[Podcast] Notes on the State of Jefferson, with James Pogue | Harper's Magazine

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Range wars: a secessionist movement reveals the cracks in American democracy

Modern American secessionist movements are commonly perceived as buffoonish or quixotic. Yet when their members take up arms after failing to achieve independence by electoral means—and openly state that they have no other recourse than violence—they cannot be so easily dismissed. James Pogue joins web editor Violet Lucca to discuss his reporting from the proposed State of Jefferson, a swath of counties in northern California and southern Oregon that wish to become the 51st state. Since the early 1940s, the Jeffersonians, united by a shared rural identity centered on mining and logging, have agitated for independence in search of better representation and infrastructure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, government health policies and a wave of new arrivals who bought second homes in the area, driving up rents, led many residents to conclude that their way of life was under threat. Their quest to recall three county board members was mocked in the media and treated as illegitimate, which only heightened their sense of persecution, leading many to view violence as the only alternative. Pogue and Lucca discuss how the situation in Redding reveals problems in American democracy, exacerbated by the end of local newspapers and the rise of social media. They also look towards the future: What’s next for the State of Jefferson, and will their recall efforts become a model for others?

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