession.blogspot.com) accused some out-of-state groups and individuals linked to the secessionist Second Vermont Republic (SVR) of holding bigoted, or at least far-right, views.
The blogger, who uses the pseudonym Thomas Rowley, took aim at four of the 10 members of the group's advisory board. Those charged with espousing objectionable ideologies include: Marco Bassani, a history professor active in Italy's secessionist Northern League; Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor and leading "Lincoln revisionist"; philosophy professor Donald Livingston, described by SVR's co-chair as the group's "guru"; and political science prof Jason Sorens, leader of a secessionist movement in New Hampshire.
(UVM political scientist Frank Bryan is also a member of the Second Vermont Republic's advisory board. He will defend the secessionist cause in what promises to be a spirited debate with former Vermont deputy Secretary of State Paul Gillies scheduled for March 7 at the university's campus theater.)
"Rowley" - the name pays homage to one of Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys - also opened fire on a few of the groups in North America and elsewhere that maintain ties to SVR. The strongest condemnations were directed against the League of the South, a Dixieland secessionist movement. The League and an institute closely related to SVR are planning to co-sponsor a Secessionist Convention later this year.
The current kerfluffle metastasized after the "Green Mountain Daily" - greenmountaindaily.com - recycled and amplified Rowley's accusations. Secessionists now claim they're being smeared by Progressives and liberal Democrats worried about SVR's increasing influence.
"It's a fight for who's going to capture the moral high ground in Vermont politics," says Thomas Naylor, co-chair of the breakaway formation. "Vermont Progressives are too fat and happy even to consider secession." But they do feel threatened by the Second Vermont Republic, adds Naylor, noting that 8 percent of Vermonters favor splitting from the United States, according to a poll last year by UVM's Center for Rural Studies.
John Odum, the blogger behind Green Mountain Daily, suggests that "'goofy' is the only word to describe" Naylor's theory. "Progressives and Democrats don't think about the Second Vermont Republic except for using it in punchlines," adds Odum, former chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party and a campaign worker for Bernie Sanders and Peter Clavelle.
The conflict took yet another turn on Monday, when Odum announced he's leaving Green Mountain Daily and blogging "indefinitely." His farewell post cited family responsibilities and "the current trend among those who don't like what they read here . . . to respond by attacking me in personal ways." Odum was apparently responding to a post that same day on the SVR website in which Naylor suggested GMD is subsidized by the Vermont Natural Resources Council, where Odum works.
Odum says he felt "a moral imperative" to report Rowley's charges on his own blog, which, he claims, attracts about 400 readers a day. Odum denies that he's actually Rowley. He adds that the mystery blogger describes himself in emails as a monitor of hate groups - a category to which the League of the South should be assigned, critics say.
Naylor concedes that the League probably does include racists - "It's a racist nation, after all," he says. "But is the main thrust of the League of the South racist?" Naylor asks. "Unconditionally no."
The League actually has an anti-imperialist outlook that drove off many of its members in the aftermath of 9/11, Naylor adds. "We want to be connected to secessionist groups like the League of the South that are opposed to the [American] empire," he explains. "Peaceful dissolution of the empire is more important to me than secession from the United States."
Naylor also defends the members of his group's advisory board whom Rowley and Odum accuse of taking reactionary stands. Naylor is particularly keen on vindicating the scholarly bona fides of DiLorenzo, best known as an author of books questioning Abraham Lincoln's heroic stature.
"The bloggers don't like DiLorenzo because he's a free-market zealot," Naylor says. "He's not kind to labor unions."
The detractors are also wrong, he adds, in their characterizations of advisory board member Livingston, a philosophy professor at Emory University in Atlanta and a former member of the League of the South. Naylor describes Livingston as "an honest libertarian intellectual" who qualifies as "the philosophical guru of the Second Vermont Republic."
Odum and other left-wing Vermont bloggers who have entered the fray insist they're not accusing Naylor or Rob Williams, the other SVR co-chair, of personally harboring racist attitudes.
Naylor admits that his father was a prominent Mississippi racist, and says that his own views were maliciously conflated with those of his now-deceased father in some of Rowley's postings. "I had figured out by seventh grade in Jackson, Mississippi, that racism was a lie," Naylor declares.
Still, "Naylor just doesn't get it," says J.D. Ryan, a central Vermonter whose blog, five beforechaos.blogspot.com, has become another SVR battleground. Ryan says the secessionist leaders "value the cause of their movement more than the principle of not tolerating racism."
Odum agrees that the secession agitators suffer from a lack of racial sensitivity. "In other states with more diversity and with more people who feel gravely threatened by groups like the League of the South, there are alarm bells that go off," Odum observes. "Naylor and Williams aren't hearing them."
While saying he neither supports nor opposes Vermont secessionism, Odum acknowledges that the SVR "has promoted the idea really well." But the exposure of its links to the League of the South and right-wing libertarians has cost the Vermont secessionist cause dearly, he suggests. Naylor and Williams have compounded the damage by refusing to repudiate ties to groups and individuals who "would have no credible political standing in Vermont," Odum says. "I think they're making a terrible, terrible mistake."