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Secede? ‘Republic’ Claims Texas Never Joined U.S.

The New York Times logo The New York Times 3/9/2015 By MANNY FERNANDEZ
John Jarnecke, 72, president of the Republic of Texas, at his home in Fredericksburg, Tex. The group’s Valentine’s Day meeting in Bryan, Tex., was raided by local, state and federal law enforcement officials. © Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times John Jarnecke, 72, president of the Republic of Texas, at his home in Fredericksburg, Tex. The group’s Valentine’s Day meeting in Bryan, Tex., was raided by local, state and federal law enforcement officials.

HOUSTON — The Republic of Texas is unlike any other volunteer, nonprofit organization in what used to be the Republic of Texas.

Its monthly meetings are called joint sessions of congress. Members have minted their own silver and gold currency and carry ID cards warning police officers they are diplomatic representatives of the nation of Texas. Its vice president, a retired telephone company worker, sent a letter in 2011 to the governor of Oklahoma, informing her that she faced indictment because her state’s counties and territories were “trespassing inside the geographical boundaries” of its nation.

Such letters have failed to convince the authorities of the group’s novel belief — that Texas never legally became part of the United States and remains a separate nation. As a result of that belief, the group claims it had a duty to form a government, with a state department and with a court system run in part by a chiropractor in the Houston suburb of Katy.

Members say their government is neither a mock system nor a prank, but a legitimate authority with executive, legislative and judicial branches. They spend their time sitting through eight-hour congressional meetings and debating legislation. (The letter to Oklahoma officials refers to Senate Bill No.1102-1201.) Still, officials who receive one of the group’s many letters typically “just throw it in the trash can,” acknowledged the Republic’s president, John Jarnecke, 72.

Until last month.

The group’s Valentine’s Day meeting in Bryan had barely started at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall — each woman in the audience had been handed a rose — when several local, state and federal law enforcement officials burst through the door. No one was arrested in the raid, which included F.B.I. agents, but dozens of the group’s supporters were detained. Some were fingerprinted, and cellphones and briefcases were confiscated from others.

The authorities said the raid was part of an investigation into a batch of letters the Republic of Texas had sent to a judge and a lawyer in Kerrville, Tex., but the group’s leaders said that officials had overreacted with a show of force and that the letters were lawful.

Members have minted their own silver and gold currency and carry ID cards warning police officers they are diplomatic representatives of the nation of Texas. © Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times Members have minted their own silver and gold currency and carry ID cards warning police officers they are diplomatic representatives of the nation of Texas.

The Republic had ordered the judge in Kerrville to appear at the V.F.W. hall for a “court hearing” involving his role in the pending foreclosure of a member’s home. Two letters to the judge ordered him to present “proof of his authority for executing his claimed powers involving a foreign entity” and warned him that copies might be provided to the United Nations. The lawyer was sent a “subpoena.”

In 1997, the group’s leader, Richard L. McLaren, and his supporters abducted a West Texas couple and held them hostage, leading to a seven-day standoff with the authorities. © Kes Gilhome/Midland Reporter-Telegram, via Associated Press In 1997, the group’s leader, Richard L. McLaren, and his supporters abducted a West Texas couple and held them hostage, leading to a seven-day standoff with the authorities.

After the raid, the V.F.W. hall prohibited the group from meeting there again, so the Republic’s next congressional session will be held at Ace Buffet and Grill in Waco.

“They came in looking like John Dillinger and the gang were hiding out,” said Dave Kroupa, the Katy chiropractor who signed the letters to the judge as chief justice of the Republic’s international common law court. “The ladies were armed with roses. The most confusing thing I ever witnessed was this silly raid in 59 years of my life.”

The disruption of the meeting has given the group a boost in publicity and support. It also provided a glimpse into the Republic’s political alternate reality and the radical and not-so-radical views of its supporters. Some have had violent confrontations with the authorities, and some are retirees more interested in the minutiae of the establishment of Texas as a country from 1836-45 than in overthrowing the government.

“They’re a harmless, clueless and interesting group of generally nice older guys with too much time on their hands,” said Jerry Patterson, a former Texas land commissioner, who recalled receiving Republic letters demanding he vacate the office. “Certainly law enforcement has something else to do. They have never tried to enforce their demands beyond writing amusing letters.”

The sheriff of Kerr County, Rusty Hierholzer, who led the raid and execution of the search warrant last month, said the letters appeared to violate a state law that prohibits delivery of documents that simulate a summons or other court process. The large contingent of officers, he said, was necessary because of the group’s history.

In 1997, the group’s leader, Richard L. McLaren, and his supporters abducted a West Texas couple and held them hostage, leading to a seven-day standoff with the authorities. A member of the group was shot and killed in the gun battle. Mr. McLaren surrendered and remains in state prison. Other members have been charged over the years with assault, forgery and the impersonation of an officer.

Items returned to Mr. Jarnecke after the February raid were still marked with "evidence" tags. © Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times Items returned to Mr. Jarnecke after the February raid were still marked with "evidence" tags.

“I don’t have a problem with this group, but when they do things that violate the laws of this state, then I have to take action,” Sheriff Hierholzer said. “If I had just sent one officer to this meeting, to execute that warrant, I have a serious concern as to how safe my officer would’ve been.

“You look at Waco, Timothy McVeigh, some of this ‘sovereign citizen’ stuff,” he added, referring to the 1993 F.B.I. assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and the terrorist who was executed for detonating a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995. “There’s radicals in everything we do. It’s the radicals that I’m concerned about.”

The Republic of Texas leaders say they have no ties to Mr. McLaren, and some have apparently joined in recent years as the Texas secession movement has grown. In last year’s Republican primary for governor, a secessionist who changed his middle name to reflect his cause, Larry Secede Kilgore, received 19,055 votes.

The Republic’s president, Mr. Jarnecke, who runs a construction business in Fredericksburg, said it was inaccurate to call the members secessionists. “We in the Republic do not need to secede, because we never ceded it to them to start with.’’

The raid had one other effect: generating more letters.

Paul Robert Andrus, who was among those detained, filed documents accusing the sheriff’s lead investigator of “trespass upon liberty.” He demanded $3 million in gold, money order “or any combination necessary thereof.”

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