Vermont professor and U.S. historian Robert Williams Jr. has been fascinated by the rise and fall of empires since watching “Star Wars” as a kid.
The Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Russian Empire. They all were great at one point in time and eventually dismantled over the course of human history.
Williams, 49, who is a lecturer at the University of Vermont, believes this country is on a similar trajectory.
“I think the United States is no longer a functioning republic,” said Williams, who is originally from New York. “It has become too big. It’s an out-of-control empire, and because that’s the case, there is no program or party or platform or political leader that can fix the things that are wrong.”
“That seems kind of depressing, and maybe it’s radical, but it’s an honest critique of where we are,” Williams said.
Williams is part of a 13-year movement that arose in response to the current state of the U.S.
The group, named the Second Vermont Republic, wants to see Vermont peacefully secede from the U.S., along with other New England states.
Their idea spurred around 2004 after incumbent President George Bush won the U.S. presidential election.
But it also has roots in Vermont’s early colonial history.
The state of Vermont was once the Vermont Republic, declaring its independence from both Great Britain and the colony of New Hampshire and New York in 1777. During those 14 years, the Vermont Republic issued its own coinage and operated a postal service until it officially joined the United States as the 14th state in 1791.
But when Williams moved with his wife and their children to Vermont in 2001 to be closer to their families, he had no idea he would be become a part of a secessionist group.
Williams said he was disheartened by the George W. Bush administration and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he said he never considered secession to be something feasible or wise until 2004, when he attended a secession convention in Middlebury, Vermont.
“I came away radicalized,” he said. “Their positions started to make sense to me. To me, the U.S. seemed and still seems like a mess.”
Williams said he is upset by the growing inequality in the U.S., the country’s broken electoral system, the financial state of the country and the extent of control corporations and banks have.
Other Vermonters have similar views. Before Barack Obama was elected in the 2008, about 13 percent of voters supported the idea of seceding in a 2007 poll, Williams said.
“We hear the secession is bad and that we couldn’t possibly think of it as a solution,” Williams said. “But secession is actually a much more nuanced phenomenon that’s deeply American.”
Williams pointed to the establishment of the U.S. and the American Revolution as examples of the rebellious American spirit that has been present since the start of the country.
Williams also said he believes secession, which in the U.S. is often associated with the violence of the American Civil War, can be done peacefully. Williams gave as an example the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, which happened without military conflict.
In 2008, Obama’s election “sucked the oxygen out of the room for us,” Williams said.
“People were convinced that things would change,” said Williams. “But it doesn’t matter if you elected a Democrat or Republican or someone else. In the end, the empire will do what it will do.”
Williams said he hopes the Second Vermont Republic movement results in real secession, but until then, he said he intends to talk about the idea as much as he can.
“It’s important to have a vigorous, healthy dialogue about the future of the United States,” Williams said.