Republic of Texas establishes interim government seat

Cox News Service/June 28, 2004
By Johnny Johnson

Overton, Texas -- It would be difficult to prove that God would use Overton as a palette, were he to take up painting.

But other than that, the tiny East Texas town really does live up to the claims made by its chamber of commerce.

If you're from Overton, the counter help downtown not only knows your name, but the names of your parents and grandparents. Word of mouth routinely scoops the weekly Overton Press. The quiet of a summer evening really is punctuated only by the calls of 75 species of birds.

Mayor Keith Parsons describes his home as a by-product of the oil boom that exploded in East Texas during the 1930s, creating nearby Kilgore as well.

Overton's population of 2,350 is mostly retirees, but increasingly, families seeking the easy-going, "Mayberry-like" pace are finding it in Overton.

The Republic of Texas' movement for Texas independence is alive and well in East Texas, and its "citizens" have claimed a former municipal hospital in Overton as their interim capital building, until they can achieve real and recognized independence.

It would seem an odd choice as the capitol of an independent nation.

But the Republic of Texas, a secessionist group that contends Texas will again be an independent and sovereign nation, has settled into an Overton hospital building.

These are "kinder, gentler" Texas Republicans, not like the "rogue faction" led by ROT ambassador Richard McLaren who, in 1997 was involved in a week-long siege at his compound in the Davis Mountains in West Texas.

Two hostages were taken, and police and Texas Rangers surrounded the militant group - one of the hostages was wounded and an ROT citizen was killed before McLaren surrendered.

Since that "uprising," all has been fairly quiet on the Republic front, and, for the most part, still is.

Nevertheless, local law enforcement is very aware of the presence of the ROT.

"Obviously we're guarded about it," Parsons said, "but until they break the law, we're going to treat them like anyone else."

It's the small-town thing to do, he said.

Diplomatic immunity

Just a couple of years ago, Overton Chief of Police Ed Williams had it made.

His job wasn't too different from that of fictional Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor - keeping the peace in a town where peace didn't require much protection.

But now, Williams is on the phone daily with either the FBI, the U.S. Treasury Department, the IRS or the Texas Rangers.

An organization with a volatile past has moved into his town and is gaining momentum across East Texas. Williams carries the responsibility of making sure that what happened in West Texas doesn't happen here.

Williams says the ROT has been peaceful, and fairly well-behaved, with the minor exception of three of its citizens - Don Bennett, former postmaster general of the Republic, Ed Brannum, former secretary of the interior and Kenneth Quinalty Jr., lieutenant of the ROT Rangers.

Quinalty had been warned a couple of times about altering his state-issued vehicle license plate. His state included additional territory onto the state outline so that it resembled the Republic as it appeared before the Compromise of 1850, Williams said. The Texas on his license plate included a good chunk of New Mexico, part of Northern Mexico and a narrow strip extending north into Colorado and Wyoming.

After Quinalty was arrested on the traffic charge, he bonded out, and immediately headed to the Rusk County district attorney's office in Henderson. He then "fired" the district attorney - and the district attorney's secretary, Williams said.

"When these guys are arrested, they (consider themselves to be) 'held for ransom by hostile outside forces.'" Williams said. "And they don't 'make bond.' They either pay the 'ransom' or don't pay it."

Bennett and Brannum were both carrying "passports" rather than state-issued driver's licenses when they were arrested for traffic infractions, he said. Both demanded "reparations" from the city.

Brannum wanted 1,000 ounces of silver for every hour he was detained, Williams said.

And following Bennett's arrest came a wave of letters demanding that "the law of Yahweh said what ever was stolen from you shall be replaced seven times." He therefore wanted seven times the amount of the traffic ticket and the wrecker charges, as well as $1 million in silver because the patrolman "fondled his inner thigh" during a search, and another $1 million in silver for illegally searching his automobile, Williams said.

Bennett threatened to place commercial liens on city property and the personal property of city officials.

"You know what?" Williams pointed out. "The postmaster general of the Republic of Texas mailed those letters through the U.S. mail.

"I think if I were him, I would have hand-delivered that sucker."

Quinalty sent a similar letter also demanding silver and threatening property liens, he said.

Williams and other law officials interpreted the letters as a violation of the penal code as frivolous liens threaten to harm to the public servants who received them.

Those charges are to be presented to a grand jury, he said.

Storming the capital

Traffic infractions aside, the ROT has been basically been "good neighbors who have contributed to the community," Williams said.

"But to say they are not a concern would not be an accurate statement," he said. "As long as they are here, or anywhere else, there is the potential that things could go bad."

About three weeks ago, a small group from what Republic leaders call the "white-male supremacist" faction of the Republic attempted to enter the capitol building to take control.

A news flash on the Republic Web site said a "rogue force" pretended to be visitors in an attempt to get inside the building.

According to the Web site, Don Ballard and Brannum were allegedly involved in the attempted takeover. As result, "rogue agent" supremacists were dismissed from their positions, although they do retain citizenship in the Republic.

Shortly after the attempted coup, Williams said he got a call from the president of the Republic, 30-year-old Daniel Miller, asking for protection.

"He told me ... if people came back to take the building over he expected us to protect them," Williams said. "And I plan to ... but I also told him it was funny that yesterday I didn't exist to him, and today he wants to be our ally. If you don't recognize any authority outside your group, why do you have to go outside your group to ask for protection?"

Following the leader

"I've got a philosophy about groups like this," Williams said. "It's a personal philosophy, but I think that probably on a small percentage of a group of followers truly believe in the cause, and the larger percentage are just followers - and they'd follow anything."

And in that philosophy, the groups can also be divided into those who know when to stop, and those who don't, Williams said.

"Some people can get caught up in the group, but they still know there is a line that they don't cross," he said. "And then there are those who get so caught up in it that they end up crossing that line. And they'll do anything - they'll drink Kool-Aid with Jim Jones, they'll stay in a burning building with David Koresh, and they'll even go out and kill people with Charlie Manson."

It's a theory that reflects something deeper about society, Williams said, that some people are so desperate to fill a void that they're willing to follow anyone, anywhere.

"I've got no doubts that I could shave a stripe down the middle of my head, and go out and grab some followers before dark tonight," he said.

A reasonable argument

Republic of Texas interim president Daniel Miller is an intelligent and articulate 30-something. He is a patriot, he says, of a government in exile.

He is not violent and he is not a radical, he says. What happened in West Texas was an aberration.

"What happened in Fort Davis is not who we are," Miller said. "That would be like condemning Christianity because of Eric Rudolf, who bombed the abortion clinics or condemning the entire U.S. military for the actions by a handful of soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison."

Miller said that McLaren and his followers were a "splinter cell" of the Republic and did not represent the peaceful values and beliefs of the interim government of the Republic of Texas.

"The Fort Davis standoff has been very difficult for us to live down," he said. "But we don't hide from it. We like to address it so we can clear up some of the misconceptions. What we want is the independence of Texas. We're not anti-government, our very title (interim government) defeats that."

Miller said the Republic is also not about white male power. Anyone from any racial or ethnic background can become a "Texian." Because the whole premise behind the movement is that people who live in Texas, regardless of class or race, are going to have more in common than people in Alaska, Hawaii or Maine.

"We are peaceful," he said. "We are just trying to secede, and re-assert something that has been there from the beginning."

At the heart of Miller's argument is money.

It just doesn't make sense for Texans to only get back 14 cents for every dollar they pay to the U.S. government, he said.

"We can't even figure out public school financing, but we're having to pay for $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats at the Pentagon," Miller said.

Miller also believes that, despite being home to 18 million Americans, Texas' voice gets lost in the "democracy" of the federal government.

Texas has no need to be part of the United States, and according to Miller if it were a separate country, it would have either the seventh- or eighth-largest economy in the world.

The ROT is working toward implementing a constitutional convention, by lining up representatives in each of Texas' 254 counties, and they are setting up a parallel government to the one that currently exists.

But Miller also knows that anarchy is not the answer. As a government in exile, the ROT must pay taxes. It must go along with the system until it can change the system.

"The fact of the matter is that we are Texian nationals, but they won't recognize that," he said.

But by the year 2010, Miller claims that everyone will recognize it, because some time in the next six years Texas will once again be a republic.

"Think about it like this," he said. "How much are things changing every year? How many independence movements have popped up lately?"

There are currently independence movements for a Christian nation, as well as movements in Hawaii, Alaska and even California, he said.

"People are talking more and more of breaking off," he said.

And in the near future, Miller predicts that even the most patriotic Texan/American will be ready to break away from the United States.

"I think the (U.S.) flag is what will eventually help us separate," he said. "People will look at it and see that it has 50 stars that really aren't united. The only thing that those stars really have in common is that they are all on the same flag."

Mexico has a better argument

Former Overton City Manager Jeff Ellington considers himself a bit of a history buff, and he had plenty of opportunities to test his knowledge when the ROT came to town last year.

"They don't like to talk to me much," Ellington said. "When I ask the hard questions, they just tell me I've been brainwashed by the United States government."

One of "their" contentions is that because Texas was never annexed by treaty it doesn't count," Ellington said.

Ellington says they may have a point, because every other annexation seems to have been by treaty.

"But my thoughts are: By this time, it doesn't matter," he said. "These people talk about common law. So let's say that even if there was a technicality that Texas was not annexed properly ... after living together for 150 years, Texas and the United States are common-law married.

"In my mind, Mexico would have a much better argument. We took more than half of what they had, and we took the best half," he said.

"The bottom line is that it won't work today. Even if they're right, it won't work in today's world," Ellington said. "These people, some of them anyway, have truly lost the reality in the technicalities of all this. Let's think about it for just a minute. Do you really want to have to get a passport to go over to Shreveport?"

The ROT, he says is an entity of contradictions.

ROT President Daniel Miller was 29 years old when he was elected, but according to Ellington, the ROT constitution says the president has to be at least 35.

"They also say they're not going to have any taxes, but they can't tell you how they expect to run the country, pay for highways, schools or prisons," Ellington said.

And while the group says they are peaceful and not a militia, the long-range plan is to set up sheriffs in each county who are in charge of their own militia and answer to a national sheriff.

"I don't want a national sheriff," Ellington said.

The ROT says it will be neutral as a nation and therefore, will have no need for a military, but according to Ellington, there is not another model anywhere in the world for that kind of a nation.

"Even neutral nations have an army," he said. "But the bottom line is that I don't care how neutral you say you are - you're only as neutral as your group is, and if the majority of the group is not neutral, then the group is not neutral."

They have minted their own coins, and they claim each one is worth four U.S. dollars, but according to Ellington, the actual silver value is less than $1.50.

Therefore, $1,000 U.S. dollars would buy 250 coins, but those coins would be worth less than $400.

"But another thing is, they've only got one coin!" he said. "How in the heck are you gonna' make change with one coin?"

The thing that scares Ellington the most is not that he thinks the group is a bunch of crazy people, but he wonders how far they are willing to take it.

"Most radicals are not crazy people," he said. "Most radicals are sane people who got lost in the idea. And this would all be insane to the point of absurdity, except for the fact that there was violence in West Texas."

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