[Paleopsych] NYT: Overton Journal: In Small Town, the Fight Continues for Texas Sovereignty
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Tue Mar 29 20:47:35 UTC 2005
The New York Times > National > Overton Journal: In Small Town,
the Fight Continues for Texas Sovereignty
By SIMON ROMERO
OVERTON, Tex. - The road to the capitol winds through a landscape of
pine trees, rusting pump jacks and a few tidy churches in this East
Texas town. Literature in the lobby describes how citizens can apply
for passports or enlist in the interim defense forces.
The building is the headquarters of the Republic of Texas, a sometimes
militant organization whose members repudiate the authority of Austin
and Washington and believe Texas should be a sovereign nation. The
group gained notoriety eight years ago when some members took a couple
hostage in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, and endured a weeklong
siege by more than 100 police officers, after which a follower who
fled into the mountains was killed. The leader of the faction involved
in the standoff is still in prison.
But after several years of infighting and the expulsion of renegade
splinter cells, the group has resurfaced here in Overton under a new
leader, Daniel Miller. Mr. Miller, recently interviewed in Houston,
said he wanted to distance the organization from its violent past and
from its image as a white-supremacy movement. He said his new platform
advocates Texas sovereignty without the use of guns or explosives.
"We are not extremists," said Mr. Miller, 31, dressed in a tailored
suit and cowboy boots. "We simply believe we were illegally occupied
by the United States in the 1800's."
When he is not handling republic affairs, Mr. Miller helps operate a
business that sells touch-screen ordering equipment for restaurants.
Some people in this town of 2,100 are concerned about the group. Among
them is Edward J. Williams, Overton's chief of police. In an interview
in his office, he described an incident in late January at the
capitol, which was once a hospital.
A member of the group, Scott William Taylor of Dallas, said in a
statement to Chief Williams that he had given another member, Dale
Strictland of Overton, about $1,000 to buy an AR-15 semiautomatic
rifle. A melee erupted after Mr. Strictland failed to deliver the
weapon, Chief Williams said, with at least one man suffering severe
injuries to his head after being hit with a beer bottle.
"I normally wouldn't be alarmed by a few boys getting into a
fisticuffs thing," Chief Williams said. "But this is a group with a
violent past in parts of Texas. However ludicrous their beliefs might
sound to you and me, we can't forget that Jim Jones got a bunch of
folks to drink Kool-Aid with him down in Guyana. You could shave one
side of your head and have a loyal following around here by
Yet Overton does not appear to be a fertile recruiting center even for
a kinder, gentler Republic of Texas. Residents seem to have accepted
the organization's presence, but only a few openly voice support for
"No one really approves of them," said Diana Sieber, who owns a hair
salon down the street from the capitol. "They're not the best kind of
publicity for our community."
Brenda Tompkins, a waitress at Granny's restaurant, said, "One of them
came in here and gave me one of their silver coins with a star on it,"
referring to the alternative currency the group has minted. "They're
The organization re-established itself here in 2003 with the
acquisition of the building that would become the capitol, the first
time the group has had an official base. Chief Williams said that
since then, there have been a number of confrontations with local
He said his officers have fined or issued arrest warrants for group
members. Violations included carrying Republic of Texas passports
instead of a driver's license; driving unregistered vehicles; and
redesigning license plates to show a Texas that includes significant
chunks of territory in New Mexico and narrow strips of land in
Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming. Group members say those areas are part
of Texas, wrongly wrested away by Washington.
Republic of Texas members have responded, the chief said, by marching
into the local district attorney's office and threatening to fire him,
and claiming in lengthy letters to county officials that jurisdiction
over such matters lies with their own government, which includes a
president, Mr. Miller; cabinet secretaries; and militia-style
sheriffs, deputies and rangers.
Much of the group's ideology is associated with nostalgia for the nine
years when Texas was an independent country after seceding from Mexico
in 1836. The blue Burnet flag from that time, with a large gold star
in its center, flies over the capitol.
Group members believe that Texas's referendum in 1845 in favor of
joining the United States was illegal, as were the settlements of land
claims that Texas then had against neighboring Mexican and American
territories in the West. They also advocate the creation of an
alternative monetary system using minted silver and gold coins. One
coin made of one gram of silver has a large Texas star in its center
and the word "Overton" emblazoned around it.
The organization's beliefs are spelled out in the book "Texans Arise,"
written by Mr. Miller and Lauren Savage, the vice president.
"We believe independence is an achievable goal," Mr. Miller said in
Mr. Miller was vague about how to accomplish this, but he said that
establishing a parallel government and performing government functions
like issuing passports were essential.
"People feel disenfranchised," he said. "In Overton we've found a
quiet area to forward our views."
Mr. Miller acknowledged that the group was still almost entirely
Anglo, although he said he was encouraging factions to look for a
broader range of members. He also said he was discouraging activities
like armed patrols of the Mexican border to limit immigration. And he
said his administration, unlike some splinter cells, did not base its
political philosophy on Old Testament beliefs, did not oppose women's
suffrage and did not support a return to a legal system permitting
But some who know the group's history in Texas are not convinced that
the group's changes are more than superficial.
"It only behooves some extremist groups to attempt to appeal to a
broader audience in order to recruit new members," said Dena Marks,
associate director of the Anti-Defamation League's office in Houston,
which tracks the Republic of Texas and other militia-style groups in
the state. "The core beliefs of Republic of Texas, which include
establishing Texas as a sovereign entity, have not changed."
Mr. Miller said the republic has thousands of so-called citizens, but
declined to give a specific number.
The headquarters here, its walls covered with maps of Greater Texas
and oil paintings of 19th-century battle scenes, is mostly quiet
during the week. On weekends, members from throughout Texas flow into
the building for meetings. Nathan Harvey, a caretaker at the
headquarters who is not a member, said he remained skeptical about the
ideas put forward by group members, but that by meeting them, he had
at least gained a better understanding of the Alamo siege of 1836.
"I always thought it was a battle for American independence," Mr.
Harvey said. "Now I understand it was a battle for the independence of
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