A fringe political group that led the call for California to break away from the union after the election of President Donald Trump has relaunched with new leadership.
The Yes California Independence Campaign went dark in April after its self-appointed leader, Louis Marinelli, announced he was abandoning the movement and settling permanently in Russia. The news was not that surprising. Marinelli set up a makeshift embassy (which he said would be used to promote the secessionist movement) in Moscow last December.
Earlier this week, the former vice president of the campaign, Marcus Ruiz Evans, announced in an email that he's picking up where Marinelli left off as president of Yes California. Among his first actions, Evans shuttered the group's unofficial embassy and cultural center in Moscow.
"Although well intentioned, it was a distraction, a point of contention, and a source of division among supporters of California independence. It needed to close and now it is closed," Evans said of the embassy in a statement.
Marinelli will stay on as member of the group's advisory board, but will not be an officer.
Yes California's links to Russia have been well documented. "Calexit" started trending on Twitter in the hours after the results of the 2016 presidential election were announced. Before then, the PAC received favorable attention from news outlets backed by the Kremlin. Marinelli attended a conference in Moscow dedicated to the right of secession last September.
Russia has a long-standing tradition of encouraging foreign fringe groups like California separatists in order to exploit tensions in the West — a position that prompted critics and some members to reject Yes California. In a page on the Yes California website that has since been taken down, the group denied accepting any financial support from the Russian government.
Evans, a resident of Fresno, California, told Business Insider that Yes California is moving "full speed ahead" without the controversial ties to Russia holding it back.
The group's immediate goal is file a ballot measure with the Attorney General's Office, allowing Californians to voice their support for a secession in a 2018 special election.
Still, a state holds no right to secede under federal law. Californians would need to pass an amendment to the US Constitution, which requires a favorable vote from the three-fourths of the other 49 states. A state has not seceded from the union since the 1860s, and those 11 southern states rejoined after the American Civil War. An actual Calexit is very unlikely.
Amid violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and growing discontent with the Trump administration, Evans is optimistic about a California secession movement's prospects.
"It's ridiculous but it represents why California needs to have an exit plan in place. Things are going to get worse in this country before they get better and this campaign all along has been about California disconnecting itself from a sinking Titanic," he said.
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