Declaration of Independence

Earl Forester spent four years in federal prison for a "challenge to paper money," which to prosecutors translated to mean conspiracy and fraud. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

The Republic of Texas has an unusual reason why George Bush shouldn't be president - and it's as good as any

From a prison near Wichita Falls, Republic of Texas firebrand Richard Lance McLaren is predicting that he will soon be free, challenging the political legitimacy of President George Bush, and decrying the war in Iraq. "The same thing that is playing out in Iraq is playing out in Texas," McLaren, 50, declares.

Cronies outside of prison, including a San Antonio Republic of Texas official, aren't sure that they agree with McLaren's anti-war broadsides, but they join him in assailing lawyers, banks, and make-believe Presidents.

"I'm not sure I'd say that Texas and Iraq are colonies, but we do use the same term, 'captive nation,' to refer to both countries," notes San Antonian Earl Forester, 70, the Republic's treasurer.

Republic leaders typically advance outrageous claims with a sense of playfulness and satire that is rare among politicos and pundits - and even more rare among convicts and prosecutors. Attentive students of the Republic find it hard to know when its spokesmen are joking and when they're for real. But because humorless prosecutors and grand juries always take words and deeds at face value, more than a dozen ROT activists have landed in federal prison.

Now an inmate at the Allred Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, McLaren, the ROT's "Chief Ambassador and Consul General," and the most notorious of its leaders, is facing state and federal prison terms totaling more than 100 years. He has been behind bars since the end of a week-long standoff in April 1997 in which a Fort Davis resident was held hostage for hours and one of the Republic's "citizens" was killed by Texas troopers.

McLaren was subsequently sentenced to 99 years on state kidnapping and organized crime charges, and to an additional 22 years on federal indictments for fraud and firearms violations.

From prison McLaren stays in touch by mail with Republic supporters, though the group had divided into competing factions even before the standoff.

The Republic's common claim is that Texas is still an independent nation. Constitutional standards weren't followed when the original Republic of Texas was annexed, McLaren and his movement's writ-writers maintain.

The Constitution, they point out, requires the U.S. Senate to approve treaties with foreign governments. No treaty annexing Texas was ever adopted by the Senate, though a Congressional resolution and Texas referendum approved the move.

"The Republic of Texas, a sovereign nation, was annexed in order to help establish the United States as a perpetual colonial power," McLaren charges.

His accusation is widely viewed as eccentric today, though both Mexican officials and American Abolitionists voiced it in the years preceding 1846, when Texas was annexed.

Former president John Quincy Adams, who was then a Congressman from Massachusetts, in 1838 decried U.S. recognition of Texas' independence from Mexico as "extorting by conquest what it had been impracticable to obtain by negotiation."

If Texas wasn't legally annexed, McLaren reasons, then former Vice-President and 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore is "the actual president of the United States."

In his usual legalese, McLaren explains that "Since the Republic of Texas is not a lawful state of the union ... George Bush has not resided for the mandated fourteen years within the United States as required by Article II, Section I, paragraph 4, of the U.S. Constitution."

The paragraph specifies that "No person ... shall be eligible to the office of President ... who shall not have ... been fourteen years a resident within the United States. "

"I don't know who is the President of the United States, and I don't think I give a damn."
- Earl Forester,
Republic of Texas treasurer
Prior to his election in 2000, George Bush was a resident of the Republic of Texas, not of the United States, McLaren maintains. But not all of McLaren's henchmen share precisely his views on the subject, and the Republic would be no fun if its leaders hewed to a party line.

"I don't know who is the President of the United States," declares San Antonio ROT figure Forester, "and I don't think I give a damn."

"Both Bush and Gore are bought and paid for, and they got there because of paper money. There's some people who get for free what the rest of us have to work for," he complains.

Assailing the United States as "colonialist," as McLaren does, or calling Iraq a "captive nation," is only one of the claims that place the Chief Ambassador oddly in league with parts of the American peace movement.

The Pentagon, McLaren says, is "the largest temple in the history of man dedicated to war."

The Republic is reviving itself, its partisans proclaim, in part because its leaders haven't backed down under pressure, even when facing prison terms.

Republic treasurer Forester nearly brags that he spent four years in federal prison for a "challenge to paper money," which, his indictment said, amounted to conspiracy and fraud. In 1996, he and other Republic activists were brought to trial in San Antonio and Austin. Their courtroom declarations stunned and puzzled reporters for the Express-News.

"Several of the defendants have tangled with the Internal Revenue Service ... and apparently believe Texas is a sovereign state," reporter Chris Bird discerned.

During his trial, the newspaper noted, Forester testified that he hadn't paid income taxes in 24 years.

What got Forester and his cronies in trouble was a Robin Hood scheme in which they supplied people with blank facsimile money orders, some of which were accepted, and some, quickly rejected, by credit card companies and the IRS.

"Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Harris said the scheme was a protest against the banking system and that all of the defendants knew exactly what was going on," Bird reported.

Most of the Republic's leadership derides paper currency, checks, and money orders as worthless, because they're not backed by silver or gold. As part of its current rebirth, Forester says, the organization is minting silver coins. However, the Republic's money can be bought with paper dollars, he admits, "because there's an exchange rate for everything."

Although federal and state records show that he's years away from parole eligibility, Ambassador McLaren says that he and a half-dozen other Republic prisoners will soon be participating in the Republic's resurgence, as free citizens.

He is awaiting an order from the International Criminal Court in La Hague, granting the Republic convicts prisoner-of-war status. Soldiers from foreign countries, the Chief Consul points out, can't be tried in U.S. courts or held in penal institutions for defending their nations.

The La Hague court hasn't responded to his January 2003 petition, nor denied it, nor set a hearing yet - it is probably trying to figure out what the Republic might be - but successful litigation takes time, the imprisoned leader believes.

In the meanwhile, he is encouraged that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to look into the status of the so-called "enemy combatants" being held at Guantanamo, Cuba, McLaren says. The Court's decision, he claims, "will help expose a lot of stuff relevant to our case."

"It is not a question of if, but when," McClaren says, the ROT convicts will be set free. •

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