A growing group of activists is seeking state recognition as the S.C. Secessionist Party. The party’s goal: to secede from the United States of America and establish South Carolina as a sovereign nation. Sound familiar?
Tyler Bessenger, a Charleston delegate and early organizer of the nascent political party, says members of the group see federalism as an inherently flawed idea that ought to be abandoned.
“Everybody in the group has a different opinion, but for the most part, as a general consensus, people see the United States as a failed experiment. It’s doomed,” Bessenger says. “We’re not conspiracy theorists … but anyone who thinks that a union of 50 sovereign states can last forever has no understanding of history whatsoever.”
Bessenger, a 26-year-old native of Florence, S.C., who now lives in Charleston, stopped by the City Paper office during a lunch break Friday to talk about secession. He declined to have his picture taken, but he sported a South Carolina ball cap and bore tattoos on his forearms of the Ron Paul “Revolution” and “Coexist” logos. We pressed him to elaborate on what he sees as an irreparable political fracture.
“The United States is divided on every possible level right now. If you watch the news for five minutes, we’re divided: religious and secular, black and white, North and South, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative,” Bessenger said. “For me, it doesn’t make sense for somebody in California to cast a vote that affects the way people in South Carolina live their lives. It just doesn’t make sense.”
According to Bessenger, the S.C. Secessionist Party started as an idea he shared with some friends several months ago but didn’t start to pick up steam until after the state legislature voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds in July. “It got people’s dander up, and every movement needs a little of that,” Bessenger says. The group has adopted the Confederate-era South Carolina Sovereignty flag as its symbol.
(By the way, in case you were wondering, Bessenger says he is in fact a distant relative of famous Confederate flag-flying South Carolina barbecue tycoon Maurice Bessinger, but his family’s name was altered due to an error by the Social Security Administration in his great-grandfather’s records.)
The party is only about a month old but already has 31 delegates from 22 counties, according to Bessenger, and a Facebook group dedicated to the party has racked up about 500 likes so far. Bessenger says his group draws inspiration from the Texas Nationalist Movement and is helping to establish similar parties in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. He says the party will endorse a candidate in a nonpartisan election in Dorchester County this November, but the candidate is not yet ready to announce their support.
For obvious reasons, the party will not be seeking recognition from the federal government. In order to become an official party in South Carolina, the group will have to submit an application to the State Election Commission and subsequently nominate candidates for political office on a regular basis. Bessenger says he has requested an application from the state.
Given the historical precedent, the obvious question is whether the S.C. Secessionist Party is ready to go to war. Bessenger says the party doesn’t believe it will come to that — not this time.
“We don’t think the world would let it come to war anymore,” Bessenger says. “Do you honestly think that in today’s social climate the world would sit by and watch the Union bomb South Carolina?”
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Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.