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December 14, 2012

R.I.P. Thomas Naylor, Founder of Vermont Secessionist Group, 1936-2012

Tom NaylorThomas Naylor, founder of the secessionist Second Vermont Republic, died this week after suffering a stroke on Sunday. He was 76. Naylor's friend and ally Rob Williams delivered the news via email on Friday afternoon.

Naylor, a Charlotte resident, founded SVR in 2003. In his Vermont Manifesto, which he self-published the same year, he declared that, "Our nation has truly lost its way. America is no longer a sustainable nation-state economically, politically, socially, militarily or environmentally."

His solution? Secede from the union and create a second Vermont Republic; the first existed from 1777-1791, before Vermont joined the Union.

Secession sounded nuts — until George W. Bush won a second term in 2004. Suddenly, Naylor's quixotic quest began making headlines, and disgruntled liberals started slapping SVR bumper stickers on their cars.

Some of those supporters abandoned the group, however, after an anonymous blogger raised questions about SVR's ties to secessionist groups such as the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a racist hate group. Williams, who founded Vermont Commons, a journal devoted to Vermont independence, was one of them. For his part, Naylor disputed the suggestion that SVR was in any way racist.

But though the public perception of the Second Vermont Republic changed over the years, Naylor's devotion to the cause never did. The author and retired Duke economics professor was a tireless advocate for secession. He diligently mailed frequent missives to a long list of contacts, addressing each by hand using his signature green felt-tipped pen.

Naylor was always eager to provide an entertaining bit of street theater, or an over-the-top condemnation of the status quo. He staged an elaborate funeral for the State of Vermont in front of the Statehouse in 2005, for example, and once referred to Sen. Patrick Leahy as a "world-class prostitute." He was critical of Bernie Sanders, too, though the two white-hair, bespectacled gents shared a certain resemblance. 

In November of 2008, while most Vermonters were celebrating Barack Obama's imminent occupation of the White House, Naylor staged a Vermont Independence Convention in the chamber of the Vermont House of Representatives. Naylor reveled in the irony. He didn't care if Obama was president — he still wanted out of the union.

In a phone interview Friday, Williams described Naylor as both indefatigable and irascible. "If you haven't been blacklisted by Thomas at some point, it means he doesn't like you," he quipped.

Though Williams left the Second Vermont Republic, he stayed in touch with Naylor; the two were planning a conference on the self-determination of small nations. "The last conversation I had with him was a week ago," he said. "We were having a very interesting conversation with the prince of Lichtenstein, of all places.

He added: "The thing I most admired about Thomas is that he woke up every morning, brushed his teeth, and got to work on Vermont independence."

Williams noted that Naylor's dedication to Vermont independence sparked a number of other efforts, including Vermont Commons, the Middlebury Institute and Radio Free Vermont. This spring, Chelsea Green Publishing will release Most Likely to Secede, a collection of pieces first published in Vermont Commons. Said Williams: "He inspired a lot of people with his passion."

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