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A separatist movement to pull N.H. from the United States gets a hearing in Concord

 Rep. Mike Sylvia speaking at a press conference before a public hearing on his proposed amendment.
Todd Bookman/NHPR
Rep. Mike Sylvia speaking at a press conference before a public hearing on his proposed amendment.

Members of a separatist movement testified in Concord to support a proposed constitutional amendment to make New Hampshire secede from the United States.

After singing what they hope will someday be the anthem for a newly independent nation, separatists who want to splinter New Hampshire from the rest of the union filed into a legislative office building Thursday to testify on a constitutional amendment that would do just that.

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As proposed, the amendment states, in part, that “New Hampshire peaceably declares independence from the United States and immediately proceeds as a sovereign nation.”

“Some believe this is a laughable question. Do they fear the answer?” Rep. Mike Sylvia, a Republican from Belmont and the amendment’s prime sponsor, asked the committee of lawmakers considering the proposal. “Some believe that the question of independence has been settled? If so, then our state’s sovereignty has been stolen.”

Sylvia, who has used racist language about undocumented immigrants in support of the succession movement, is one of seven Republican representatives sponsoring the independence push.

Some of the sponsors have also signed onto a manifesto declaring that New Hampshire’s government is “illegitimate” and that the 2020 election is “void for fraud.”

It isn’t clear if support in the Legislature for becoming the first state to leave the U.S. since the Civil War extends beyond that group of Republicans. To pass, the measure would first require approval by three-fifths of state lawmakers, followed by a two-thirds majority of the state’s voters during November’s general election.

A public hearing is required for every piece of legislation filed in New Hampshire, and the measure was greeted with polite inquiry by some members of the House’s Committee on State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs. Other members warned that voting for such a splintering of the nation would be a violation of their oath to uphold the Constitution.

Committee member Rep. Michael Moffit, a Republican from Loudon, asked backers if this amendment does a disservice to the more than 4,000 New Hampshire residents killed during the Civil War “fighting to preserve our union.”

Public testimony from a wide range of citizens including a man who legally changed his name to “Nobody” and a person convicted of tax felony, lasted several hours.

 Supporters of splintering New Hampshire from the United States gathered in Concord Thursday.
Todd Bookman/NHPR
Supporters of splintering New Hampshire from the United States gathered in Concord Thursday.

“Why do we want to stay part of this system. I don’t understand it,” Jason Gerhard told lawmakers. “What is so sacred about it? We are holding onto old traditions that don’t even exist anymore.”

A driving force behind the separatist movement appeared to be allegations of a decline in personal liberties caused by federal politicians and bureaucrats.

Committee Chairman Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican from Londonderry, asked at one point how many members of the public who came to testify were members of the Free State Project, which seeks to attract libertarian-minded individuals to move to New Hampshire in an effort to gain political clout and strip away aspects of state government. About two-thirds of the hands in the room shot up.

“This proposed amendment is an opportunity,” Carla Gericke, who serves on the board of directors for the Free State Project, told lawmakers. “That’s all today’s proposed amendment is: an opportunity, a democratic opportunity for Granite Staters to decide whether our relationship with the federal government is worth salvaging.

But support for seceding from the nation, even if done peacefully, posed a risk, according to Rep. Jess Edwards, a Republican from Auburn.

“From a political perspective, I am just very concerned that we muddy the waters with insurrectionist talk, and the like,” Edwards said.

Edwards added the proposed amendment could open the door for national and local media to “make a mockery of the whole exercise.”

State Democrats used the public hearing to characterize the GOP as extremist.

“Republican lawmakers are so caught up in their disdain for America that they seem to think Granite Staters share their contempt for our country,” Rep. Renny Cushing, the House Democratic leader, wrote in a press release. “This proposal to secede from the United States is the most unpatriotic piece of legislation I have ever seen come through the New Hampshire House.”

It isn’t clear when the measure may come up for a vote before the full New Hampshire House.

Before the public hearing, supporters of the secession movement rallied in front of the Legislative Office Building. While an American flag flitted high on a pole in a cold breeze above a group of about 50 people, protestors sang along to sheet music containing lyrics to a song they hoped would someday be the national anthem of New Hampshire.

“Live free or die, don’t let the freedom pass you by,” they sang. “Stand up proud and strong, and lead New Hampshire on.”

Copyright 2022 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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